Center for Gaming Research

2003 Honoree

Jay Sarno

Jay Sarno

Biography and Project Listing


Jay Sarno (1922-1984) was a unique visionary in the gaming world. He created two of the industry's most successful casinos, Caesars Palace and Circus Circus, and planned an ambitious 6,000-room resort called the Grandissimo that brilliantly foreshadowed the current stage of casino development in Las Vegas.

Sarno was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1922. He attended the University of Missouri and was fraternity brothers with Bear Stearns Chairman Alan "Ace" Greenberg before going into the tile business with his friend Stanley Mallin. After moving into hotel construction, Sarno, already an accomplished gambler, set his sights on Las Vegas.

With a loan from the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund, Sarno began building the casino that would become Caesars Palace in 1965. When it opened on August 5, 1966, Caesars completely changed the casino landscape. It was the first truly themed casino. With extravagant uses of water and classical statuary, Caesars Palace was the first resort that encouraged guests to indulge their fantasies in a world far distant from the everyday grind.

With Caesars established, Sarno turned his attention to building a second casino, one that ultimately became Caesars Palace. Since he had trouble raising money to build Circus he could not fully realize his vision of it, but Circus came to pioneer in the mass market just as Caesars had done for the high end. Never much of an operator, Sarno loaned the casino to Bill Bennett and Bill Pennington (who bought it outright in 1983) and devoted most of his time to gambling, golf, and pursuing his next project, the Grandissimo.

Though never built, the Grandissimo would fit right in on today's Strip, with 6,000 rooms, a pair of cascading waterfalls, and people movers directing traffic into the casino. His plans for this mammoth resort show how truly ahead of his time Sarno really was.

Sarno died on July 21, 1984, while visiting his beloved Caesars Palace. Today, Sarno's two casinos continue to delight millions, and his legacy lives on in the Sarno Award, a lifetime achievement honor that is the Sarno Award is the highest accolade given at the annual Casino Design Awards for any individual involved in the design and construction of casino resorts.

Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace, 1966

Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace, 1966
Project Listing


Caesars Palace (Las Vegas, Nevada) 1966

Circus Circus (Las Vegas, Nevada) 1968

Circus Circus (Las Vegas, Nevada) hotel tower expansion, 1972

Grandissimo (Las Vegas, Nevada) casino resort concept, never built

Circus Circus
Circus Circus, 1968

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