Friday, May 21, 2010
Casinos: On the Passing of "Theme Park Casinos"
Casinos may no longer be done like this, but the debate rages on. Were we right in ditching the theme parks for something else?
Hunter at RateVegas posted a photo of TI, and it got me thinking... And arguing.
In the early 1990s, Circus Circus mastered the art of bringing middle class families (with the kids!) to Las Vegas in building Excalibur, and later Luxor. And from there on, the other major casinos were trying to follow suit. MGM Grand originally had a giant theme park (where The Signature towers now stand). Treasure Island was intended to be a place where the kids could explore while the parents gambled. Vegas was a very different town back then.
These '90s theme parks were evidence of the Vegas casinos pursuing the "middle class family" sector that regularly takes trips to the two Orange Counties (California and Florida). That's what all the heavy theming was really all about. The kids wanted somewhere fun, and the parents wanted somewhere for the kids to have fun while they gambled. They were "exotic destinations" that the whole family could supposedly enjoy. But ultimately, the formula didn't work. I couldn't ever imagine Disneyland with a casino.
And by the early 2000s, attitudes were changing. The Strip was becoming "adults only" again. Mandalay Resort Group was already starting the de-theming with Luxor v.1996 and Mandalay Bay. The Palms didn't even go with any type of theme park, opting for a "hip party palace" vibe instead. And after initially flirting with Vegas in the '90s, the family set ultimately stuck with the two Orange Counties while MTV's "Real World: Las Vegas" (FINALLY) made Vegas look attractive to younger crowds.
Let's be honest here. Las Vegas has never really been considered the ideal "family friendly destination", and that's why I think the "theme park casino" concept was doomed from the start. Sure, there are places here in town where the tourists can take the kiddies. Obviously if we can raise kids here year-round, tourists can survive with the kids in tow. However, we'll never be a place like Orange County where families can go from Disneyland to Surf City and keep the kids excited all day.
And you know what? That's OK. We have gambling. We have fine dining. We have shopping. We have great spas. And of course, we have nightclubbing... And now dayclubbing! We're an adult oriented destination, and that's OK.
That's why I honestly don't miss the "theme park casinos" that dominated The Strip in the 1990s. It seemed then like they were pretending to be something they weren't. The casinos were pretending to be "kid-friendly fun zones" when they really just wanted the parents' cash, and Las Vegas was pretending to be another Orange County when we could never really fit that mold.
When I step into Wynn and Encore, it feels like a place where Steve Wynn and Roger Thomas finally had the full freedom to create a unique and luxurious experience. When I step into Aria, it feels like a cool and jazzy place that is really its own place. I even feel very comfortable at Mandalay Bay, as I think Circus Circus/Mandalay Resort Group saw where Steve Wynn was starting to go with Bellagio and taking it further in dropping the heavy theming to instead just provide a classy resort that doesn't have to pretend to be something else (save for perhaps the wave pool/"beach").
For me, it's OK for casinos to just be casinos... OK, maybe not. Still, I appreciate the casino resorts of today that aim higher. Wynn and Encore are a study in "maximalist" postmodern design that simultaneously incorporated the rich history of "Old Vegas" opulence and "New Vegas" chic. CityCenter is what happens when a casino resort complex takes a new direction in incorporating natural elements, contemporary minimalist cool, and the great postmodern art of our time.
So what's wrong with Las Vegas being herself? Especially when we have nothing to be ashamed of? Let's just be ourselves, especially now that we've matured into