The $1 billion Circa Resort & Casino, which opened just after midnight Wednesday, October 28, represents a number of firsts and “largests.” The first casino resort to be built from the ground up in the downtown since 1980. The first adults only casino resort in the city. Nevada’s largest indoor bar, the “Longbar” 165 feet long. The world’s largest sportsbook with a 78 million pixel screen that 1,000 wagerers can view and which takes ten employees to operate.
Superlatives to describe the resort are ubiquitous, with one MC of the grand opening declaring, “When we stand at Circa, we stand at the threshold of another universe.”
It is also one of the largest and most ambitious casinos, at 1.25 million square feet, that pays tribute to the Golden Age of Las Vegas through its retro design, hospitality that will remind you of the good ol’ days and other homages to the city’s history.
This includes Vickie Vegas, a 25-foot high-stepping world-famous animated neon sign landmark that used to greet visitors to Fremont Street, which has been given a new life at the Circa.
“There’s small design elements from all the eras, and it was really important that we created a space that had elements that people could relate to but also done in a new, kind of exciting way,” Alice O’Keefe, Circa’s director of design and architecture told Best of Las Vegas. “It’s a blend of the old and new.”
She described how Vickie Vegas came to be where it is: “There was a cohesion because she’s this vintage sign in this new, shiny casino,” she said. “Her being here as a backdrop to the main entrance and above Barry’s Downtown Prime steakhouse and being able to see her from the second level, it all culminated and came together really nicely.”
But the nod to its past doesn’t keep the Circa from also employing a high tech system to move patrons around and breath-taking amenities brought to life by world-famous chefs.
The Circa was born in the brain and imagination of CEO Derek Stevens, who in June gambled everything that patrons would want to return to Las Vegas in large numbers when the city reopened after several months of the pandemic shutdown.
Several hours before the general public was allowed in, Stevens hosted a black-tie gala for some of Las Vegas’s glitterati and many of the partners that made the Circa possible, where he said, “For the past five years, the Circa team and our partners have been devoted to introducing a resort and casino experience that brings something totally new to Vegas, and in some cases, the country.” He added, “I will be the first to admit that 2020 has not been easy, but this talented group persevered and has delivered on this vision, 8 weeks early. I’m incredibly proud to be putting 1,500 people to work and that our doors are finally open for all to visit Circa.”
Once the public was allowed into the Circa, one of them, Andrew Citores, owner of Getaway Club, a travel agency, exclaimed to CDC Gaming Reports, “It’s absolutely amazing. There’s really nothing like this Downtown,” adding, “We’ve only seen 10 percent of it and we’re already so impressed. You would expect this property to be on the Las Vegas Strip.”
The resort is built around the three-story Circa Sports, where the hi-def screen, which takes 10 people to operate, can play 19 games simultaneously.
It can accommodate as many as 1,000 player in luxurious recliners and booths for groups, all with access to power outlets, Wi-Fi and tables. They can also have food delivered to them Circa’s selection of restaurants.
VSiN, the Sports Betting Network provides in-depth analysis from a permanent studio onsite.
The two-story casino offers 8,002 square feet of gaming, 1,350 slots and the celebrated Dancing Dealers at 49 tables.
The Garage Mahal has a satellite Circa Sports outlet next to the entrance. The eight-story parking structure can accommodate almost 1,000 cars. It is the first in the city built around ridesharing. It is well-lit, equipped with wifi and high-tech surveillance. The lighting is designed to eliminate dark corners. Co-owner Greg Stevens described it as “the brightest, cleanest parking experience you’ll see just about anywhere.” It is also fully integrated with Uber and Lyft—it was in fact designed with them in mind.
Stadium Swim offers six temperature-controlled pools, swim-up bars and a huge LED screen. The pool amphitheater has games running all day. There are 30 cabanas, including larger ones that can accommodate up to 50 guests. Derek Stevens calls it “an attraction,” telling the Sun, “A lot of pools in the history of Las Vegas were really designed as an amenity to the hotel. This hotel is almost an amenity to Stadium Swim.”
