When gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931 there were no paved streets and not a single traffic light. Today there are 122 licensed casinos open for play in town. Most of the gaming houses were originally built along Fremont Street (the street that got that first stop light and the initial thin layer of macadam). You can still play in the casino that received the first Las Vegas gaming license - the Northern Club that operates today as La Bayou. Other landmark casinos on Fremont Street include the Golden Nugget and Binion’s Horseshoe where the World Series of Poker was born.
In 1941 casinos began drifting out of town onto Highway 91 in an unincorporated community called Paradise. In time the road would become Las Vegas Boulevard and known around the world as The Strip. Most of the pioneering casinos on The Strip have been imploded but you can still gamble in heritage properties like the Tropicana and the Riviera. The Flamingo, the brainchild of mobster Bugsy Siegel, was the third casino to open on The Strip in 1946 and is the oldest resort still in operation on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Caesar’s Palace opened in 1960s as the first grand casino to break out of the motel-style casino mold and it reigned as the face of the Las Vegas Strip for decades. Evel Knievel jumped over fountains in the parking lot, Grand Prix drivers raced around the grounds and world championship boxing titles were decided at Caesar’s.
In 1989 Steve Wynn upped the ante with The Mirage that took Vegas upscale and the resorts grew bigger and more extravagant. Today nine of the ten largest hotels in America are in Las Vegas, and 25 of the country’s 32 biggest are in the city. The biggest of the big is the MGM Grand with nearly 8,000 rooms.
Today there are 29 casinos on The Strip. We will see them all and then take the monorail back to where we started. And like it does for everyone coming into Vegas by air we will see first...
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign
median at 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Vegas Vic, a welcoming neon cowboy, was the unofficial symbol for Las Vegas as he greeted tourists from outside the Pioneer Club on Fremont Street beginning in 1951. As casinos began to drift out to Las Vegas Boulevard the job for a new roadside welcoming sign went to Western Neon. Betty Willis, a 36-year old Las Vegas native, got the design assignment. She crafted an iconic mid-20th century road sign, offset from its two supporting poles that alternated fonts and colors in proclaiming “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.” The back of the sign, which was placed at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip and the first thing seen by visitors arriving by plane, reminds folks to “Drive Carefully Come Back Soon.” Willis outlined the word “Welcome” in round disks to symbolize the silver dollars historically played in the casinos and put the entire composition under a red starburst. Willis never copyrighted her design of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign which appears on souvenirs and has been replicated at other entrance points to the city, including the McCarran International Airport. When light bulbs burn out in the sign they are sold off as souvenirs by the owner, Young Electric Sign Company, and the proceeds given to charity.
ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Bali Hai Golf Club
5160 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Opened in 2000, the Bali Hai Golf Club is the only golf course located directly on the Las Vegas Strip. Architects Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley, leaders in resort golf design, routed the course through black volcanic rock outcroppings and accented transition areas with dazzling Augusta white sand. More than 2,500 majestic date palms and over 100,000 tropical plants and flowers were imported to landscape the course that is a perennial member of any ranking of the country’s top resort courses.
CROSS RUSSELL STREET. ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South
For many years until 2006 the low-slung Klondike Hotel and Casino was the southernmost casino on the Las Vegas Strip. It began life in 1962 as a tiki motel known as the Kona Kai Inn, located across the road from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. It transformed into the Klondike in 1976. The property was bulldozed in 2008 and became the realm of skateboarders. Mandalay Bay assumed the mantle of “southernmost casino on the Strip.”
Mandalay Bay itself was constructed on the bones of the Hacienda that had been imploded on New Year’s Eve, 1996. The Hacienda opened in 1956 and was so far removed from downtown Las Vegas that it operated its own airline to fly gamblers into McCarren Airport from across the Midwest on inexpensive, all-inclusive junkets. Circus Circus Enterprises bought the Hacienda and replaced it with the 43-story, Hawaiian-themed Mandalay Bay at the cost of $950 million. Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi and John Goodman led a parade of Harley Davidson motorcycles through the doors to open the resort on March 2, 1999.
Inside was America’s largest unobstructed ballroom with 100,000 square feet of dance floor. Out back Mandalay Beach boasted three heated pools, a wave pool and a lazy river with a plunging waterfall. Mandalay Bay would win the Las Vegas Review Journal’s reader poll for “Best Pool of Las Vegas” for seven years running.
