Warren “Doc” Bayley was part of the last generation of casino owners who operated without funding from banks or Wall Street. Bayley was a California hotel operator with a taste for big risks, and in 1955, he found one large enough to suit him.
The National Corporation was building a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip called Lady Luck, but had lost confidence in the project. There was talk that Vegas had too many hotel rooms, and new casinos were doomed to failure. Bayley offered to buy into the project as a partner. He would operate the hotel, National would run the casino. National agreed to the deal but then went under. Bayley pressed ahead, opening the hotel without a casino in June of 1956.
Bayley’s new hotel, renamed the Hacienda, was immediately in danger of bankruptcy. It was kept afloat by other hotels, which sent their overflow guests to the Hacienda since it didn’t have a competing casino. Bayley was at his creative best, paying bills with casino chips when he was out of cash.
In October of 1956, Bayley opened the casino but even then, the Hacienda had financial troubles. It was two miles farther south than other Strip casinos, so it did not benefit from pedestrian traffic. Bayley couldn’t afford top entertainers, so there was no big show to bring gamblers in. The idea that saved the Hacienda came from Bayley’s protégé, 27 year-old hotel manager Richard Taylor.
Bayley sent his lieutenant on an errand to have a Hacienda billboard put up near the highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Taylor couldn’t get a permit for the billboard, but he had a brainstorm while he was there. Seeing that traffic came to a stop at a bottleneck in Victorville, Taylor hired a kid to stand at the corner handing out coupons for the Hacienda.
The program was a success, particularly after Bayley replaced the kid with a pair of long-legged cocktail waitresses. Over a two-year period, the Hacienda averaged renting one hundred rooms a night with Taylor’s coupons from the Victorville intersection. Soon Bayley was flying in gamblers from around the country on a private fleet of DC-4s, and leading the city in occupancy rates.
The Hacienda’s success was short lived. By early 1961, Bayley was flying more people into McCarran Airport with his private airplanes than all major airlines combined. In July of 1962, the Civil Aeronautics Board ruled that Bayley was operating a de facto airline without a license and shut him down.
The timing was bad because Bayley was overextended. In 1959, he had bought the struggling New Frontier casino. Flushed with their success at the Hacienda, Bayley and Taylor thought they could turn the Frontier around quickly, but competition at the center of The Strip was fierce and the Frontier became a money loser that cost the Hacienda team all the momentum they had built.
After Christmas of 1963, Taylor, a devout Mormon, took a job as a stock broker in Palm Springs, California. He disliked raising his children in libertine Las Vegas and jumped at the chance to move away. Taylor later donated his records from the Hacienda to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Those records were the basis for this article.
“Doc” Bayley died one year later, Dec. 26, 1964 of a sudden heart attack. When Bayley passed, so did a part of the old Las Vegas tradition of free-wheeling owners. Bayley brought color and inventiveness to Las Vegas, along with a knack for making money. Although the Hacienda passed into other hands, it was never again as profitable or interesting as it was under Doc Bayley.