Las Vegas - From the Dark Side to the Light

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

luxury hotel design glass windows ceiling Las Vegas
Hotel/shopping corridor in Bellagio Hotel with high domed glass ceilings

 My first vacation destination this year was to  hotter, drier Las Vegas. While I enjoy hot weather (it was a scorching 110 degrees Fahrenheit, 43 degrees Celsius in July), and beaches and lounging poolside, I also am an avid aficionado of history and culture. Not so much a gambler. So with sky-reaching hotels replacing 1950's and 60's classics like the Sand, Dunes, the Sahara... was Vegas a Viva or Vaya vacation (Long live or Bust)?  Interestingly, the growing number of glitzy, posh hotels tell a story.  A new history. I love it.  Apart from gambling, drinking and watching shows, the other must-do activity for Vegas visitors is hotel hopping. Immediately I picked up on a telltale sign since my last visit 20+ years ago. A change is occurring. Long overdue and still slow to evolve.  Vegas has finally seen the light! (Blog post photos best viewed on large computer screen).

Las Vegas welcome sign bright lights

Las Vegas is still sizzling with bright digital outdoor lights, whirling slot machines, the ding-ding-ding of the small win, and even non-intoxicated guests like myself still need a map to find their way though the maze of the casino to get to the other side--the hotel guest rooms.  But what has changed?  The hotel design and decor to attract passerbys, ultra wealthy guests, and to seduce gamblers.


If you have visited Vegas old and new then you are probably aware that older Vegas hotels/casinos all have interiors with no windows or natural light or even clocks.  Except for guestrooms. A long-held belief is that casino design was meant to have low ceilings void of windows and clocks to help gamblers lose track of time and spend more money.  "Really?" I thought to myself. The psychology did not add up to me.  At least for this native Floridian, the more sunlight, the more motivation for me to do anything.  My immediate thought was that given the history of Vegas, a town built in the middle of the desert as a railroad town and later to build a dam, the men who worked there needed a distraction and entertainment. Soon appeared show girls and later prostitutes and casinos.  A Mormon funded town which graduated to a mob haven, (a natural progression of course--slight joke), I would say the buildings were designed to keep these vices clandestine and provide a reprieve from the blinding desert sun. After some research, turns out my theory was correct.

Las Vegas slot machines
Traditional "Casino design" with low ceiling and dim lighting

Is It True?

According to British psychologist, Mark Griffiths, after 15 psychological studies, he found no conclusive evidence of the effect on windows and wall clocks on gamblers to spend more time. However he did conclude that scent and lighting did affect mood and tendencies to stay longer and gamble more.

Theme Hotels in Vegas

While theme hotels were the trend for years (Circus Circus Hotel, Paris Hotel) the interior casino design remained the same. This visit I stayed at the elegant Venetian hotel which opened in 1999. A slice of Venice in many regards.

hotel design Las Vegas
Gondolas parked in front of Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas

After crossing the bridge and Venetian canal immediately I noticed the change. I was entering a fusion of Venice meets Vegas. No windows or natural light and a casino maze to greet me.  Here is where I needed a GPS to find the lobby to check in. However the design and attention to detail was stunning. The lobby boasted 25 foot wide columns made of solid Botticino marble imported from Italy. The Venetian Colonnade's marble floor was hand fitted and modeled after the floor of the Church of the Santa Maria del Rosario in Venice.

Italian hotel design marble columns
Venetian does not have interior windows but adds more lighting and rich design details

digital sky Venetian and Palazzo hotels Las Vegas
Enclosed restaurant plaza with digital sky (no windows) inside the Venetian and Palazzo hotels.

The Bellagio Breaks Tradition

The Bellagio Hotel broke the mold of casino design in 1998. At the time it was the most expensive hotel built in the world at a tune of $1.6 billion dollars.

The Bellagio Hotel

The Bellagio hotel welcomed the natural light in a smart design with high dome glass ceilings to prevent glare. The casinos are still in the center of the hotel with no windows but the surrounding natural light was most inviting, contrary to old hotel design thinking. Vegas was designed for men--the dark macho man caves.  The new design welcomed everyone.

The Bellagio- first hotel to add ceiling windows to let in natural light

Wynn and Encore hotels

It is no wonder that the person who brought back razzle dazzle to Vegas, creating the 54-foot-high-active volcano (at the Mirage) is Steve Wynn, the creator of the Bellagio who continued to go against the grain of casino gaming layout when building the Wynn hotel.

Instead of gaming equipment at the entrance, light, airy, and whimsical elegant decor greets you. A Chihuly glass sculpture or merry- go- round made of flowers and ivory statue horses. Instead of empty walls and no clocks in casino area, Wynn's designer used silk fabrics and antique clocks.  The rationale was  to induce a feeling of wealth and confidence.  Would you prefer a dark room, a cave to hide, or a  luxurious room with natural light.  It seems the latter has paid off.