The main tank in the Shark Reef Aquarium is one of the largest on the continent and Mandalay Bay was the first closed-system aquarium to successfully exhibit a great hammerhead shark. The shipwreck tank is the third largest in America and harbors green sea turtles, sand tiger sharks, and green sawfish. On land in the surrounding jungle exhibit are golden crocodiles and a Komodo dragon.
Delano Las Vegas
3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Mandalay Bay added a 42-story tower in 2004 known as THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. The emphasis was on the “hotel” as the non-suite rooms were billed as the largest in Las Vegas with none smaller than 750 square feet. The Presidential Suite allowed guests to stretch out in 4,500 square feet (twice the size of the average American house). French-born chef Alain Ducasse, holder of more than 20 coveted Michelin stars, was imported to helm the MiX Restaurant at the top of the hotel. In 2012 MGM Resorts International, owner of the Mandalay Bay properties, announced a re-branding to Delano Las Vegas..
CROSS MANDALAY BAY ROAD. ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Luxor Las Vegas
3900 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Luxor was the ancient city of Thebes on the River Nile, the fabulous capital of Egypt ruled by Amun-Ra, the King of the gods. In 1993 Circus Circus Enterprises unveiled its version of the Egyptian pyramids which was the tallest building on the Las Vegas Strip at the time. Some 10,000 people were on hand to walk through the doors of the Luxor on its opening day; it had cost $375 million, raised entirely in Circus Circus casinos.
The 365-foot high pyramid is entombed by 11 acres of dark bronze glass. The atrium was the largest in the world. Out front a 110-foot re-creation of the original Great Sphinx of Giza is nearly twice the size of the original rendering of the mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. The ancient Egyptians often placed obelisks at the entrance to temples as a symbol of Amun-Ra and the Luxor’s reaches 140 feet into the sky, taller than anything in antiquity.
At night, beaming out of the pyramid tip is said to be the brightest beam of light on the planet. The Luxor Sky Beam can generate more than 42 billion candle power and can be seen on a clear light from aircraft in Los Angeles. Its engineers like to say that there is enough light from the beam to read a newspaper ten miles into space. When cranked up to full power, which rarely happens anymore since America turned energy conscious, the Luxor Sky Beam costs more than $50 an hour to operate.
Two additional towers designed in a ziggarut style popular in ancient Mesopotamia were added to bring the total number of rooms up to 4,440 making the Luxor the second largest hotel in Las Vegas. As part of the Mandalay Bay complex now owned by MGM Resorts International it is connected to its sister casino by a retail sky bridge and also the Mandalay Bay tram.
CROSS RENO AVENUE. ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Excalibur Hotel and Casino
3850 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The Excalibur is the fourth of the quartet of sister properties owned by MGM Resorts International at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. The colorful multi-turreted casino-hotel taps into the rich mythology of King Arthur and Camelot and spreads across 70 acres. With nearly 4,000 rooms the Excalibur is one of the ten largest hotels in the world. The medieval theme has not worn well since the opening in 1990 and has gradually been phased out in a modernization effort. The Tournament of Kings is still a permanent show, however, that presents a jousting tournament featuring 12 breeds of horses and 32 cast members dueling in King Arthur’s Arena. The show is highlighted by a banquet feast with serving wenches where the food is meant to be consumed with no utensils.
ACROSS THE STREET AND CONNECTED TO THE EXCALIBUR BY A PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE IS...
Tropicana Las Vegas
3801 Las Vegas Boulevard South on southeast corner of Tropicana Boulevard
Ben Jaffe cut his entertainment teeth on the Fontainebleau Hotel in Florida in the 1950s when it was considered the most luxurious playground in Miami Beach. In 1955 he came to Las Vegas with the idea of recreating the South Beach ambiance in the Nevada desert. He aimed to build the finest hotel in LasVegas and the leaded glass ceiling over the casino floor imparted a sense of the Italian Renaissance elegance to reach that goal. But construction overruns delayed the opening until 1957 and the Tropicana always struggled against larger hotels. Still, renovations came in 1979, 1986 and 2011 and the 1,467-room hotel remains one of the few remaining heritage casino hotels on The Strip.
CROSS TROPICANA BOULEVARD. ON THE RIGHT IS...
