Eccentric Billionaire Howard Hughes Once Bought An Entire Casino In Order To?
Answer: Disable Its Sign
Howard Hughes is one of the characters in the history of America that looms larger than life for more than a few reasons. He was a businessman at heart, a maverick film director, and then, not content at making a name for himself in one industry, he founded an aircraft company and made a name for himself all over again (setting multiple air speed records in the process).
But, as is often the case, it’s not things like founding companies or amassing wealth that people like Hughes are remembered for, but the eccentricities. Hughes is remembered for being particularly eccentric, even among the ranks of his ultra-wealthy peers, because he suffered from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. In ways that a regular OCD-stricken Joe with a regular Joe budget could never afford to indulge his compulsions, Hughes effectively had an unlimited budget. The combination of billions of dollars in the bank with unorthodox attitudes towards the world around him led Hughes to often spend money in ways that seems absurd to the rest of us.
One of the more notable (and certainly most visible) ways in which Hughes would use his money to cultivate his immediate environment to his liking was the 1968 purchase of the Silver Slipper casino in Las Vegas. Hughes had previously purchased other Las Vegas hotels and casinos (he had a strong desire to glamorize Las Vegas and invested heavily in it), but the purchase of the Silver Slipper for 5.4 million dollars (~38.5 million dollars, adjusted for inflation) had nothing to do with business. The motivation for his purchase was to gain control of the Silver Slipper’s giant iconic slipper sign.
The reason given was that the brightly lit slipper shined in Hughes’ bedroom window (he was living at the nearby Desert Inn) but, given the sheer number of very bright lights in Las Vegas, that reason seems a bit flimsy. It was later revealed that Hughes’ primary motivation was a paranoia that someone could access the slipper and use it as a roost to spy on (and photograph) him from across the way. After purchasing the casino, Hughes had the lights turned off, the sign’s rotation motor dismantled, and had the entire casino sealed up so nobody could get inside it.
The sign remained in that state until the demise of the hotel (it was purchased in 1988, demolished, and turned into a parking lot for the Frontier next door). The slipper went into storage and was, only recently (2009), restored and displayed as part of a collection of vintage signs along the median of Las Vegas Boulevard North.