In a recent interview with GGB News, Stevens described the different kind of clientele—the independent traveler— he is aiming for with his casinos, and how that relates to how the city is coming back after Covid: “The bigger and mid-size conventions are going to take a little longer to return. But independent travelers are saying they want to come back to Las Vegas.”
To maintain guests’ safety from Covid-19, Stadium Swim employs state-of-the-art ultraviolet light sanitation, chemical monitoring systems that directly attack microbes, all reducing the need for chlorine.
The restaurant line up boasts names such as Barry’s Downtown Prime; Saginaw’s Delicatessen; pan-Asian cuisine from 8 East; Victory Burger & Wings Co.; Project BBQ, a permanent food truck offering Southern gourmet smoked meats, including the Hogstravaganza platter, an entire barbecued pig. Jack Pots is a 24-hour coffee shop created by restaurateur Paul Saginaw and coffee roaster Steve Mangigian.
Bars include Vegas Vickie’s where you can see the neon cowgirl kicking her boots high in the air; the Mega Bar, home of the 165 ft. long bar; the Circa Bar, serving 24 frozen cocktails and the Overhang Bar, which gives an aerialist’s view of the sportsbook screen.
The Marshall Retail Group put together the venues at the Circa, including Circa Collections and Fuel, offering apparel, souvenirs, treats etc. Circa Essentials has tables of merchandise dedicated to Elvis Presley, including Elvis bobbleheads. Another, Circa Swim caters to those who will be visiting Stadium Swim.
The 777-room hotel tower will open just prior to New Year’s.
Although Las Vegas has seen a 29 percent uptick in violent crime in recent weeks, especially gun crime and assault, Derek Stevens and his brother Greg are happy with their security measures. Derek told TripAdvisor, “There’s been a lot of evolution with security measures here over the past few months.”
Among the security arrangements: guests must use a room key to use the elevators. They will have access to their room’s floor and public floors, but prevented from visiting other floors—discouraging roaming the hallways. If friends or family are on another floor they can get their via a visit to the front desk.
Greg Stevens told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Our security plan was always our security plan. I just thought that was the right thing to do, and it’s what people appreciate. It wasn’t reactionary to anything. It’s just that the technology allows us to do this, so why wouldn’t you?”
In addition, the Circa employs ID and temperature scanning. The former prevents those under 21 from entering the adults-only resort. Greg Stevens commented on the ID checks: “We just think it’s going to create a more efficient and really better atmosphere. We think we can provide much better customer service.” He added, “If the line at the entrance starts backing up, that means we’ve got to get better. So we’ll figure it out. It may slow things down, but remember how it speeds other things up.”
A Downtown Revival
The new casino resort is a 35-story structure, the highest in the downtown.
David Schwartz, a gaming historian at University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), told the Review-Journal that the Circa could lead a revival of Downtown. He said, “It’s literally been decades since we’ve seen an investment of this scale in Downtown Las Vegas. So I think this really speaks a lot to where he (Derek Stevens) sees that part of town going.”
He added, “I think it’s definitely a possibility that other people will see that Circa opened, and certainly if they are successful, will see they opened in the most challenging time possible in the last 50 years,.”
Mayor Carolyn Goodman reflected that the “energy” of last decades of the 20th century focused on building in the Strip, which she described as “not only in disrepair and boarded up,” but plagued by crime. It had been recovering from the Great Recession until the pandemic.
However several developments point to a resurgence of Downtown, including a renovation last year of the Stratosphere, rebranding it as “The Strat,” as well as plans for the National Atomic Testing Museum to relocate there and plans to reopen the Huntridge Theater. The mayor concluded, “I’ve been here since 1964, and this is the most exciting it’s been.”