MGM Grand Las Vegas
3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South on northeast corner of Tropicana Boulevard
The 15-year old Marina Hotel and the Tropicana Country Club were sacrificed in 1990 to build the largest hotel in the world - the MGM Grand. A quarter century later the emerald green MGM Grand is still the world’s second biggest hotel with 6,852 rooms and the largest casino in Las Vegas.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was founded in 1924 and became the most powerful movie studio in Hollywood. When the corporation moved into the gaming business it pursued an entertainment theme and the casino was given a Wizard of Oz vibe, hence the emerald green glass. Guests entered the casino through the mouth of the MGM mascot, Leo the Lion.
The Emerald City underperformed and was soon scrapped. Leo’s mouth scared off Chinese gamblers who considered a lion’s mouth bad luck and he was mothballed as well. He was reborn in 1998 in the form of a 50-ton bronze statue at the entrance that is the largest bronze work of art in the United States.
Still the resort bumbled along. In an attempt to become the first family-friendly destination hotel in Las Vegas an MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park was opened behind the casino but it was destined to become a luxury condominium after it flopped. The MGM Grand has since morphed into an entertainment-themed casino molded around Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s with no kiddie appeal. Magician David Copperfield is the permanent star in The Hollywood Theatre and CSI: The Experience allows guests to play murder detectives.
The MGM Grand Garden Arena seats 16,800 people and hosts major sporting events and awards shows. The property features five outdoor pools, meandering concrete rivers and waterfalls.
ACROSS THE STREET ON THE OPPOSITE CORNER IS...
New York-New York Hotel and Casino
3790 Las Vegas Boulevard South on northwest corner of Tropicana Boulevard
Sid Rogich was born in Iceland but his family came to Las Vegas in 1954 so his father could work in a titanium factory. As an adult Rogich built the largest advertising agency in Nevada before he was tabbed by George W. Bush to become United States Ambassador to his native Iceland. When the Bush administration ended Rogich went to work developing an idea for a casino based on America’s greatest city.
More than $450 million later the world’s most identifiable skyline rose on one of the choicest intersections on The Strip. There is the Art Deco masterpiece, the Chrysler building, and its Fifth Avenue neighbor, the Empire State Building. In addition to the 150-foot high replica of the Statue of Liberty there are renditions of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Grand Central Terminal and the Whitney Museum of Art. The main casino floor is crafted like Central Park and the interior shops are meant to evoke Greenwich Village.
The Roller Coaster out front that zips over a pond emblematic of New York harbor is themed to resemble New York City taxicabs. The 203-foot high coaster goes through two inversions and features a 144-foot drop as speeds reach 67 miles per hour. New York-New York is home to one of the many Cirque du Soleil troupes and the only one to restrict admission only to those 18 years or older.
CROSS THE RUE DE MONTE CARLO. ON THE LEFT IS...
Monte Carlo Resort and Casino
3770 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The first casino opened in what would become Monte Carlo in 1862 but the French Riviera coast was too remote at that time to make it a successful go. Eventually railroads were built and tramways and fortunes improved. The Monaco Grand Prix road race started up in 1929 and by the time James Bondand Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in To Catch A Thief discovered the seaside resort Monte Carlo was shorthand for reckless extravagance and conspicuous displays of wealth. No wonder Las Vegas executives were eager to replicate the Monte Carlo experience on The Strip.
To clear room for the Monte Carlo in 1993 the 38-year old Dunes casino was demolished with “cannon blasts” from the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino as 200,000 people looked on and fireworks filled the air. The new 360-foot high casino tower opened three years later and today boasts nearly 3,000 rooms. To bring a splash of the French Riviera to Nevada architects selected chandelier domes, marble floors and promenades lit by 19th-century style gas lights.
NEXT DOOR IS...
3752 Las Vegas Boulevard South
This hotel opened in 2009 is a centerpiece of a shopping and entertainment complex that was designed by one of the world’s leading architecture firms, Kohn Pedersen Fox. It is one of only six hotels in the United States to hold three Forbes Five Star Awards, one for every category. Superstar french chef Pierre Gagnaire runs the restaurant Twist here, his American debut.
