The Stratosphere is the northernmost of the major Strip casinos and the only one actually in the City of Las Vegas, as the rest of the strip south of Sahara Avenue is in the unincorporated townships of Paradise and Winchester. Following its completion in 1996 it was initially less popular than first envisioned due to its location on the extreme north end of the strip, far away from the most popular hotel casinos, but its low room prices and unique offerings eventually ensured its success. While many tourists consider its location to be inconvenient, others feel the location is an advantage since it is equidistant between the more popular strip casinos and the downtown area (which includes the Fremont Street Experience).
In 1995, Grand Casinos was brought on as an equity partner for the still privately funded project under construction.
While construction was still progressing, the Stratosphere Corporation was formed as a public company with shares being offered to the public.
The Stratosphere opened on April 30, 1996. Shortly after opening, the Stratosphere Corporation was forced to file for bankruptcy. This caused construction on the second tower to stop with only a few stories partially built and allowed Carl Icahn to gain control through one of his companies by buying a majority of the outstanding bonds.
A major addition was completed in June 2001 for $1 billion that included finishing the 1000-room second hotel tower.
In the early 2000s, the company attempted to get approval for a roller coaster that would run from several hundred feet up the tower and, in the last proposal, across Las Vegas Boulevard. Part of that last proposal included an entry monument on the ride over Las Vegas Boulevard welcoming people to the City of Las Vegas. The City Council did not approve the project due to objections from the neighbors over possible noise from the enclosed cars on the proposed ride. This ride was intended as a replacement for the never-built ape ride.
Since its opening in 1996, five people have jumped to their deaths from the top of the tower.
In two separate incidents in 2005, riders were left dangling several hundred feet above the Las Vegas Strip for nearly an hour and a half when one of the thrill rides shut down. Some have been critical of the Stratosphere's response to the situations. Rather than admitting culpability, in one case the Stratosphere representative asserted, "The ride didn't malfunction last night. It worked exactly as it should." The compensation offered to the stranded riders was also questionable: a one-year free pass to the ride.
In 2008 noted gambling mathematician Michael Shackleford brought a formal complaint against the Stratosphere for refusing to honor an expired winning sports ticket. At the Nevada Gaming Commission hearing it was discovered that the Stratosphere had been issuing tickets for years that incorrectly listed a shorter expiration date than was really the case. The Stratosphere garnered considerable negative press as a result of this incident, including from the Las Vegas Sun, which said, "The arrogance and the contempt for a paying customer of the casino are palpable.... the Stratosphere bosses should be ashamed of their actions. This episode gives another black eye to Nevada’s legal sports betting scene....