Nazi enthusiast, Las Vegas gambling tycoon, and sugar daddy
to the University of North Dakota
In this synthesized photograph, the late Ralph Engelstad (center), expresses his obvious delight at being next to the object of his obsessive admiration, Adolph Hitler.
"Ralph Engelstad is a Las Vegas casino owner and a major donor to the University of North Dakota, where he was a goalie in the late '40s. He's also a guy who's been fined $1.5 million by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for damaging the reputation of the state by holding, in two separate years, private Hitler's Birthday parties at his casino, complete with a swastika cake, German food and marching music, bartenders wearing T-shirts with the words "Adolph Hitler European Tour 1939-45," and a life-size portrait of Hitler inscribed "To Ralphie from Adolph, 1939." He says he despises Hitler, and that the parties were merely "spoofs" meant to celebrate new purchases for his collection of Nazi memorabilia."
Dateline: Toronto -- The Canadian War Museum has decided not to sell Adolph Hitler's limousine. The museum had voiced interest in selling the car at auction to raise funds for a new war museum. Public opinion to selling the black Mercedes-Benz was strongly in the negative, however, and the museum's director expressed reservations about letting the vehicle into the public sector where it might become an icon for neo-Nazi groups. According to the Ottawa Citizen, Ralph Engelstad, owner of the 2,700-room Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, had expressed interest in the car. Engelstad -- who was fined $1.5 million by the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1988 for holding a Nazi theme party -- currently owns a six-wheeled Nazi staff car and a Mercedes-Benz once owned by Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler.
"On September 27, 1988, Gaming Control Board agents entered Imperial Palace where they found a "war room" which housed a multi-million dollar collection of Nazi memorabilia. On October 6th, Engelstad apologized publicly for showing "poor taste" in housing the collection at his resort and throwing the parties, which he called "stupid and insensitive." He also denounced Hitler. The Nevada Gaming Commission commenced an investigation.
"In February, 1989, the five-month investigation ended with the issuance of a $1.5 million fine levied against Engelstad by the Nevada Gaming Commission for disgracing the state of Nevada. It was the second highest fine in Nevada gaming history. The highest was the $3 million fine issued in 1984 against the owners of the Stardust for skimming. The commission had considered pulling Engelstad's gaming license that was originally issued in July 1973 amid moral turpitude allegations. But Engelstad's apology, the removal of the Nazi memorabilia, and his otherwise clean record contributed to the panel's decision not to go that route."
The following is Engelstad's December 20, 2000 letter to University of North Dakota President, Charles Kupchella. A day after receiving this letter the North Dakota Board of Higher Education usurped Kupchella's decision-making authority and capitulated to Engelstad's demands. For more complete coverage of this remarkable chain of events see: A Battle Over a Name in the Land of the Sioux from the February 23, 2001 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education
I am sorry to write this letter but as a businessman I have no choice.
Commitments were made to me by others and yourself, regarding the Sioux logo and the Sioux slogan before I started the arena and after it had been started.
These promises have not been kept and I, as a businessman, cannot proceed while this cloud is still hanging above me. ...
I understand that you are to make a decision sometime in the future but I do not understand where one person gets the authority to make this kind of a decision on behalf of all alumni, students, the City of Grand Forks and the State of North Dakota. ...
Please be advised that if this logo and slogan are not approved by you no later than Friday, December 29, 2000, then you will leave me with no alternative but to take the action which I think is necessary.
If the logo and slogan are not approved by the above-mentioned date, I will then write a letter on December 30, 2000 to all contractors and to everybody associated with the arena canceling their construction contracts for the completion of the arena. I am a man of my word and I will see to it that a settlement is made with all subcontractors, with anyone who has purchased pre-paid advertising, I will refund money to all ticketholders and abandon the project. It would be then left up to you if you want to complete it with money from wherever you may be able to find it.
I have spent, as of this time, in excess of $35,000,000.00 which I will consider a bad investment but I will take my lumps and walk away.
As I am sure you realize, the commitment I made to the University of North Dakota was, I believe, one of the 10 largest ever made to a school of higher education, but if it is not completed, I am sure it will be the number one building never brought to completion at a school of higher education due to your changing the logo and the slogan.
You need to think how changing this logo and slogan will effect not just the few that are urging the name change but also how it will effect the university as a whole, the students, the City of Grand Forks and the State of North Dakota.
If I walk away and abandon the project, please be advised that we will shut off all temporary heat going to this building and I am sure that nature, through its cold weather, will completely destroy any portion of the building through frost that you might be able to salvage. I surely hoped that it would never come to this but I guess it has.
It is a good thing that you are an educator because you are a man of indecision and if you were a businessman, you would not succeed, you would be broke immediately.
Please do not consider this letter a threat in any manner as it is not intended to be. It is only notification to you of exactly what I am going to do if you change this logo and this slogan.
In the event it is necessary to cancel the completion of this arena, I will then send notification to anyone who is interested in informing them of the same and laying out to them all of the facts and all of the figures from all of the meetings that led me to make this decision.
Your lack of making a decision has hung over our heads too long and we can't go on with it any further.
It is your choice if you want to put hundreds of construction workers out of a job and deprive the local businesses of Grand Forks of the income they are receiving from the construction of the arena. ...