CROSS CITY CENTER PLACE. ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Aria Resort and Casino
3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South
CityCenter was conceived as a seven-building mixed-use urban complex that is the largest privately funded construction project in United States history. At 600 feet Aria is the tallest structure at CityCenter. The firm of Argentine-American architect César Pelli, known for designing the world’s tallest buildings, conceived of the stunning curved glass and steel high-rise towers that form the structure. The sophistication of the appointments caused Popular Mechanics to gush that Aria is possibly “the most technologically advanced hotel ever built.”
Aria is one of the ten largest hotels in the world, with more than 4,000 guest rooms. The pool area is large enough to accommodate 50 cabanas amid tropical landscaping. There are 16 restaurants including Bar Masa by Masa Takayama who flies Bluefin Tuna from the Japanese coast to the kitchen at at Aria four times a week.
CROSS HARMON AVENUE. ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino
3667 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The first casino on this site opened in 1963 as the Tally-Ho. After several permutations and the addition of a 15-story illuminated “Aladdin’s Lamp” it emerged as The Aladdin in 1966. A year later it became famous as the place where Elvis Presley married Priscilla Ann Wagner. In 1980 Wayne Newton, Mr. Las Vegas, bought the resort for $85 million but the property went into bankruptcy four years later. It finally closed in 1997 and everything save for the Aladdin Theatre was imploded the next year.
The new Aladdin opened in 2000 but never was able to get its nose above water financially and was sold to Planet Hollywood in 2003. Rooms in the 37-floor hotel are dedicated to a Hollywood movie and decorated with a prop or memorabilia from the film’s production.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The luxury casino and hotel, which opened in 2010 and has already appeared on lists of the world’s best hotels, has no connection to the magazine. in fact, a suit by the publishers, Hearst Corporation, forced the addition of “Las Vegas” into the name. The Cosmopolitan is connected though to the high end Ritz-Carlton hotel chain and it is the brand’s first presence on The Strip. The hotel offers 2,995 rooms and three pool areas: a relaxing pool, a day club pool and a nightclub pool.
NEXT DOOR IS...
3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Steve Wynn was coming off a string of successful casinos on the Las Vegas Strip in the 1990s when he set out to build the most expensive hotel in the world. It took $1.6 billion to bring the Bellagio to fruition. He based his property on the quintessential elegant Italian town of Bellagio on the Y-shaped Lake Como. Wynn built an 8-acre lake to mimic the famous resort in northern Italy.
The most celebrated outdoor extravaganza on The Strip is the display put on by the Bellagio Fountains where 1,214 jets send water in choreographed patterns as high as 460 feet into the air. The shows begin every half-hour at 3:00 p.m. and after dark go off every 15 minutes until midnight. Every bit as impressive as the dancing waters outside the Bellagio Hotel is the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens inside. More than 140 horticulturists tend to the plants in changing seasonal displays as small-scale trains tour replica American landmarks in an epic railway journey. And it is all free.
Wynn used the public spaces of Bellagio to display his own expansive collection of fine art that has evolved into the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. The Bellagio was the first hotel on The Strip to win the AAA Five Diamond Award more than ten years in a row - it has earned the car club’s top award every year since 2000. So many professional poker players call the Poker Room at the Bellagio their home base that they refer to it as “the Office.”
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Paris Las Vegas
3655 Las Vegas Boulevard South
When the planners for Paris Las Vegas got started they were going to build their casino hotel Vegas style and that meant building a full-size replica of the 1,063-foot high Eiffel Tower. But city officials informed them that an American Eiffel Tower would interfere with flight paths into McCarron Airport so they had to settle for a half-scale 541-foot replica of Gustave Eiffel’s masterwork. The back legs of the tower slide down through the ceiling of the casino onto the gaming floor.
Paris Las Vegas also features an Arc deTriomphe at two-thirds size and a replica of the Fontaines de la Concorde that was fashioned in 1840 for the largest square in the French capital. The French Second Empire style facade calls to mind the architecture of the Paris Opera House and the Louvre. To kick off the new casino on September 1, 1999 French actress Catherine Deneuve hit a switch that fired up all the lights in the resort from the crystal chandeliers to the fireworks shooting from the Eiffel Tower.
NEXT DOOR IS...
Bally’s Las Vegas
3645 Las Vegas Boulevard South
This hotel tower seems almost quaint on The Strip today but it was the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1973. The first building on the site had been the Three Coins Motel in 1963 which became the Bonanza Hotel and Casino in 1967. When owner Kirk Kerkorian cleared the Bonanza for his new $100 million property he named it for his movie studio, MGM. The MGM Grand ushered in the mega-resorts that have since dwarfed the building.