The wow factor is more than the $2.7 billion price tag of the Wynn hotel in 2005. Wynn incorporated outdoor elements, artwork, and maximized the destination for weddings and events.  

Christine Michaels goes to Las Vegas

Outside there is the 18-hole golf course. Inside lining the walls is artwork including the Le Reve the Picasso portrait which Wynn reportedly paid $42 million. The 15 restaurants, three wedding salons, the Ferrari-Maserati dealership and the casino next to the three-acre-man made lake with the 70 foot waterfall. 

Wynn hotel manmade waterfall
Outside the Wynn Hotel waterfall

The Wynn and Encore hotels were built from the female perspective. With layer upon layer of detail. The opposite of the gaming design.  My favorite was the Encore hotel which exudes femininity and elegance in every section of the hotel.  The pool and the Jardin restaurant stole my heart. 

The pool with a swim- up bar also features outdoor gaming tables.  During my visit,  a group of people played at one card game table behind the bar (the covered island pictured below on the left) and were cheering and applauding the entire two hours.  In the middle of the afternoon surrounded by a pool, bright day light, and a well stocked bar steps away, guests gambled to their heart's content.  Proof again that the "playground" design worked.

Encore hotel pool

The Jardin restaurant appeared like flower heaven. A celestial room of flowers!
Jardin restaurant at Encore Hotel, Las Vegas
Ceiling window radiates light like the heavens

Christine about to exit and standing on whimsical mosaic tile floor

Jardin bar

This is the CEILING not the wall of the Jardin bar. Bottles suspended.
So delicate like a woman's boudoir.

Christine sits in Jardin restaurant
Notice the natural light all around, bright colors and the whimsical floor pattern

I felt I was in Miami. With sunny hot weather, "light and airy" is a design that is popular for both home, office and restaurant design.

Unfortunately time did not permit to visit all the hotels on the strip.  I often wondered what happened to the classics like Sahara and Dunes.  Were they empty or demolished and replaced? Turns out most were imploded and made way for the new darlings on the strip.  So bombing and building is the name of the game. In the past I stayed at the Flamingo and visited Caesars Palace.  Today it's the Encore. Below is an abbreviated timeline of select hotels and casinos to look up some of your favorites.

So which is your favorite hotel past and present? Leave a comment below!

1946- The Pink Flamingo opens, built by notorious mobster Bugsy Seigel.  It is the first luxury hotel on the Strip. (renamed Fabulous Flaming in 1947, the Flamingo Hilton in 1974, and Flamingo Las Vegas in 1999).

1952- The Sahara opens.
1952- The Sands opens

1955- The Riviera opens
1955- The Dunes opens

1957 The Sans Souci opens (no casino)

1966- Caesars Palace opens
1966- Aladdin opens

1968- Circus Circus opens

1973- The original MGM opens (where Bonanza Casino used to be and where Bally's is now).

1985- The original MGM Grand becomes Bally's. 

1989- The Mirage opens, launching the mega resort era.

1990 - Excalibur opens
1990- Siefried and Roy begin their run at the Mirage, which ends in 2003 when Roy Horn is mauled by a tiger.

1993 - The Dunes is imploded to begin construction for the Bellagio

1996- The Sands is imploded (to be replaced by the Venetian in 1999)

1997- New York New York opens
1997- The Aladdin closes and is imploded in 1998 to be replaced by newer version of the Aladdin

1998 - The Bellagio opens (formerly The Dunes sight)

1999 - The Venetian opens
1999-  Paris opens
1999- Mandalay Bay opens

2001- The Desert Inn is imploded (to be replaced by the Wynn)

2005- The Wynn Las Vegas opens
2005- FTC approves the merger of MGM and Mandalay which now own nine casinos on the strip.

2006- Lady Luck (downtown) closes.
2006- Boardwalk is imploded for Aria/City Center
2006- Gold Spike (downtown) removes its table games
2006- Wildfire removes its table games
2006- The Stardust closes

2007- The Stardust is imploded to be replaced by Echelon 
2007- The Aladdin becomes Planet Hollywood (April)

2008- Trump Hotel (no casino) opens
2008- Encore opens (adjoining the Wynn)
2008- Palazzo opens (adjoining the Venetian)

2009- Aria opens

2010- Cosmopolitan opens (Dec)

2011 - Sahara closes (May)

2012- Imperial Palace becomes the Quad
2012- O'Sheas replaced by The Linq, a restaurant and entertainment district

2013- Downtown Grand opens at the old Lady luck site

2014- The Quad is renamed The Lina
2014- The SLS opens in the remodeled Sahara building, the first big resort since the Cosmo in 2010

2015 - Riviera closes

2016- Lucky Dragon, an Asian-themed casino opens on north strip, only to close in Jan 2018.

2017- Westin's casino, Max closes, The hotels continues to operate.

2018 - Lucky Dragon closes, The hotel continues to operate, and casino is slated to reopen within six months.

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