Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2014

Resort opens a new era in LV

Seventy years ago, explorers cracked open ancient pyramids in search or riches beyond imagination.

At 4 a.m. today, thousands entered the Luxor pyramid on the Las Vegas Strip in hopes of claiming similar wealth.

“I wanted to be the first one on a slot machine,” said New Yorker Mary Ann Ruggerio as she put another dollar into a one-armed bandit. “It’s just something different.”

Dean Flood and her friend, Gene Loatmam, made a special trip to Las Vegas from Los Angeles just to gamble at Luxor on opening day.

“We feel we have a better chance of winning, it being new and all,” Flood said. “Plus, it’s kind of exciting being at a casino opening.”

But as the odds would have it, most didn’t find riches in Luxor. Instead, they got a glimpse of technological wonders rivaling the ancient Egyptian landmarks the $375 million resort mimics.

Unfortunately, the high-tech attractions weren’t operating up to par at the pre-opening gala Thursday night or this morning.

The “Search for the Obelisk” attraction, which incorporates motion with film, was absent the motion because Clark County as yet to issue a permit.

Circus Circus Enterprises Chairman William Bennett said the county had initially approved the attraction, but put a freeze on it until Friday.

New era begins

Despite the delays, the resort is expected to set the stage for a new era in Las Vegas.

“It’s going to set a new standard for all new development,” Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Bill Curran said of Luxor and two other mega-resorts opening in Las Vegas in the next two months.

On Oct. 26, Mirage Resorts will open Treasure Island, featuring a swashbuckling pirate battle. MGM Grand plans to open a theme park, casino and the world’s largest hotel on Dec. 18.

But Circus Circus will still have the only the pyramid on the strip.

“You have to give credit to the creative people who suggested a pyramid and those who didn’t laugh,” Curran said. “Lesser people would have said it can’t be done.”

Building a 30-story pyramid, with the world’s largest atrium, did offer challenges. But Bennett said the most trying was dealing with Clark County officials.

Bennett said the county has been unduly critical of the resort’s construction because of its unusual shape.

“They don’t know how to build a pyramid,” Bennett said. “I may go down to the County Commission after all this is over and make a big to-do.”

The 69-year-old executive estimated the county’s extra requirements added about $20 million to the resort’s cost.

About $7 million of that was because of increased fire precautions required after 12 floors were built, he said. If the county had required those safety precautions from the start, it would have only cost $1.3 million, he said,

“If we built a second pyramid, it would be a lot easier,” he said.

Technological treats

Technology helped overcome many of the technological obstacles of building the pyramid. Elevators, called inclinators, travel at a 39-degree angle, pulling passengers side to side instead of up and down.

Technology also introduced new entertainment in the form of three attractions perched above the casino. The $50 million “Secrets of the Luxor Pyramid” uses special movie effects to take those who dare on a journey through time to find a stolen magical Egyptian treasure.

Circus Circus hired Douglas Trumbull, who invented the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios, to go a step beyond its Magical Motion Machines at the company’s sister property, Excalibur.

Bennett said despite the expense, the attractions will pay for themselves eventually. The $4 rides will be capable of handling 11,000 people a day.

On the casino level, the River Nile takes passengers on a calm, historic tour through ancient Egypt on a man-made stream five times as long as the pyramid is high.

Out front, a laser light show and a 50-foot water screen appear at night amid Karnak Lake, while a powerful beam of light emanates from the pyramid’s apex.

“We tried it at 3 in the morning and 13 cars on the Strip came to a dead stop to watch it,” said Tom Tomlinson, marketing director.

Casino theme

That’s not to say the casino isn’t the focus of the resort.

Luxor merely uses a high-tech version of man’s oldest standing construction to appeal to one of his most primitive instincts – greed.

Upon entering the resort, guests walk into a casino as large as any in Las Vegas. To get to the showroom, attractions and rooms, you must enter the casino to get to another level, similar to the floor plan of neighboring Excalibur.

That’s because the 100,000-square-foot casino is still the pocketbook of the resort.

The casino has more than 2,500 slots, 82 table games, a poker room and race and sports books.

With slot machines named “Pharaoh’s Gold,” “Treasures of Tutankhamun,” “Pyramid” and “Valley of Kings,” Luxor manages to maintain the ancient Egyptian theme within its gambling hall. There’s also a Sigma Derby game that races tiny Egyptian barges instead of toy race horses.

Actually that and the tiny pyramid lights atop each slot machine are the least the resort does to stay within its namesake.

The ram-headed sphinxes along the front walkway are replicas of construction in the city of Luxor done during King Tut’s reign around 1300 B.C.

The resort borrows so much from the Egyptian city and its surroundings that it hired Egyptologists to create and authenticate reproductions of ornamentation and the Egyptian language. So, yes, the hieratic-carved light posts throughout the casino do say something even though most of us don’t know what.

The Egyptologists are helping recreate King Tut’s tomb, which is scheduled to open the week of Nov. 20, marking the anniversary of the 1922 Egyptian discovery.

Attracting families

Tomlinson, the marketing director, likes to refer to the tact Circus has taken as “entertainment.”

It’s the same philosophy the parent company used with its new Grand Slam Canyon behind Circus Circus. In the glass-enclosed mini-theme park, the emphasis is on life-like dinosaurs and archaeology.

While the educational tools may be a new concept for casino resorts, Circus Circus cofounders Bennett and William Pennington pioneered the family market back in 1974 when they bought the failing Circus Circus from Jay Sarno.

Bennett and Pennington rearranged the casino, offered inexpensive food and sought middle-class families instead of the high-rollers coveted by most resorts of that time.

It was a move that led the company to become the Wal-Mart of the casino industry. For the year that ended Jan. 31, Circus Circus’ revenues topped $840 million and its net income was $120 million.

Today, the Las Vegas-based company owns eight casinos throughout Nevada and has plans to build another Reno resort and operate a gambling riverboat on the Mississippi River outside Memphis, Tenn.

Bennett, a furniture store operator in the 1960s, remained at the helm of the company and was recently named the 142nd richest man in America by Forbes magazine.

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