Circus Circus Success

In the late 1980s, as other Las Vegas Strip casinos faltered, Circus Circus was prospering. Building its business on the “grind,” thousands of small players instead of a few big high rollers, Circus boasted a compound annual growth rate of more than 29 percent for the latter half of the decade. In doing so, it laid the groundwork for the 1990s Las Vegas casino boom.

You can read more about Circus Circus and other Las Vegas casinos in Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling

Go here to read an excerpt from the book, or learn where to buy your copy.

In the late 1980s, as other Las Vegas Strip casinos faltered, Circus Circus was prospering. Building its business on the “grind,” thousands of small players instead of a few big high rollers, Circus boasted a compound annual growth rate of more than 29 percent for the latter half of the decade. In doing so, it laid the groundwork for the 1990s Las Vegas casino boom.

You can read more about Circus Circus and other Las Vegas casinos in Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling

Go here to read an excerpt from the book, or learn where to buy your copy.

What is Grandissimo?

This is a book project that I’ve been working on for several years. It’s the story of the man who I believe to be the single most influential figure in Las Vegas casinos in the 1960s and 1970s, but who unfortunately not many people know about.

I’m substantially finished the book, and hope to publish it later this year.

Until then, I’m using this space to let people know about the book.

This is a book project that I’ve been working on for several years. It’s the story of the man who I believe to be the single most influential figure in Las Vegas casinos in the 1960s and 1970s, but who unfortunately not many people know about.

I’m substantially finished the book, and hope to publish it later this year.

Until then, I’m using this space to let people know about the book.

The Quiet Pioneer in Vegas Seven

In today’s Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven, I take a look back at the career of Bill Pennington, who had a much bigger impact on Las Vegas than is generally recognized:

Last month the Nevada casino industry lost one of its pioneers when William N. “Bill” Pennington died at the age of 88. He wasn’t a household name in Las Vegas, but he had a hand in the creation of today’s Las Vegas Strip by helping transform a struggling, scandal-plagued hotel-casino into the keystone of what was, for a time, the most profitable gaming company in the world.

via The Quiet Pioneer | Vegas Seven.

The very end of what I initially wrote didn’t make it in because of space constraints, but because it’s got an important quote from another Strip pioneer, I thought it was important to share. It also puts Pennington’s contributions into perspective:

And, in addition to being a business leader, Pennington never lost sight of the big picture.
“He wasn’t just a good businessman,” says longtime Circus marketing maven Mel Larson. “He was a good husband, father, and friend.”
In a time when Mob museums are memorializing the less-savory elements of our past, we shouldn’t forget real pioneers like Bill Pennington.

To me it’s a real shame that you’ve got tributes to people whose biggest claim to fame was that they had rap sheets, but no public recognition of the contributions of people like Pennington who just took risks, gave visitors what they wanted, and gave a lot of people jobs.

13th floor fun in Vegas Seven

My latest Green Felt Journal is up in Vegas Seven. This week I talk about a brand new attraction at Circus Circus that’s a little spooky:

About this time every year, theme parks around the country get a monthlong reprieve from the off-season as they re-theme themselves for Halloween. No one wants to float down a lazy river in October, but being chased by zombies through a maze is another story. Locally, Circus Circus is making the most of scare season with two attractions that promise to terrify patrons.

via Welcome to the 13th Floor | Vegas Seven.

This was a fun story to research–I talked a little bit about my experience on the most recent Vegas Gang podcast.

It’s a quick, fun tour, and might be a neat side-trip if you’re coming to town for Vegas Podcast-a-palooza.

Words from the past

Speaking of dark and gloomy, here’s a quote from the day before Mirage opened back in 1989, from the LA Times via proquest:

At the same time, though, the new competition is expected to drive struggling gambling halls out of business.”There’;s going to be a shakeout,” said Glenn S. Schaeffer, chief financial officer of Circus Circus. “The rich will get richer and the poor poorer. You can’t compete today without some kind of distinct identity.”

via Document View – ProQuest.

If you’re not working from a UNLV computer, you won’t be able to read the rest of the article, but it’s instructive. Even though the market grew, Schaeffer was right. If you don’t believe me, we can discuss it over a drink at the Hacienda, Dunes, or Aladdin.

Vegas tips from Oz

I caught this wide-eyed Vegas puff piece on an Australian news website, and I had to laugh. I’ll spare you the article, but here are the tips. I’ll let my readers deconstruct them at will. From NEWS.com.au:

# Stay on The Strip. All the action is there and everywhere else is a bust. Try to stay midweek, when room rates are slashed.

# Key mid-range casinos include Luxor, MGM Grand, Excalibur and Ballys, with high-end options including The Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and The Venetian. If you’re down on your luck and need a cheap option on the Strip, try the Imperial Palace.

# Avoid Circus Circus at all costs. Travel agents here still have it on their books, but it is a run-down stinker.

# The best gambling casino is still Caesars Palace. Its magnificent after all these years and has been kept in tip-top condition.

# Explore The Strip yourself. Unlike in other major tourist spots, your hotel wont help you much, as it wants you to stay and gamble. Buy The Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper for $US1, with its daily visitor guide.

