LAS VEGAS -- The newest way to make an impression on the garish
Las Vegas Strip is through Impressionism itself. The Bellagio, a
luxury hotel being built in a city known for its girlie shows,
clanging slot machines and the Liberace Museum, will have its
hallways graced by about $130 million worth of paintings by the
of Renoir, Monet and Picasso.
Down the road, Circus Circus Enterprises, known for a flagship
hotel that features $29 rooms, $3 all-you-can-eat buffets and
acts high above the blackjack tables, is building a resort that will
include a hotel managed by the tony Four Seasons Hotels.
Las Vegas is adding a little elegance to its ebullience, a little
class to its crass. The latest mantra here is go upscale: attract
upper-middle-income vacationers -- not necessarily avid gamblers --
who might normally head for Palm Springs or La Jolla, Calif.;
Scottsdale, Ariz., or Santa Fe, N.M.
Behind the move is a change in the economics of Las Vegas. In the
past, rooms, food and entertainment were mainly loss leaders, sold
cheaply to lure customers into the casino.
But as Las Vegas has broadened its appeal, the average visitor is
dropping less at the roulette table. At the low-priced Circus Circus
hotel, for instance, "A lot of people are sleeping there but not
playing the casinos," said Glenn Schaeffer, the president of the
So he and other casino owners are trying something radical: to
actually turn a profit on rooms, food, entertainment and shops. In
1996, these nongambling revenues accounted for 47 percent of the
Strip's total, up from 42 percent in 1990, according to the Las
Convention and Visitors Authority.
Still, the average hotel rate for all of Las Vegas has only crept
up to $58, so hotel keepers think there is room to charge even more
by making accommodations more luxurious. Higher room rates are also
needed to recover the costs of the extravagant theme hotels now
construction, like the $1.5 billion Bellagio, which hopes to charge
an average of about $165 a night, a new high for Las Vegas.
Risks abound in this strategy, though. Visitors may balk at high
room rates if cheap ones are still plentiful, and giant hotels run
the danger of becoming impersonal. Most important, though: Can Las
Vegas absorb all these new rooms?
Las Vegas, of course, has been redefining itself for a decade.
In recent years it has shed some of its Sin City reputation and
turned itself into a playland for middle-American families by
building hotels with theme-park-like attractions -- erupting
volcanoes, battling pirates and Greenwich Village street scenes.
This attracted mainly low-budget vacationers lured by the
hotels and meals.
But the latest moves, if they succeed, will broaden the market
further and help transform this desert hub into a more traditional
resort, with golf, tennis, spas, ritzy shopping centers and gourmet
The Bellagio is far from alone. The Desert Inn is just completing
a $200 million renovation aimed at making it Las Vegas' first five-
star hotel. While most hotel-casinos require guests to run a
gauntlet of slot machines to find the registration desk, the Desert
Inn, owned by ITT, features a lobby five stories high, and not a
or a bong within earshot.
Ritz-Carlton Hotel is entering the Las Vegas market, agreeing to
manage a 526-room hotel in the new 640-acre Mountain Spa Resort
built on the outskirts of the city by Jack Sommer, owner of the
Ritz-Carlton and Marriott International, which owns 49 percent of
Ritz, have also signed letters of intent to manage hotels to be
on the property of the MGM Grand. ITT's Caesars Palace, long
considered one of the most upscale hotels, has just added a new,
more luxurious 1,200-room tower.
The new establishments are not necessarily aimed at the high
rollers who bet up to $200,000 on a single hand of baccarat. …