In this week’s Vegas Seven, I have a feature article considering the ways that the spirit of 1993 is still with us:
In the fall of 1993, the wrapping came off three new resorts that promised to change the way people visited Las Vegas. The opening of The Mirage four years earlier is rightfully credited for kicking off the megaresort era on the Strip, and Excalibur, which opened in 1990, proved that the family-friendly, mass-market model worked just as well for new hotels as for older ones. But the 1993 openings of Luxor October 15, Treasure Island October 27 and MGM Grand December 18 seemed to define a new direction for the Strip: families, and lots of them.
It was a big gamble, $1.9 billion invested on more than 10,000 hotel rooms and new attractions that were either going to open up Las Vegas to a new market or be the most expensive failures in the city’s history. And at first, it seemed to pay off. In 1994, Las Vegas visitation increased from 23.5 million to 28.2 million. That doesn’t seem so incredible now that we’re flirting with the 40 million mark, but at the time it was a nearly 20 percent jump—the biggest increase ever, both proportionally and in absolute numbers. Even the four horsemen of 1998-99—Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Paris and Venetian—only moved the needle by 10 percent.
I think that the importance of what those three resorts meant to Las Vegas has been forgotten, for a few reasons. First, the late-1990s upscaling boom, which you could argue lasted until the opening of Cosmopolitan in 2010, seemed superficially to be a more important transition. Second, the resorts themselves changed their identities within a few years. Third, with the post-2001 shift towards nightlife, the 1990s emphasis on family attractions is a little embarrassing. And finally, Las Vegas casinos are much more about the present than their past.
But, as I discuss in the article, we owe a great deal to those openings, and we have not moved as far from them as we think.