Saturday, Jan. 4, 1997 | 6 a.m.
Visitors showed a voracious appetite for the Little Big Apple Friday, turning out by the tens of thousands to gawk and gamble at the $460 million New York-New York Hotel & Casino.
Thousands of would-be visitors found themselves waiting in long lines outside the Strip resort as hotel officials blocked entrances to limit crowds inside.
"This has been beyond our wildest dreams," William Sherlock, hotel president, said at noon Friday.
The resort replicates the New York City skyline on the outside and some of Manhattan's main attractions on the inside. It opened at 12:25 a.m. Friday, several hours earlier than planned, because of the crush of the crowd waiting to get in.
Crowds made it difficult to move on the casino floor and lines formed three- and four-deep to use some gambling machines.
"We've had tens of thousands of people," Sherlock said. "Everything is going great, the casino floor is packed. We've had to stop the flow of traffic into the casino until the customers who are here now leave. We're turning the floor over as fast as we can."
Sherlock said except for a minor computer glitch in the hotel's slot club, there had been no problems in the first hours of operation.
"Our biggest challenge now, is how do we handle the crowd on Saturday," Sherlock said.
Featuring a 47-story knockoff of the Empire State Building (the real one: 102 stories), a 150-foot Statue of Liberty (the real one: 305 feet) and a Coney Island-style roller coaster, the new resort is among the most innovative in a wave of new megaresorts here.
Maria and Fran Camisa, sisters who live in Queens, New York City, nursed a $1 slot machine in the casino with a Central Park atmosphere.
"I feel like we're back home," Fran Camisa said. But she added, "If I could find more winning machines, I'd be happier."
"It's much cleaner than the real New York," said another visitor, Gail Kutz of Milwaukee. A companion, Mary Behrendt, sported a foam rubber Statue of Liberty crown on her head, half a dozen souvenir coin buckets tucked under her arm.
Charles and Cindy Erwin of San Diego made their way through the hotel, their son, Christopher, 2 1/2 , perched on the father's shoulders.
"They're making these things more and more spectacular," Charles Erwin said.
"This will be the most photographed spot in the world," Sherlock promised Thursday night prior to a VIP-media gala preview.
The list of celebrities included David Hasselhoff, Wayne Newton, Phyllis McGuire, Connie Stevens, Pat Morita, Jenny McCarthy, Renee Taylor, Joe Bologna, Matt LeBlanc, Jim Belushi, David Schwimmer and George Hamilton.
"I think this place not only surpasses what we've come to expect in Las Vegas, but it gives New York an image that it can use," said Newton, a longtime Las Vegan. "It's kind of neat to go to a place that reminds you of New York without worrying about being mugged."
Hamilton owns a restaurant in the hotel.
Prior to the VIP opening, executives gathered across the Strip to watch the lighting of the Statue of Liberty and a flashy fireworks display accompanied by a Frank Sinatra-Tony Bennett duet recording of "New York, New York."
The resort, built on 20 acres across from the MGM Grand Hotel, replicates New York City icons abutting each other over a common base.
Besides the Empire State Building, there's a 41-story Century Building, 40-story Chrysler Building, 38-story New Yorker Hotel, 36-story 55 Water Street building and 35-story Seagram Building.
The hotel is a joint venture of MGM Grand, Inc. and Primadonna Resorts, Inc.