# Do not take a taxi down The Strip at night. The traffic is unbearable.

# Bypass the hordes of illegal Mexican immigrants in oversize T-shirts handing out advertising cards for hookers – the saddest sight on The Strip.

# Get out of Las Vegas, at least for a half-day, to check out the amazing surrounding sights including Death Valley, Red Rocks Canyon, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Use a tour company, like Pink Jeep Tours, for these day trips.

A revamped Vegas stakes its future on class | NEWS.com.au.

If you read the article itself, you’ll see some revisionist history: the Bellagio is now given credit as the progenitor of “classy” Vegas, and New York-New York is singled out as “garish.” Strange.

I always thought it was “Red Rock Canyon,” but I guess with all of the economic problems we’re having we need more of them to attract tourists.

Big laughs at the “illegal Mexican immigrant” porn slappers. Talk about over-generalizing. Like this guy a) checked everyone’s immigration status and b) made sure that everyone out there’s from Mexico and not El Salvador, Honduras, or some other country. And if this guy’s got a tip on how to “bypass” porn slappers, he should have shared it.

It’s ironic that Jay Sarno’s two casinos are side by side here: Circus Circus is a “real stinker” and Caesars Palace is “magnificent.”

So if you don’t take a taxi down the Strip because of the traffic, you should take a bus? Limo? Monorail? Hovercraft? Teleport? Oh yeah, Star Trek: The Experience is closing up shop, so scratch that last one.

Back to the first item: so much for the Downtown revitalization, huh?

VT takes on casino logos

I’m fooling around with using ScribeFire to create posts, so this might not work. Hopefully it does, because I really think people should check out this neat feature at Vegas Tripping, a detailed rumination on the evolution of Las Vegas casino logos:

But what is it that makes for a successful logo in Las Vegas? How does
a casino’s logo typographically distill a properties essence into a
single, identifiable mark? What does a continually changing logo tell
us about the validity of given properties theme or identity?

Vegas Casino Logos – Turning A Name Into A Vibe – VegasTripping.com

Chuckmonster’s done a great job of running down how several MGM Mirage logos have changed over the past few years.

A while back I was doing some research on casinos in the 1970s, and I was amazed at how haphazard many of the logos were. Different publications used really different logos and typefaces for the same casino, and there didn’t seem to be any real rhyme or reason for it. I’m almost positive there was no professional design firm at work; instead, it was just whatever the ad designers had lying around that filled the space.

One thing’s clear: casino names are getting less directly evocative these days. There’s not the same immediate semantic difference between, say, Echelon and Cosmopolitan than there was between the Stardust and the Tropicana.

Now that I think about, I might be cherry-picking there. For a while, Strip casino names tended to reference the desert (Sahara, Sands, Dunes, Aladdin, Desert Inn). And names like Riviera and Last Frontier were hardly unique, particularly when Las Vegas itself was promoting itself as “the last frontier.” Even Stardust and Tropicana are kind of vague, though you get the point that one of them will have sparkly things on the ceiling and the other will have lots of water and vegetation. Don’t ask me how the Tiffany glass windows got into the mix over at the Trop, or the ski chalet lowrises. Clearly, someone was going off message.

Maybe we should give Jay Sarno credit for bringing specific names and property identities to the Strip. As Chuck pointed out, the Circus Circus logo hasn’t changed since he opened the place, and the Caesars Palace typeface has remained the same. There was a big logo change, though. Originally, the logo was a fat Caesar lying on a couch being fed grapes by two girls, but in the 1980s they dumped that for the angry-looking centurion. What better way to say, “the corporate era is here?”

In any event, that’s a great feature that everyone should read.

And there’s also a great review of Hooters up, with an embedded video that answers the question, “what do the air conditioners at Hooters sound like?”

Book review: Super Casino

Re-reading after seven years, I’m struck by two things: I’m not entirely comfortable reviewing books that I don’t like, and the general quality of writing about Las Vegas has not much improved.

Let me explain: as a writer, I absolutely hate saying negative things about other writers. I know how hard it is to find the discipline and vision to write a book, then go through rounds of revisions and editorial haggling. To do all this and then see your work ripped to shreds is just heart-breaking.

But sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, I’ve heard, and sometimes the writer isn’t the victim, the reader is. Maybe the writer took a nice advance then realized that he didn’t have anything meaningful to say on the topic. In that case, I’ve got no pity: I’ve been offered projects that I didn’t feel I could do justice to, and I’ve turned them down, even though it meant passing up a payday. Before I start writing, I feel an obligation to the reader to approach the topic in good faith.

And the more crap that’s out there, particularly the more well-marketed crap, the less room there is for real writing in the book ecosystem: it’s literary kudzu, or snakeheads, or whatever invasive species you can think of. Theodore Sturgeon was probably right when he said “ninety-five percent of everything is crap,” and in regard to Las Vegas/gambling that’s probably a generous estimate. But since for whatever reason I’m in a position to have some influence, I try to encourage good writing. I’m not saying I practice it or anything, I’m just saying I can recognize it and, like a soused undergrad seeing that guy from his o-chem class across the haze of a frat party, say, with an equivalent nod of the head, “Dude!”

As you’ll see, I’m not saying “dude” for this book.

Continue reading “Book review: Super Casino”