Tuesday, March 2, 1999 | 6 a.m.
It was the Glenn Schaeffer of old, a confident casino executive introducing his newest gem to journalists on the eve of its public debut.
Mandalay Bay opens to the public tonight about 11 p.m., but the Circus Circus Enterprises Inc. president welcomed media members Monday with a speech brimming with optimism.
"If there's a prettier casino anywhere, we'd like you to point it out to us," Schaeffer said, gesturing at the glittering, expansive casino floor with its lush tropical decor.
"Welcome to a world of escape, a place where fun and sun meet class and cool," he said. "This is a place of secret islands, surf and sand, exotic flora and fauna.
"But it's the surprise you'll find inside that counts the most."
Schaeffer was his former upbeat self as he described Mandalay Bay's many attractions. His demeanor had become more muted as Circus joined other gaming companies in a three-year stock slump that prompted some securities analysts to carp about the credibility of casino executives' forecasts.
Schaeffer has taken such criticism personally and during the depths of the slump had sounded almost defensive in his speeches, blaming Circus stock's performance on short sellers, Wall Street's equivalent of "don't" bettors on a craps table.
But he came out swinging Monday, vowing Mandalay Bay will offer "entertainment venues without equal in the United States ... and provide a higher level of service than any other Las Vegas resort."
He spoke of the resort's 11-acre aquatic area, which will feature three traditional pools, a fourth that is capable of generating 7-foot waves for surfing onto a sand beach, a "lazy river" water ride and a separate swimming facility for the Four Seasons hotel at the complex.
"Mandalay Bay will be a leader in entertainment programming," Schaeffer said, with musical offerings ranging from classical to Broadway to rock 'n' roll.
He noted that tenor Luciano Pavarotti is the inaugural act in the resort's events center, said "Chicago" will be the first full-length Broadway production in Las Vegas and described the rock-oriented House of Blues as a venue "with the most big-ticket sounds of any resort anywhere."
"We've got a little something for everyone, whether they like it hot or like it cool," he said.
Schaeffer dismissed the concerns of some gaming analysts about Mandalay Bay's location at the south end of the Strip and their fears that it might draw customers away from the company's neighboring resorts, Luxor and Excalibur.
Schaeffer said the three properties will act together to serve as "a huge suction device," drawing visitors from resorts run by competing companies.
"The early going is quite positive," he said, adding that the Luxor's room reservations are exceeding last year's and that Mandalay Bay has received "a high volume" of room requests.
"This is the gateway to Las Vegas," he said, referring to the land that Circus owns south of Tropicana Avenue. "We control the first two freeway exits to the Las Vegas Strip. We control the most land on the Monopoly board that is the Las Vegas Strip.
"We can build two more resort hotels south of Mandalay Bay," Schaeffer said. "There will be a day when we own or control 20,000 rooms on this contiguous mile along the Strip."
Mandalay Bay's 3,733 rooms, including 424 run by Four Seasons Resorts, will swell the company's total along the Las Vegas Strip to more than 17,400 rooms. Including hotel-casinos in other locales, "Circus now has 27,000 hotels rooms where 8 million people sleep each year," he said.
But the sparkling new resort is by far Circus' most ambitious and costly project.
Excluding land costs, Circus spent about $850 million to build the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino and fill its 135,000-square-foot casino with 122 table games and 2,400 slot machines.
It's spending another $100 million on a 125,000-square-foot convention facility and a 12,000-seat arena for staging sports and entertainment events and $75 million more on the monorail and a "Sea of Predators" exhibit scheduled to open in 2000.
The total almost equals Circus' $330 million investment in Excalibur and $825 million (including expansion) in Luxor.
Circus is also exploring the possibility of developing a 1 million-square-foot retail shopping center on the land between Mandalay Bay and Luxor that it would lease to a mall developer. Schaeffer said Monday he expects to announce an anchor tenant "within a few weeks" for a retail-entertainment complex that should be completed by the end of 2000.
With its newest resort, Circus is targeting the premium end of the tourist market, with room rates expected to average $110 a day in the first year.
Included in Mandalay Bay is a Four Seasons resort whose rooms and suites will occupy the 35th through 39th floors of the 43-story hotel tower. The Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay will have its own entrance, restaurants, pool, spa and meeting spaces.
Mandalay Bay's 40th through 42nd floors will contain suites for the high-end customers Circus will target in direct competition with the Bellagio, Mirage, MGM Grand, Rio, Las Vegas Hilton and Caesars Palace.
The resort's 43rd floor will consist of a House of Blues Foundation Room as an adjunct to other House of Blues-themed attractions -- a restaurant, an entertainment venue that will feature a steady stream of big-name performers and niche acts designed to compete with The Joint at the Hard Rock, and a floor of themed rooms at the 35-story level of the hotel tower.
To fill Mandalay Bay's rooms, Circus has established a marketing network that includes offices in Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in Asia; Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires and Mexico City in Latin America; and five U.S. cities.
Circus is also spending $10 million on a nationwide advertising campaign designed to create an awareness of what awaits Mandalay Bay's customers -- a fun, high-energy, entertainment-oriented experience.
"The road to our Mandalay," Schaeffer said, "will bring everyone to play in a palace of fun. This is a world-class resort, and everybody's welcome."