Friday, Oct. 16, 1998 | 10:57 a.m.
Rain may have threatened to fall on Steve Wynn's parade, but that didn't stop thousands from showing up Thursday night for the gala opening of Mirage Resorts Inc.'s flagship Bellagio hotel-casino.
A kaleidoscopic array of tourists trooped into the world's most expensive casino resort after it was opened to the public just before 11 p.m. They came in all shapes and sizes, all races, creeds and colors, wearing everything from formal wear to biker gear.
A crowd estimated at anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000 thronged the sidewalk and a cordoned-off portion of the Strip in front of the Italian-themed resort for hours before the festivities, including a water fountain and music show, began about 10:15.
But Bellagio's opening didn't fully escape the wrath of Mother Nature. High wind gusts forced Wynn to cancel a planned firework show.
And while rain showers that hit Las Vegas early in the afternoon had dispersed by evening, Bellagio's trademark fountains generated a little precipitation of their own. Many in the crowd were repeatedly sprayed with wind-blown spray from the fountains during the 30-minute show.
"Where's my umbrella?" screeched one television anchorwoman doused by the fountain show.
"It's sort of like being baptized," deadpanned Wynn over the massive Bellagio sound system as northerly winds blew misty clouds over the assembled crowd.
But neither the wait nor the water damped bystanders' enthusiasm over Bellagio, the $1.6 billion tribute to an Italian village of the same name.
"It's awesome, beautiful," gushed Lois Stracuzzi, visiting from Pittsfield, Mass. with her husband Sam. "It's elegant, it is really beautiful. It seems to have charisma. It's not gaudy."
"It's spectacular," said Fred Herr, on vacation here from New York City. "It's the best we've seen. It's beautiful."
Gov. Bob Miller was also impressed.
"In 10 ten years as governor, I've seen some incredible sights," said Miller. "But nothing could have prepared me for what I've seen tonight."
Miller compared Wynn, who has assembled $300 million in fine art for Bellagio, as an artist whose craft is the creation of casino resorts.
"The medium is hotels, the artist is our host, Steve Wynn," said Miller.
During the early part of the evening, 1,800 invited guest who paid from $1,000 apiece to $3,500 per couple viewed the inaugural performance of Cirque du Soleil's production "O" after a 40-minute welcoming speech by Wynn.
Meanwhile, the public was waiting patiently in the cool, wet, windy autumn night.
"If the inside is anything like the outside, it's going to be beautiful," said Dick Hanneman, of Denver, waiting with wife Mary to get in.
When "O" ended about 10 p.m., the tuxedo and evening-gown clad guests made their way from the main building down paths on either side of Lake Bellagio to see the fountain show. Wynn served as master of ceremonies, introducing Miller and explaining to the assembled crowd the plans for the evening.
As the fountains shot plumes of water high into the night air, wind gusts carried wave after wave of chilling mists into the crowd and across Las Vegas Boulevard. Many of the invited guests who'd walked down to see the fountain show made a quick exit back into the resort.
Meanwhile, after 30 minutes of fountain shows featuring the music from classical and pop composers, the remaining invited guests went back inside. At 10:55 p.m., Bellagio guards opened the gates to the public, but restricted the crowd flow to avoid safety problems.
Most of those seeing the property for the first time had good things to say.
"It's a very nice looking place," said Hank Meyer, in town from Springfield, Ill.
"All I want to do is look up," said his wife, Gloria, gesturing toward the plush canopies and chandeliers festooning the ceiling.
"Fantastic, very nice," said Roy Gregory, of Derby, England, sipping a beer with wife Karen. "We can't believe it."
Not everyone was impressed.
"I don't think it matches up with Caesars Palace," said one young man who declined to give his name.
"As far as the architecture's concerned, I don't see anything impressive," said Nick Rutzakis, of Cupertino, Calif. "I don't know what all the hoopla is about."
But the dissenters were few and far between.
"I think it's a magnificent place," said Leonard Migliara, of Bargenat, N.J. "It's just a spectacle that everybody should see."
By 1 a.m., the casino and other public areas were packed with an estimated 15,000 people.
In a development that would have surprised those who denigrate Las Vegas but no doubt delighted its defenders, the biggest crowds were found at the entry to the conservatory, a beautifully designed oasis decorated with tens of thousands of live flowers.
Rivaling the density if not the numbers of the conservatory crowds were the hordes surrounding the banks of Megabucks slot machines spread throughout the casino. Attracted by a jackpot exceeding $24 million, Megabucks players stood in long lines hoping to cash in on the unfounded belief that big slot jackpots tend to hit during new-resort openings.
Several lounges also drew well. Musician Michael Feinstein drew such a crowd that Wynn and his guests, developer Irwin Molasky and fight promoter Bob Arum, had to squeeze in to the lounge for a late-night performance.
By 2 a.m., there were a few tables active in the high-roller area, though the wagers weren't exceeding those at some of the higher-limit tables in the main casino. The poker room and sports book were virtually empty except for dealers, ticker writers and floor people, something that probably won't be seen again as long as Bellagio remains open.
Up next for Las Vegas' newest and most spectacular resort is an onslaught of international media personalities and Wall Street stock analysts who'll weigh in with their opinions about Bellagio.
Ultimately, though, it won't be reporters or analysts who decide whether it succeeds. It'll be people just like you.