After years of building sleek and seemingly themeless hotel-casinos, the Las Vegas Strip is embracing the old school. Resorts World Las Vegas, set to break ground May 5, will feature a Chinese motif, complete with a Great Wall replica, an indoor water park and a live panda exhibit (squee!).
Genting Group’s branding decision is a departure from contemporary casinos of the past decade such as Wynn, Aria and the Cosmopolitan, and is instead a nod to destination-themed properties of the 1990s like Luxor, Paris and the Venetian. The question is, why now? Billy Bai, professor and associate dean of UNLV’s hotel college, says it’s about keeping the Vegas experience fresh.
“Eighty percent of visitors are repeat business, so we need to provide something new that the repeat visitor has never experienced before,” he says. And that means the tactics are ever-changing, and sometimes even cyclical. Themed casinos gave way to modern designs, and megaresorts with dining and shopping and entertainment yielded to boutique hotels. Business models have changed, too. “Casinos must strike a balance between gaming and nongaming,” Bai says.
As far as gaming goes, it’s the older, themed casinos that make money. “Excalibur after all these years continues to make boatloads of money even though it’s dismissed by discerning architecture critics,” says Geoff Schumacher, author of Sun, Sin and Suburbia: An Essential History of Modern Las Vegas. The Cosmopolitan, on the other hand, is popular but has failed to turn a profit.
Schumacher says Resorts World’s Chinese theme is not surprising, given the importance of Asian high rollers in Las Vegas. “People flock to things they’re comfortable with,” he says. “[Resorts World isn’t] going to be goofy about it. They’re going to be clever about it and careful not to offend.” And, he adds, “How many people get to see the Great Wall?”