It’s been a long time coming. Today will begin to tell the story of Resorts World Las Vegas, the first new ground-up casino resort to open on the Strip since December 2010.
It’s the story of a $4.3 billion, 3,500-room hotel and 117,000-square-foot casino project completing work on one of the largest construction sites in the country while the coronavirus pandemic threatened its arrival and the future of the entire global travel and tourism economy. It’s the story of a first-time Vegas operator, the 50-year-old Genting Group, finally bringing its destination resort brand to the mother of all destinations.
But it goes back further, and deeper. The year 2020 was far from the first time Las Vegas was forced to bend, if not break. This expansive plot of land on Las Vegas Boulevard across from Wynn and Encore was home of the Stardust from 1958 until 2006, the foundational Strip hotel and casino that famously hosted the showgirls of Lido de Paris and Enter the Night, Wayne Newton, Don Rickles and Siegfried & Roy. The Boyd Gaming family bought it in 1985, added its first high-rise hotel tower in 1990, and then decided to build something bigger.
Echelon was announced in 2006, and much of the Stardust was imploded the following year to make way for a $4.8 billion development that was to include four hotels with 5,300 rooms, a huge casino, convention center, shopping mall and more, initially scheduled to open in 2010. But the recession sucked the life out of the ambitious project, and construction was suspended in 2008.
Genting swooped in, purchasing the site in 2013 and quickly announcing plans for Resorts World that originally included a similar cluster of hotels, a multistory casino of 175,000 square feet, more than 500,000 square feet of convention space, a 300,000-square-foot swimming pool and water slide complex, a replica of the Great Wall of China and a live panda exhibit.
The plans and design of the resort have changed, as they always do, but that doesn’t diminish the significance of today. Fighting hard to emerge from the pandemic, the Las Vegas Strip still has a few scars from the recession, but today, this big one has healed. Resorts World is opening with more than 6,000 employees clocking in for their first day on the job.
“With something this big and so many last-minute things to do, it can be quite nerve-racking, but we’re so excited to introduce this to Las Vegas,” president Scott Sibella tells the Weekly. “It’s especially exciting seeing all the new employees joining the property, and everybody is so pumped up. We’ve been able to hand-select employees from up and down the Strip, throughout the Valley and from other states, and some have never worked in this industry before. Vegas experience is important, but hospitality experience is most important. We want the right attitudes.”
The Cosmopolitan was the last new resort to arrive, back in 2010, but it’s hard to compare that property with Resorts World, which has all the bells and whistles and feels more like a Strip boom-era opening because of its size and scale.
“We broke the mold. I challenged everybody to build something we haven’t seen before, and it’s been over a decade and things have changed,” says Sibella, a longtime local gaming executive who has spent time at MGM Grand, the Mirage and Treasure Island. “This city has evolved with more technology, and nongaming revenue has continued to increase. This is still a gaming town, but you don’t build a casino like you did in the old days. We’re way past that, and you will see it when you walk in. You will be in awe.”
There are too many features and amenities to list them all here, but there are easily areas where Resorts World has already set itself apart.
Celine Dion would have been enough. Resorts World will open with the most successful headliner of the modern era of Vegas entertainment anchoring a sparkling new 5,000-seat theater, and the iconic Canadian vocalist will perform there for the first time on November 5 to benefit COVID-19 relief efforts.
But Dion is just one of four superstars set for that room, with the other three artists all set to kick off their first Las Vegas Strip residencies in the coming months. Multiple Grammy and CMA winner Carrie Underwood opens on December 1, global pop star Katy Perry takes over on December 29, and chart-topping country artist Luke Bryan makes his debut on February 11.
The April release of a flashy commercial announcing their shows was unprecedented and required a titanic effort to pull everything together. It also elevated awareness of Resorts World on a national level.
“Unfortunately, we were building this place during the worst time we’ve ever experienced. The pandemic held us back from talking about this property a lot,” Sibella says. “We thought, who are we to announce things like this when people don’t have jobs and can’t leave their houses? But we never stopped working.
“Our goal is to be the best in class of everything, not just entertainment, but it’s a really big piece.”
The Theatre at Resorts World is being co-created and will be programmed by AEG Presents, the same company that teamed with Dion and the Colosseum at Caesars Palace to craft the blueprint for the residency show that dominates the big-ticket Strip concert scene. AEG is also working the renovated theater at newly opened Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, the former Joint space, continuing to demonstrate its ability to shape Vegas entertainment.
“We have been able to work with great people and great properties, and select the venues we work with, but the Theatre at Resorts World is truly unlike anything that’s been done here,” says Bobby Reynolds, senior vice president for AEG Las Vegas. “The level of production, technology and sophistication going into this venue is going to wow everyone who walks in there, back of the house or front of the house.”
The multilevel venue was designed by international firm Scéno Plus, with unobstructed sightlines and the furthest seat from the stage just 150 feet away. The Theatre will also boast the largest and tallest performance stage in the city, complemented by immersive audio and expansive video installations.