Andrew Simon, chief executive officer of the Fremont Street Experience told the Las Vegas Sun that the opening of the Circa was a “game changer,” adding, “For 40 years, there has not been a new property built from scratch down here. That’s most of my life. It’s a huge deal for Fremont Street Experience.”
As Robert Lang of the Brookings Mountain West think tank at UNLV observed, the downtown was the original place where casinos grew in the city. Only later did the Strip’s giant resorts and conventions come to exemplify the city. The downtown, he says, “has re-emerged in recent years as a niche market for younger tourists who seek a traditional city and vibrant street life.”
“I hope people understand the importance and meaning of this property opening,” Nehme E. Abouzeid, president of consulting firm LaunchVegas told the Review-Journal. “Las Vegas is alive and well and reinvesting.”
A Top Sports Betting Team
Circa Sports director Matthew Metcalf has built the sportsbook on the premise of offering the highest posted betting limits, something that is also true of the other Stevens properties, the Golden Gate and The D.
Metcalf credits Stevens with creating a “mecca” for sports betters, “where they will be able to experience the electricity that can only be found in a Las Vegas sportsbook.” He recently wrote the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the Circa’s opening, “signals to the rest of the world that the demand for the Las Vegas-style sportsbook experience will always be there.”
This flies in the face of current wisdom that the great majority of income from sportsbook comes from online sales, which in some locations accounts for 85 percent of the total amount wagered.
Metcalf counters, “There is a certain energy that permeates a big-time sportsbook,” he said, adding, “It’s the combination of large sums of money being bet, professional and recreational bettors coming together, and the belief that this could be the day that you make the score of a lifetime.”
To do that he recruited a team that includes Nick Kalikas, a top expert on UFC betting, who originated fight lines until some years ago when he became professional bettor. Now he’s back working for the house.
Kalikas helps the Circa manage its risks, while still maintaining $25,000 limits on some fights.
Derek Stevens told the Las Vegas Sun his sports betting philosophy: “With the quantity of sports that’s now necessary to book, you’ve got to have specialists in every area.” He added, “The team Matt put together is pretty terrific.”
Metcalf has been dedicated to sports betting since 2003, when he graduated from the University of Florida, and wrote to several sports book names asking them to give him a chance.
He did that for a while before becoming a professional gambler, specializing on NASCAR and college football. This helped to inform his understanding of the big-time sports bettor and how to appeal to him.
He told the Sun: “I really didn’t understand how much I loved the customer service part of the sports book job until I quit to bet sports and saw how a lot of bettors were disrespected.” He added, “Not everyone was treated the same when they came in. It almost got to a point where I was offended on behalf of sports bettors, and I decided if I got back in the position, I was going to make sure I righted a wrong that had existed — not at all books, but many — for the last 20 years.”
Stevens and Metcalf worked well together, combining Stevens’s emphasis on football and future betting and Metcalf’s interest in low hold percentages, two-way markets and a strategy of keeping bettors happy.
Stevens declared, “Matt really clearly showed what his thought process was on how to build this business, how to build a book for scratch.”
Besides hiring Kalikas, Metcalf also recruited Chris Bennett and Jeffrey Benson, all based on a list in his mind of what he wanted to do. “I didn’t get everybody I wanted, and I still haven’t, but I knew Jeff from Palace Station as the best customer service person in the entire town… and Chris, I had been with him at the Hilton. I had to get Chris,” he told the Sun.
Benson was another person who moved to Las Vegas in 2011 right out of college because of his single-minded determination to get into the sports betting field. Benson recalled that he became friends with Metcalf who eventually asked him to go to work for him.
Benson is sportsbook operations manager at Circa. Besides personally answering many of the emails and phone calls that come through, he is the face of the operation to many people.
He commented, we’re going to try to make ourselves as available as possible. We’re going to have a lot more eyes on us now, and the chance to interact with a lot of new faces and people who are going to come see us for the first time when we open is something we’re excited about.”