In 1985 the hotel was sold to Bally Entertainment Corporation. Raymond Moloney founded the Bally Manufacturing Company at the height of the Great Depression in 1932 to manufacture pinball machines. The name comes from his first game which he called Bally-Hoo. Guests ride a moving sidewalk through a neon-lit tunnel into the casino to the accompaniment of hits from the Rat Pack of old Las Vegas fame.
CROSS FLAMINGO DRIVE. ON THE RIGHT IS...
The Cromwell Las Vegas
3645 Las Vegas Boulevard South at northeast corner of Flamingo Drive
This property was first the Barbary Coast Hotel & Casino and after 2007 Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon, named in honor of Harrah’s founder, Bill Harrah. As the names implied it was a throwback to the early days of gambling in Las Vegas and the architecture looked as if it could have stepped off Fremont Street downtown. In 2013 the casino was closed and converted into a luxury boutique hotel with modern French styling.
NEXT DOOR IS...
Flamingo Las Vegas
3555 Las Vegas Boulevard South
This Flamingo was the third casino to open on the Strip in 1946 and is the oldest resort still in operation on Las Vegas Boulevard. Its Streamline Moderne architecture is a holdover from its Miami Beach influences, as is the wildlife habitat in the garden courtyard where the signature flamingos frolic.
It was mobster Bugsy Siegel who named the Flamingo after he bought a two-thirds interest in the property during construction. He had a superstitious interest in flamingos from his days owning the Hialeah Park Race track in Florida and considered them a good omen. He even called his girlfriend Virginia Hill “Flamingo” due to her long and winsome legs. Unfortunately the Flamingo, billed as “The West’s Greatest Resort Hotel,” was a flop despite Siegel recruiting big-name Hollywood entertainment. The lucky name did him no good and in 1947 Siegel was murdered by his gangster associates who were convinced he was skimming profits from the operation.
New management downplayed the gambling aspects of the hotel and instead played up the air conditioned rooms, swimming pools, dining and entertainment - the first “complete Vegas experience.” In the ensuing years the Flamingo experienced many renovations and several owners. Meanwhile a monument to Bugsy Siegel was erected on the grounds.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
After fighting in the South Pacific theater in World War II 23-year old Jay Sarno returned to Miami and became a tile contractor and then a house builder. Both ventures with partner Stanley Mallin failed. The pair met Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa who was impressed with their spunk and loaned them enough money to build the Cabana Motel in Atlanta in 1958. The little motel turned into a hit and others soon followed. After a trip to Las Vegas which he found filled with small motel chains like his own he became convinced that the town needed a splashy European-style hotel.
With $35 million in borrowed money from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund Sarno broke ground in 1962 on his 14-story dream resort with 680 rooms which he named after the Roman general Julius Caesar. He installed Roman landscapes and fountains and Neoclassical columns were everywhere. In 1967 Evel Knievel unsuccessfully tried to jump 141 feet over the hotel’s water fountain on his motorcycle. Meanwhile regulators pressured Sarno to sell due to suspected organized-crime ties and he cashed out in 1969 with a $25 million profit. He then opened the family-oriented Circus Circus and Caesar’s Palace continued on as the face of the Las Vegas Strip.
In the 1970s promoter Don King began staging major boxing matches in the parking lot of Caesars Palace making the casino synonymous with big sporting events. In the 1980s a Grand Prix course was set up on the property to host a Formula One World Championship event. In the 1990s The Forum Shops at Caesars pioneered high-end shopping in Las Vegas casinos. Today Caesars Palace features 3,960 rooms spread over six towers: Augustus, Centurion, Roman, Palace, Octavius and Forum.
The Colosseum at Caesars Palace is a 4,296-seat entertainment room built in 2003 for Celine Dion who had just signed a three-year contract for 600 shows. The engagement actually lasted nearly five years and grossed over $400 million with three million fans having seen the A New Day... show. Through it all the talking marble statues inside Caesars Palace still turn heads.
FURTHER UP ON THE RIGHT IS...
