Stairway to the Stars

[SS] “What do you guys remember about the Stardust casino?” Stan the Stat inquired.

[LL] “I’ve never been there, but I heard that’s where David Bowie1 liked to hang out”, Leroy the Lion cracked.

[RR] “With Tinker Bell”, Roderick the Rock added.

[LL] “I think that was fairy dust.”

[SS] “Or pixie dust or stardust. But let’s fly back in time to the early 1980s… The Stardust Resort and Casino already had one of the two major poker rooms in Las Vegas in the late 1970s, but when they hired Bob Thompson, he created the Stairway to the Stars festival to draw more people to the casino.

Stairway to the Stars (1983 to 1986)

Dates Events Main Event Winner Notes
January 3 to 27, 1983 11 Ken Smith ($140,000) Johnny Chan won the $1,500 No Limit Hold ‘Em event for $60,750 and finished seventh in the Main Event for $5,600.
January 9 to 31, 1984 22 Ralph Morton ($55,000) Main Event runner-up Gary Berland won four tournaments and clinched the points-based Best All Around Player award and a customized Chevy van over David Reese with four events still to be played.
January 2 to 21, 1985 24 Carl McKelvey ($55,000) Barbara Gold won the $500 Razz and finished second in the $1,000 Razz, while Cissy Russo won the $200 Limit Hold ‘Em and placed third in the $500 Limit Omaha. Other winners included Betty Hiller ($500 Limit Omaha), Jack Straus ($1,500 No Limit Hold ‘Em), David Sklansky ($1,000 Limit Draw Low Ball).
January 2 to 23, 1986 28 T.J. Cloutier ($42,500) Cloutier beat Hamid Dastmalchi heads up for the title. Other winners included Bob Stupak ($2,500 No Limit Deuce to 7), Berry Johnston ($1,000 Pot Limit Omaha plus third in $500 No Limit Hold ‘Em Match Play, $500 Razz, $1,000 Razz, and Main Event), Jack Straus ($1,000 Match Play Omaha & $2,500 No Limit Hold ‘Em plus 2nd in $500 No Limit Hold ‘Em Match Play and $1,000 Tag Team with Cheryl Davis and 4th in $500 No Limit Deuce to 7 and Main Event), Robert Turner ($1,000 No Limit Hold ‘Em & $200 Limit Hold ‘Em plus third in $200 Limit Omaha), and Barbara Putterman ($200 7 Card Stud).


  • In 1985, “Oklahoma” Johnny Hale won three match play (heads-up) events. He outlasted a field of 16 in the $1,000 Pot Limit Hold ‘Em Match Play and a field of 32 in the $500 No Limit Hold ‘Em Match Play, but he was the only player to sign up for the $2,500 No Limit Hold ‘Em Match Play. Bob Thompson gave him the trophy, refunded his buyin, and cancelled the tournament. During the $500 event, Hale had a bye in the first round but offered to play the late-arriving Bob Stupak for 20% of his action if he won and one week use of his Rolls Royce, a uniformed chauffeur, and $500 expense money if he lost. Hale collected on his winning bet and earned points with his in-laws by giving them use of the car on their next visit to Las Vegas.2
  • Also in 1985, the $500 Limit Omaha tournament had a guarantee of $100,000 in prizes, but only 107 players entered, of whom 44 rebought once, leaving the Stardust $24,500 in the hole. That didn’t stop the Stardust from offering tournaments with $100,000 and $200,000 guaranteed the following year, and both events ran in the black, so that was not a factor in the death of the festival.”

[RR] “So the festival just disappeared with no explanation?”

[SS] “As far as I can tell. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”


  1. Bowie’s 1972 concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars introduced his alter ego, who is also a rock star.
  2. Hale recounts this story in a February 2011 article nearly a quarter-century later, so his memory may have slipped a little as he got two of the buyin amounts and two of the game types wrong. The Hendon Mob database also has one game type wrong, as it claims that he won a $1,000 Pot Limit Omaha instead of Pot Limit Hold ‘Em. According to the Stardust’s ad on page 8 of the December 24, 1984 Poker Player newspaper, this Pot Limit Hold ‘Em event took place on the same day as a $500 Limit Omaha tournament and having overlapping Omaha events wouldn’t make sense.


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