Surf’s up! Enjoy this latest wave of Vegas casino resort openings

We’re in the middle of a wave of new casino openings, which is perfect timing for Southern Nevada considering the need to emerge from the lost year of COVID-19.

Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opens its doors Thursday with some crowd-pleasing features highlighted by its restaurant lineup. Be assured that there’s not a single guitar or vinyl disc on any of the walls from the old Hard Rock Hotel that first opened in March 1995.

As openings go, Virgin’s arrival will be a little different from the traditional ribbon-cutting, although it continues a pattern that has been in place for the last three decades in our city: New casino openings often seem to come in waves of three.

The current trio includes Circa on Oct. 28, Virgin on Thursday and Genting Group’s Resorts World Las Vegas sometime in the summer.

So, while many Virgin visitors will be looking for clues about what was where when the building existed as the Hard Rock, others will just enjoy the fresh Virgin ambiance filled with imagery of a journey through the desert. It’s not quite the same as checking out a brand-new property, but it’s still good.

It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays in Las Vegas in what will be the first casino operated by a tribal enterprise, the Mohegan Sun group of Connecticut.

But back to that pattern of three that has been a part of our more recent history. It really started with the November 1989 opening of The Mirage, although there were lots of casino-hotels already open before that.

The list of vintage properties starts in downtown with the Golden Gate (January 1906), the Golden Nugget (August 1946) and Binion’s (August 1951) with the Strip’s Flamingo sandwiched in there in December 1946.

After that came Sahara (October 1952), Tropicana (April 1957), what’s now The Linq (opened as Flamingo Capri in 1959), Planet Hollywood (opened as the Tally-Ho in February 1963), Four Queens (June 1966), Caesars Palace (August 1966), Circus Circus (October 1968) and Westgate (opened as the International in July 1969).

The ’70s opened with Harrah’s Las Vegas (July 1973), Bally’s (opened as MGM Grand in December 1973), Oyo (opened as a Howard Johnson in 1973), California Hotel (January 1975), Main Street Station (opened as the Holiday International in 1978), The Cromwell (opened as the Barbary Coast in March 1979) and D Las Vegas (opened as Sundance in July 1980).

Several other storied casino resorts with historic names came and went throughout those years: Riviera, Stardust and Aladdin (which sat where Planet Hollywood is now) among them.

But it was in 1989 that things really got interesting when Steve Wynn opened The Mirage, built at a cost of $630 million, and critics said it was doomed to financial failure. They were wrong.

That first wave of development included The Mirage, followed by the off-Strip Rio (January 1990) and Excalibur (June 1990).

The next trifecta wave was one of my personal favorites because the openings all occurred within three months of each other in 1993.

On Oct. 15 of that year, the pyramid portion of Luxor with “inclinators” instead of elevators debuted. That was followed Oct. 26 by Treasure Island with a Hollywood panache only Steve Wynn could dream up, coordinating cannon fire from one of the two sailing ships in front of the building with the implosion of the Dunes, which was to become the site of Wynn’s next resort, Bellagio.

The last of the three openings was the MGM Grand on Dec. 18, at the time the largest hotel in the world with a theme park that would open months later.

The next blast of openings were more spread out.

The Strat, which saw multiple delays in its construction and once was the site of Bob Stupak’s Vegas World, opened to the public in April 1996. That was followed by the Monte Carlo, now known as Park MGM, in June 1996 and New York-New York in January 1997.

The next wave of openings actually had four resorts opening within a year of each other.

Bellagio opened on a windy night in October 1998 — and the spray from the fountains rained on guests watching the show. Next came Mandalay Bay (March 1999) and The Venetian (May 1999) with openings coming full circle to Paris Las Vegas (September 1999) across the street from Bellagio.

One property, the Palms, opened in November 2001.

The last wave wasn’t much of a wave at all, thanks to the Great Recession. Palazzo opened its doors in December 2007, M Resort in March 2009 and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in December 2010.

The crest of the newest wave is fast approaching with details starting to emerge on Resorts World.

Surf’s up. Enjoy the ride.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, the late chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at [email protected] or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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