Harrah’s Las Vegas
3475 Las Vegas Boulevard South
William Fisk Harrah was born in Pasadena, California in 1911, the son of a lawyer and politician who neither smoked nor drank and found gambling monotonous. Bill Harrah began studying mechanical engineering at UCLA but was driven from school by the Great Depression. He went to work in various family businesses manning a hot dog stand and a pool hall and also running a game of chance called the Circle Game where a ball rolled down a board clicking off card suits and numbers.
Weary of harassment by local officials over the legality of the game, Harrah left for Reno in 1937 and opened a bingo parlor. Scarcely two weeks later he turned the key for the last time of the failed operation, little realizing that his kaput bingo game would be the foundation for the world’s largest gaming empire. Harrah’s Plaza Tango started up again in July of 1938 and two months later he was running games on Virginia Stree. In June 1946 Harrah launched his first full-service casino on the ruins of the old Mint Club, trumpeting his operation as “Nevada’s most beautiful casino.” Nine years later Harrah’s was in operation on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. Bill Harrah died in 1978, five years after the company stock became the first gaming business to appear on the New York Stock Exchange. He never saw his name on a Las Vegas hotel.
The first casino property at this location was a mom-and-pop operation called the Silver Slipper in 1973. Holiday Inn, Harrah’s parent company. acquired the property in the 1980s and affixed the Harrah’s nameplate to the casino in 1992. A subsequent renovation scuttled the original riverboat theme and replaced it with a Mardi Gras celebration motif. Today the multi-tower resort boasts 2,677 rooms.
BEHIND HARRAH’S, HARD BY THE MONORAIL STOP IS...
The High Roller
3475 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The world’s tallest Ferris wheel rotates more than 1,100 passengers 550 feet into the air, taking 30 minutes to complete a single revolution. It opened in 2014 after nearly a three-year construction period.
RETURN TO LAS VEGAS BOULEVARD AND CONTINUE HEADING NORTH. ACROSS THE STREET ON THE LEFT IS...
3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Steve Wynn’s father ran a string of bingo parlors on the East Coast but when he died of a heart condition in 1963 he left $350,000 in debts for his 21-year old son who was about to leave the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English Literature. Nonetheless Wynn made the bingo parlors profitable and by 1967 had enough money to buy a small stake in the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. After moving to the desert he found enough success to purchase a controlling interest in the Golden Nugget, a longtime landmark on Fremont Street, before his 30th birthday.
Wynn pushed the heritage property upscale and did the same thing in the new gaming frontier of Atlantic City with his Golden Nugget there. He was then ready to return to Las Vegas and introduce the town to a new type of luxury entertainment in a mega-resort with multiple entertainment and dining options, top of the line lodging and, oh yes, gambling. The new Mirage cost $630 million that could have bought a string of traditional casinos on The Strip. It rose on the rubble of the Castaways casino, a former Howard Hughes property.
The distinctive gold windows used actual gold dust in the tinting process. The original marquee was the largest free-standing sign in the world. The Mirage featured a Polynesian theme and one way Wynn re-invented Las Vegas was with the free sidewalk show for tourists who had become scarce in Las Vegas in the days before the Mirage opened in 1989. The Volcano in the front yard erupted spctacularly on the hour each night until midnight. When guests came inside they could see the Siegfield & Roy show for over a dozen years until one of the signature white tigers mauled performer Roy Horn in 2003.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Casino Royale Hotel & Casino
3411 Las Vegas Boulevard South
While The Strip has upped the ante in building ever newer casinos to attract high rollers the Casino Royale stubbornly caters to the small-time player. The building was constructed as a nightclub in the 1960s and then the Nob Hill casino. In 1992 the Casino Royale opened with a European theme and the adjacent Travelodge was appropriated for hotel rooms. Today it is a Best Western with among the lowest table minimums on Las Vegas Boulevard.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South
This is the location of the former Sands Hotel and Casino, the most lamented of the lost pioneering hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. The Sands was the seventh to open outside of downtown, designed by architect Wayne McAllister, a leader in the Space Age style of designing buildings, in 1952. This is where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford spent three weeks in 1960 filming the casino heist filmOcean’s 11 during the day and performing together at night in the Copa Room. It was the birth of the famed Rat Pack. The lights on The Strip have dimmed three times as a sign of respect to performers on their deaths - for Davis in 1990, Martin in 1995 and Sinatra in 1998.