And it’s not the only place for live entertainment at Resorts World. Versatile venues like the Dawg House Saloon and Sportsbook—which will host Uncle Kracker over the grand-opening Fourth of July weekend—and Gatsby’s Cocktail Lounge are expected to bring in consistent musical performances.
If breaking the mold is the objective, Resorts World might accomplish it most notably in the food and beverage department. F&B vice president Bart Mahoney, a veteran of Southern Wine & Spirits, the Thomas Keller group, Wynn Las Vegas and Golden Entertainment, says the restaurant development team was given a clean slate with which to work, and didn’t need to subscribe to the typical casino resort dining portfolio.
“It definitely wasn’t about checking some box. It was more, what can we do to be different and how can we do it differently,” Mahoney says. “We were given direction by the [Genting] chairman and Scott [Sibella] to select offerings that are unique to Las Vegas and the Strip, and that’s how you get to someone like Ray Garcia, who is doing Mexican cuisine [at Viva], or Marcus Samuelsson, a great guy who’s doingchicken concept [Streetbird] in our food hall.”
That gigantic food hall, Famous Foods Street Eats, is a clear innovation, a collaboration with the Zouk Group bringing 16 diverse food stalls from around the world into one 24,000-square-foot destination with a central bar offering 36 drafts pouring beer, wine and cocktails. Local chef James Trees’ Mozz Bar will be there, as will storied Asian street food concepts like Ah Chun Shandong Dumpling, Boon Tong Kee’s Hainan chicken, Geylang Claypot Rice, the legendary lechon of Pepita’s Kitchen and many more.
“It’s a behemoth, and it’s gonna be fun,” Mahoney says. “It anchors one side of the casino, and it’s very interactive and experiential. There’s no wall, no gate or doorway; you just walk straight in and start experiencing this concept that takes you to cities and food from around the world.”
Recognizable brands like Zouk’s Fuhu, LA’s Wally’s Wine & Spirits and Beverly Hills’ Mulberry Street Pizzeria are also on deck for their first Las Vegas restaurants at Resorts World, and Mahoney is equally excited about Kusa Nori, a modern Japanese bistro serving sushi, teppanyaki, yakitori and more, and Genting Palace, a high-end Chinese restaurant expected to compete with similar offerings at Wynn and Bellagio.
Most recently announced is Carversteak, the first concept from Vegas nightlife luminary Sean Christie’s new Carver Road Hospitality, billed as the city’s largest luxury steakhouse at 14,500 square feet. Opening in December, it will feature private dining rooms the Knife Shop and the Scotch Room, signature dishes like lobster thermidor and Wagyu beef mini cheesesteak bites and a beverage program by Francesco Lafranconi.
Two of the biggest names in dance music were also part of that “Stay Fabulous” commercial unleashed in April—Tiësto and Zedd. They were only the beginning of the Resorts World DJ roster, which has continued to roll out eclectic talent across multiple musical genres. Blond:ish, Disclosure, Dee Jay Silver, DJ Snake, Duke Dumont, G-Eazy, Green Velvet, Jack Harlow, Jamie Jones, the Martinez Brothers, Sita, Tay James and Zhu are just a few of the artists slated to perform at Ayu Dayclub and Zouk Nightclub, the latter of which opens this fall.
“I knew walking in I wanted diversity in genre and performance type, but also in gender,” says Ronn Nicolli, vice president of Zouk Group Las Vegas and a former key player at KAOS at the Palms and at Wynn Nightlife. “For a long period of time in Las Vegas, we would do these great rosters and release amazing talent, but there would be 19 artists and no females. We didn’t want to go book female artists just for the sake of female artists. We did a lot of research to find male and female artists to be part of something special. Diversity is key, because we want the experience to be different every weekend.”
Latin megastar J Balvin will perform and host a series of festival-style parties at Ayu in September, adding credence to the approach. But as big and unique as any of these acts might be, it will be hard to outshine the new venues themselves.
Like Genting, the Singapore-based Zouk Group is a well-known hospitality firm in Asia looking to leave a significant initial impact on Las Vegas at Resorts World. “Zouk is a 30-year-old brand, which is essentially unheard of in nightlife,” Nicolli says. “Bringing that into the most competitive nightlife market in the world comes with a lot of pride and responsibility to stay true to those foundations but also evolve the experience for the Western palate.”
These new nightlife and daylife venues have already impacted the Vegas scene with their DJ and artist portfolios. Now we get to see how the clubs will stand out with service and atmosphere.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get excited about walking into a square box with lights, but we’re really excited about what we did with Zouk,” Niccoli says. “It really is next-level, and it didn’t start in the boardroom. It started in Bali. The leadership team went to the source and decided what the goals were, authenticity and visibility. How do we bring a Balinesian-style paradise to Las Vegas Boulevard? How do you create a space that transforms you when you walk in?”