As spectacular Las Vegas endings go, this past week’s demolition of the locals-friendly Texas Station was a fairly humdrum affair.
No dynamite-packed implosions set to music, no nighttime pyrotechnics celebrating the end of an era. No big crowds choking on demolition dust and the ghosts of high rollers past.
Just a lot of heavy equipment doing the bulk of the teardown of a venerable, and at one time quite lively, casino on Rancho Drive in a careworn section of Las Vegas a couple miles from downtown.
Not exactly the center of the action, right?
Perhaps not, but Texas Station at its best was a reminder of what the better locals-focused casinos could be in addition to a convenient place to gamble: great food, a popular megaplex theater, ample meeting space, lively lounge, and did I mention great food?
Over the years, the Smiths saw movies and had good times there. It was a fun place to meet, and management kept a tidy house with good service.
After opening in 1995, Texas Station climbed and slipped along with the neighborhoods that surrounded it.
The closure of Texas Station was part of a Red Rock Resorts strategy to downsize its Las Vegs footprint. Not by selling off properties, but by erasing them. Texas joined Fiesta Rancho and Fiesta Henderson among those taken out of service permanently. The company plans to sell the real estate.
News of the plan prompted a few reporters to wax sentimental about their experiences inside the neon confines of the locals’ haunts. At the Las Vegas Review-Journal on July 25, longtime political columnist Steve Sebelius departed from the campaign trail to reminisce about Texas Station. Many more famous places had come and gone, “But the news that Texas Station would close permanently and be demolished affected me differently, for reasons I still can’t explain. I’ve spent many hours at that casino over the years, for reasons personal and professional.”
That’s the funny and strange thing about so many casinos. They may be filled with sucker bets and smoky distractions, endless booze and all-you-can-eat buffets, more than half the seven deadly sins on a slow day. But they’re also places for people to meet and have good times in a life that often offers too few opportunities.
My own memories of the place often include my daughter, Amelia. We went to movies there when she was small and, of course, wound up eating fresh shrimp and fish at her favorite seafood place.
Others know more about the Texas Station’s place in the pantheon of Las Vegas locals casinos, which market and cater to some of the two million or so residents of Clark County. It’s a market the Fertitta family has dominated and Texas Station was one of its early successes when it decided to expand its footprint from Palace Station.
One of my favorite events wasn’t a big buffet or jammed lounge of roaring rhythm and blues, but an 80th birthday dinner for groundbreaking Nevada state Senator Joe Neal. The subject of my 2019 book The Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice, Neal was a lawmaking legend, Nevada’s first black senator, and a public servant in the area near Texas Station for more than three decades.
Neal, of course, was a proud Culinary Local 226 supporter and often found himself as an underdog on the opposing side of the gaming-industry’s interests while at the state legislature.
But you know, my friend knew good food when he found it. And when the family converted a meeting room for his birthday, it was a night to remember.
Casinos at their best do that a lot: facilitate good memories, some of which last a lifetime.
More by John L. Smith, from Rolling Stone: First Came the Exposé. Then Came the Execution. Why Las Vegas cops say a disgraced politician murdered an investigative journalist