When the old-style casino once the epitome of cool could not compete with the mega resorts of the1990s it was imploded in 1996. Sands casino chips have become collector’s items worth in the hundreds of dollars. The luxury Venetian took its place in 1999 with the final bill coming in at $1.5 billion. Landmarks from Venice, Italy, most splendidly the replica of St. Mark’s Campanile, provide the inspiration for the resort. Also in evidence is the Palazzo Ducale where eccentric multi-millionaire art collector and interior decorator Carlos de Beistegui threw a masquerade ball in 1951 that is still regarded in awe as “the party of the century.” Instead of spanning Venice’s Grand Canal the Rialto Bridge in Las Vegas gets guests across the entrance road.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
3300 Las Vegas Boulevard South
After the massive success of the Mirage Steve Wynn was looking to expand in the early 1990s but ended up with a separate resort instead. Treasure Island was targeted at families with arcades and kid-friendly amenities. Its front yard attraction was a staged pirate battle nightly in Buccaneer Bay. As Las Vegas cooled to the idea of being a family friendly destination in the 2000s the pirate theme was slowly phased out and the property rebranded as “TI” with nightclubs and party bars replacing the bounce houses. In 2013 the pirates were retired altogether from Buccaneer Bay.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
3325 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The Palazzo was the tallest building on The Strip when it opened in 2007 and that did not include the four story underground parking garage. It is said to be the second largest building on the continent in terms of floor space. Guests enter the $1.8 billion casino hotel through a 60-foot glass dome and past a two-story fountain. The Italian-themed resort features a Lamborghini dealership where the cars live in imported marble surroundings with leather wall coverings.
Behind The Venetian and The Palazzo, which share a gaming license, is the Sands Expo and Convention Center that was the second largest meeting hall in the world when it opened in 1990.
CROSS SANDS AVENUE. ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
3131 Las Vegas Boulevard South
This is the site of the legendary Desert Inn that opened in 1950 as the fifth casino on the Las Vegas Strip. On Thanksgiving Day 1966 America’s richest man, Howard Hughes, checked in for ten days and rented the entire top two floors. After his reservation was up the hotel needed to get the rooms ready for a junket of high rollers but Hughes refused to leave. Instead he bought the property and went on a Las Vegas buying spree that included the Sands and five other casinos. He bought the Silver Slipper across the street from the Desert Inn just to reposition the neon slipper out front since it was disturbing his sleep. In 1997 the Desert Inn picked up a $200 million facelift but just three days past its 50th birthday in 2000 Steve Wynn bought the casino for $270 million. He went on to blow the thing up for his new resort that would be “life imitating art.” He eventually called it the Wynn.
Since opening in 2005 the Wynn has piled up awards for its hotel, restaurants and spas. The one thing Wynn retained was the Desert Inn golf course that was the last casino-owned links on The Strip. It was once a regular stop on the Professional Golfer’s Association tour and featured a clubhouse and tennis courts. Wynn had the 18 holes redesigned by master architect Tom Fazio and branded it the Wynn Golf Club.
When Wynn Las Vegas opened in 2005 it was the first resort to include a full-blown car dealership, including parts. Naturally the models on the showroom floor were only Ferraris and Maseratis and the used cars on display carried sticker prices from $100,000 to $2 million. At first it was free to browse but the dealership became so crowded so quickly it was necessary to charge the curious masses $10 to enter.
While the Wynn does not feature its owner’s trademark sidewalk show out front it is the first high-rise to be cleaned by an automatic window washing system which is almost a show in itself. It was also the first casino hotel to wed a room key and a frequent-player card onto the same plastic magnetic-strip card.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Fashion Show Mall
3200 Las Vegas Boulevard South
With over 250 stores spread around seven anchors this is one of the world’s largest enclosed malls. Fashion shows take place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday on an elevated stage and fashion runway. The 128-foot structure at the entrance is known as “The Cloud” for the shade it provides during the day.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
3121 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Repeating the pattern Steve Wynn experienced with the Mirage and Treasure Island he envisioned Encore as simply an extension of the Wynn but it turned into a full blown casino resort. The Encore is connected to its sister Wynn by a shopping arcade. Together the two properties have earned more Forbes five-star awards than any casino-resort in the world.
