Jay Sarno

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Jay Sarno
Born (1922-07-02)July 2, 1922
St. Joseph, Missouri, U.S.
Died July 21, 1984(1984-07-21) (aged 62)
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Nationality American
Ethnicity White
Alma mater University of Missouri
Occupation Entrepreneur

Jay Sarno (July 2, 1922 – July 21, 1984) was an American business entrepreneur who owned several high-profile hotels.[1][2]

Sarno was the founder of both the Caesars Palace hotel and the Circus Circus, and many credit him with being the father of today's more family-oriented Las Vegas. Ironically, although Sarno seemed to believe that Las Vegas could survive with fewer gamblers and more families visiting, he was himself a gambler. His former wife, Joyce Sarno Keys, once declared that, during one day of gambling, Sarno won 100,000 dollars, only to leave the same night with a debt of exactly that same amount.[citation needed]

Early life

Sarno was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, to Polish Jewish parents. He came of age during the era of the Great Depression. His father was a cabinet maker, his mother a homemaker. The Sarnos were a very poor family, and young Jay wanted a better way of living in the future. Because of his oldest Brother, Herman Sarno (also a Hotelier), he and his six siblings were able to attend college; Jay graduated from the University of Missouri, with a degree in business.

It was at the University of Missouri that he met Stanley Mallin, who would become his lifelong friend and business partner. He and Mallin went to World War II and fought at the South Pacific theater. Sarno and Mallin settled in Miami, Florida, after returning to the United States; there, they became tile contractors. After that initial business venture failed, they moved north, to Atlanta, Georgia, where they became house builders. But Sarno and Mallin's lack of a truck haunted the pair during their second business venture together, and, eventually, they gave up on building houses.

Sarno and Mallin later on would meet Jimmy Hoffa. The union leader liked Sarno and Mallin's willingness to become successful businessmen, and he introduced Sarno and Mallin to Allen Dorfman, who loaned Sarno and his friend some money, allowing them to open the Atlanta Cabana Motel in 1958.

After Sarno hired interior designer Jo Harris, the Cabana motel became a successful business, and soon, other motel locations were opened, in Palo Alto, California, and Dallas, Texas.

The closeness of those two cities to the gambling capital of the time, Las Vegas, brought a temptation that Sarno was unable to resist. So he took a short trip to Las Vegas, and found what he thought was a plain city, with small hotel chains and not enough casinos for gamblers to play in. The way he saw it, he could make a hotel there that would appeal to gamblers and make much more money than the Hilton Hotel located there, which did not have a casino then.

Founder of Caesars Palace and Circus Circus

Sarno wanted a hotel whose name would sound European, yet at the same time appeal to Americans, and, in 1964, he, alongside Mallin and Harris, began to build the Caesars Palace Hotel. The idea was at first met with skepticism, because many considered a European style hotel in the middle of an American desert to be a business failure in the making.

Harris, however, designed the hotel in a way that each of its amenities had to be approached by passing the hotel's casino first; this, in turn, would lead to people being tempted to try their luck in the casino area, which made the hotel a profitable business venture. The Caesars Palace hotel was inaugurated in 1966; by 1969, Sarno and his business partners were able to sell the property for the amount of 60 million dollars.

Sarno and Mallin then opened what was one of Las Vegas' first family oriented venues, the Circus Circus. The attraction featured a circus tent with daily acts, and Sarno would dress up as a ringmaster and attend to families and children personally.

The Circus Circus was not a hotel when Sarno and Mallin opened it: instead, it was a casino with, as its name implies, a circus. Sarno's idea was that, while children could go and use their money having fun at the circus' their parents, likewise, would use the money at the casino. But soon, a Gas crisis began in the United States, affecting tourism to Las Vegas, and the casino did not do well under Sarno and Mallin's leadership, so Bill Pennington and Bill Bennett, a Del Webb executive, leased the Circus Circus.

After retiring from the Circus Circus, Sarno spent the rest of his time teaching would-be hotel owners about how to manage that type of business, and dreaming about a new hotel venture, which would have been called the "Grandissimo". One of his students was Steve Wynn, who would later on become the owner of the Golden Nugget and the creator/owner of The Mirage Hotel, Treasure Island, and Wynn Las Vegas. Sarno could not complete his dream of opening the "Grandissimo"; death surprised him during the planning stages of what would have been his third business venture in Las Vegas.

Personal life

Sarno was married but in 1974, he and wife Joyce Sarno Keys divorced, but they remained on friendly terms, often reuniting for family events.

Sarno had four children: Jay Sarno Jr, an engineering company owner, September, a former Miss Nevada contestant who is now a stockbroker, Heidi Sarno Strauss, a flower store owner, and Freddie Sarno, also a stockbroker.

Sarno knew how much his son Jay Jr. loved the NASA Space program as a young boy; he once took Jay Jr. to a NASA collectibles show and bid ten thousand dollars on a patch used by Jack Swigert, of the famed Apollo 13 mission. Asked by his son why he would bid such a relatively large amount of money on an item like that, Sarno showed some affection, answering that he just wanted Jay Jr. to have it.

Sarno later on grew frustrated because his dream of building the "Grandissimo" seemed impossible, and he was never able to overcome his gambling addiction.

Sarno died of a heart attack on July 21, 1984, at the age of 62, at the Caesars Palace, a hotel he formerly owned, while on a gambling stay at the hotel.

Sarno was elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame in 1989.[3]


  1. The New York Times
  2. Las Vegas Review-Journal
  3. "The Gaming Hall of Fame". University of Nevada Las Vegas. Retrieved 2009-08-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>