The Incidental Tourist

How the unique Lucky Dragon casino and hotel came to be

Sunlight illumnates the signature red glass windows of the hotel suites during an under-construction media tour of the Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino, 300 W. Sahara Ave., in Las Vegas, July 7, 2016.
Photo: Special to the Sun/Mona Shield Payne

When developer Andrew Fonfa started working on Allure Las Vegas—at 41 stories, the tallest residential building in the Valley, located on Sahara Avenue just west of Las Vegas Boulevard—his original plans called for two towers. But once Allure started moving units, he realized he wouldn’t be able to sell the second tower. It was early 2008 when Allure opened, and the recession made it tough to close on sales.

Fonfa had to come up with another plan to fill the building. “We realized we were going to need cash buyers,” he says from an Allure’s residence that has been converted to an office space, an amazing Vegas view sparkling through the windows behind him. “We went to LA and San Francisco and Vancouver and San Jose and put ads in all the Chinese newspapers in those communities. And we were very pleased with what came back, which was over 100 units sold to Chinese buyers.”

The proverbial light bulb clicked on: Fonfa decided to build a casino and hotel instead. The concept of the Lucky Dragon was born, and it already had an audience. The boutique 200-room hotel and 27,500-square-foot casino is set for a grand opening on December 3, though it’ll likely soft-open sometime toward the end of November.

The first thing you notice when touring the construction site is that the Lucky Dragon is actually attached to the Allure tower, meaning there are more than a thousand residents who can walk over to the new casino every day to eat in its restaurants or possibly play a little. “That gives us some critical mass on the site,” Fonfa explains. “It’s as if we have a 630-unit hotel.”

The Lucky Dragon is small by Strip standards. It won’t have a nightclub or a huge resort-style swimming pool. It will have authentic Asian restaurants and an intimate casino experience similar to what’s found in Macao. As evidenced by the billboards along Spring Mountain Road, the Lucky Dragon is primarily going after Asian business, tourists from China and California and locals from the large Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Hawaiian communities.

“Most people aren’t sure exactly what type of property we are, and what we are is a locals casino just like Gold Coast and Red Rock and Palace Station,” Fonfa says. “We rely on [car] traffic, not foot traffic. No one is walking up and down to Gold Coast or Palace Station. That’s who we are, and I do expect that as [nearby Genting Group project] Resorts World moves forward—and hopefully it will—that’s when we’ll see foot traffic. We think the north Strip will probably become the new Chinese area of Las Vegas.”

Fonfa believes in the Asian-driven future of the area so much, he’s planning to continue to develop around Lucky Dragon. The next phase could include more residential, a cultural center, retail and movie theaters. The development will be aided by his Las Vegas Economic Impact Regional Center using EB-5 funding, an stimulus program launched in 1990 that encourages foreigners to invest in U.S. business in exchange for green card eligibility.

But for now, the focus is on Lucky Dragon, essentially the first locals casino on the Strip ... well, pretty much on the Strip. The restaurant menus will be Chinese first, before English, and everyone working in the front of the house will speak an Asian dialect. It might be the most specifically focused casino project in the history of Las Vegas.

“We know our identity. We’re not competing with Wynn or Venetian or MGM. Local casinos are our competition, and I think we’ve hit a nerve,” Fonfa says. “Everybody now is interested in the Chinese or Asian customer, and we think they’re going to prefer our casino to all the other ones.”

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Brock is an award-winning writer and reporter who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently ...

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