The interior is outfitted with Asian themes and floor numbers 40-49 have been completely omitted since the number 4 is avoided in East Asian cultures because it is associated with death. Like most high-rise casino hotels there is no 13th floor because of Western superstitions.
CROSS DESERT INN ROAD AND CONVENTION CENTER DRIVE. ON THE RIGHT IS...
2901 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The Riviera opened in 1955 as the ninth casino resort on The Strip and the first to break out of the motor court mold and build to the sky. Pianist showman Liberace was the headliner for the resort’s opening and remained its top act for years. The old-style casino has an interesting array of attractions including its sole long-running show, Crazy Girls, which is a topless show. The National Open Chess Championship is held every June at the Riviera and most of the country’s top amateur billiard tournaments are staged here.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
2880 Las Vegas Boulevard South
This is what Jay Sarno did after selling out of Caesar’s Palace. He built the world’s largest permanent big top behind the Lucky The Clown marquee. Circus acts and Midway-style carnival games are on display every day. The Adventuredome indoor amusement park was added in 1993 with 25 rides and attractions highlighted by the Canyon Blaster roller coaster with back-to-back vertical loops, corkscrews and four inversions. In addition to the 3,773 rooms the only RV park on The Strip is at Circus Circus.
CROSS RIVIERA BOULEVARD. AHEAD ON THE RIGHT IS...
2755 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The unfinished 68-story tower stands as one of the biggest casualties of the real estate bust of 2008. Although the $3 billion project is topped off and is the tallest hotel building on the Las Vegas Strip bankruptcy was declared in 2009 and contractors and investors have been in court ever since trying to recoup losses. It was intended to be a Miami Beach-themed casino in the manner of its Florida cousin but it is likely to be torn down, taking about $2 billion of sunk costs with it.
FURTHER UP ON THE RIGHT IS...
SLS Las Vegas
2535 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Milton Prell was a St. Louis native who moved to California as a young man and got into the gambling business by opening an “honest” bingo palace at a time when that was not always a given. In 1947 he came to Las Vegas and started the Club Bingo here at a time when there was no Las Vegas Strip and the heart of the gambling action was back in downtown. Club Bingo had 240 rooms and a 300-seat bingo parlor.
When casinos started building out on Las Vegas Boulevard Prell converted his bingo parlor into the Sahara casino in 1952. He called it “The Jewel of the Desert” and put statues of camels out by the highway to emphasize his Moroccan theme. The Sahara would operate for 59 years, adding a roller coaster called Speed - The Ride that launched riders from inside the casino out onto The Strip. The Sahara was shuttered in 2011 and after a $415 million facelift it re-emerged as SLS Las Vegas.
CROSS SAHARA AVENUE. AHEAD ON YOUR LEFT IS...
2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South
The exclamation point that is the northernmost casino on the Las Vegas Strip is the Stratosphere that is America’s tallest freestanding observation tower at 1,149 feet. It was planned to be the world’s tallest tower but there were concerns again about interference with planes heading in and out of McCarran International Airport. It was also considered to have one of the rides be a giant mechanical ape carrying riders up and down the building when it was finished in 1996. That did not happen either.
The giant ape is no more crazy than the three thrill rides that ended up under the Space Needle crown of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino: Insanity that extends 20 yards off the tower and spins riders 40 miles per hour while all they see is the street 900 feet below, Sky Jump which plunges adventurers 855 feet from the 108th floor down to the ground on a zip line, and Big Shot which delivers 4Gs of force as the highest thrill ride you can take anywhere.
Tamer is the 360-degree view from your table in the rotating Top of the World at the Stratosphere restaurant as it delivers a complete panorama of Las Vegas every 80 minutes. The hotel with 2,427 rooms is located in the 24-story building around the tower.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO THE SLS LAS VEGAS AND THE LAS VEGAS MONORAIL STATION.
Las Vegas Monorail
2535 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Accessed by street level on Paradise Road behind the SLS this is the northern terminal for the Las Vegas Monorail. The elevated rail runs nearly the length of The Strip behind the hotels. A one-way trip with station stops takes about 15 minutes and the fare is $5.00. A one-day unlimited travel pass can be had for $12 and the cost for a three-day weekend of unlimited rides is $28.
TAKE THE LAS VEGAS MONORAIL TO ITS SOUTHERN TERMINAL AT THE MGM GRAND AND DEPART TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.