Wayne Newton and Johnny Carson’s battle to own the Aladdin Hotel

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Wayne Newton was at the peak of his career on the Las Vegas Strip in 1980 – the No.1 headliner in many hotels, earning millions of dollars a year.

Johnny Carson was NBC’s best dog, a power to be reckoned with in Hollywood. His long reign on late-night television was responsible for a massive chunk of NBC’s profits. And he, too, was well-connected to Las Vegas, as the owner of a local TV station and a stand-up comedy actor on the Strip.

For years the two men were friendly and professional. “The Midnight Idol” had made some 30 appearances on Carson’s “Tonight Show”.

But their relationship took a brutal turn after Newton gained the upper hand in their fierce battle to buy the crowd-controlled Aladdin Hotel. Carson began to skewer Newton in monologues.

The marquee for Johnny Carson and Don Rickles in the Sahara on November 15, 1967, in Las Vegas. (Robert Scott Hooper / Las Vegas Press Office)
Johnny Carson opened at the Sahara Hotel-Casino in 1970. (Review-Journal File Photo)

“He was very angry with me and started making jokes on his show, and having other comedians join those jokes about my lack of manhood, I guess that’s the best way to put it,” according to Newton. “There was no rhyme or reason for it. No truth, in fact, at all. It was just because it was so warped that I ended up with the hotel.

Johnny Carson and his partner, longtime game director Ed Nigro, felt betrayed after their purchase contract was turned down. Carson left Las Vegas and never returned.

“We were very angry and very upset,” says Nigro. “And we knew we had been overtaken, and we knew the judge had accepted it, and the state had accepted it and that’s what disappointed me the most.”

Newton tried to join Carson for a few years without success. So one day, he says, he just walked into Carson’s office out of the blue and told her he would kick her ass if the jokes didn’t stop.

Well the jokes stopped, but Newton’s decision to buy the Aladdin and get state approval became the nightmare of his life.

An old friend Newton turned to in an hour of need would once again tie organized crime to the Aladdin and shake up Newton’s reputation. Noted Mafia figure Guido Penosi, who helped Newton deal with death threats against his family, will be featured in this episode.

Part 4: Wayne Newton vs. Johnny Carson

The feud between the two entertainment giants begins the fourth episode of the Review-Journal’s second season of the popular crime podcast series “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas.”

Your host for Season 2 is Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German, who has been covering organized crime in the city for over 40 years.

Where and how to listen

Assailed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas, Season 2 “is available for free on all major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and more.

Search for “Mobbed Up” on your favorite mobile podcasting app and press “Subscribe” or “Follow,” or click here to listen to the series on the Review-Journal website.

The first season of “Mobbed Up”, released in the summer of 2020, chronicled the rise and fall of the Las Vegas crowd over 11 episodes.


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