Circus Circus (1968-Present)
Circus Circus (1968-Present)
Location: North Strip
2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
What’s There Now: Circus Circus
Closed: Still In Operation
Caesars Palace owner Jay Sarno opens Circus Circus on October 18 as a casino only (no hotel)
First hotel tower is added with 400 rooms
Hotel is taken over by a group of investors led by William Bennett
Second hotel tower opens bringing the room total up to 795
The RV park opens
The motel-style Manor buildings and surrounding facilities are opened adding another 810 rooms to the total
The monorail “Sky Shuttle” opens, linking the various parts of the property
A major renovation adds the iconic Lucky the clown sign in front of the property
The Steakhouse opens
The Skyrise Tower opens with 1,188 rooms and other amenities including additional casino space
The Adventuredome indoor amusement park opens on August 23
The West Tower opens with 1,000 rooms and a new consolidated lobby and other facilities
The company that owns the hotel changes its name from Circus Circus Enterprises to Mandalay Resort Group after the new sister Mandalay Bay that opened down the street
Chuck Jones Experience is added
El Loco roller coaster is added to Adventuredome
Although it is now one of the biggest hotels in the world, when Circus Circus first opened in 1968 it didn’t have any hotel rooms… but it did have an elephant.
The casino was the brainstorm of Jay Sarno who had opened Caesars Palace in 1966. He originally wanted to build the Roman Circus, a family friendly destination, next door to Caesars that would’ve continued its Roman theme. Unable to cobble together the necessary land, Sarno moved the concept up the street and changed it to be a more traditional American circus – a “circus circus” – thus the name.
The casino opened on October 18, 1968 at a reported cost of $15 million. As mentioned above it didn’t have a hotel but it wasn’t due to a lack of desire. Sarno wanted to include accommodations but couldn’t raise the money.
The two story big-top shaped building featured a casino on the first floor that was totally open to the circus style acts that performed above. The second floor stage that created a separation from the gambling and the circus acts was not added until a couple of years later.
The circus attractions were designed by Al Dobritch, operator of the Dobritch International Circus – a Barnum and Bailey style company that toured the world. In addition to trapeze artists, high-wire acts, and clowns, Circus Circus had its own elephant, Tanya. Tanya would be taken for regular walks through the casino and was even taught to pull the handle of a giant slot machine (the first of its kind) and throw dice on a craps table.
The casino got a lot of attention When it first opened including a live broadcast of the festivities on the Ed Sullivan Show. Thinking he had a hit on his hands, Sarno went so far as to charge an admission to get into the casino – 50 cents during the day and $1.00 at night.
Unfortunately the casino didn’t do as well as Sarno had hoped, hampered by a lack of hotel rooms. Cash flow problems concerned the state gaming commission enough that they threatened to close the casino in 1969 until Sarno agreed to remove himself from direct oversight. He came back on board in 1970.
Seeking to rectify the accommodations issue, the first hotel tower opened in 1972. The 15 stories building had 400 rooms. A twin tower that creates the L-shaped buildings right behind the big top opened in 1975, bringing the room total up to 795.
By then the hotel had new ownership – sort of. William Bennett had built a small empire of furniture stores in Arizona but left that to go into the gaming world in the mid-1960s. He worked at casinos in the Lake Tahoe and Reno areas before joining forces with other investors to lease Circus Circus from Sarno. Although it wasn’t a straight sale at the time, Sarno was effectively out and Bennett and team ran the place.
Occupancy at Circus Circus grew again in 1979 when they opened the RV Park at the back of the property and then again in 1980 when the 810 motel-style Manor rooms opened.
With the property growing in all directions, the owners decided they needed a way to move people back and forth between the rooms and the main casino so they introduced the monorail style “Sky Shuttle” in 1981. That kicked off a major renovation in 1982 that upgraded the public areas of the hotel and remodeled the exterior. One of the biggest changes was the addition of a new clown-shaped sign known as Lucky. Standing at more than 100 feet tall it was certified at the time as being the largest neon sign in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The renovation also saw the opening of the now legendary Steakhouse at Circus Circus, which is still a favorite after more than 30 years in business.
The hotel grew again in 1986, which saw the opening of the Skyrise Tower with 1,188 rooms and other amenities including additional casino space, and again ten years later in 1996 with the opening of the West Tower’s 1,000 rooms. The latter came with a new integrated lobby and an upgrade to the circus theme in many areas to a more European style look, which toned down some of the garishness. Some.
In between those two events was the 1993 opening of Adventuredome. The indoor amusement park under the big pink dome out back was originally called Grand Slam Canyon because of the design, which featured canyons and cliffs amongst the rides. It featured five major rides including a roller coaster and a water flume ride.
In 1999 the company that owned the hotel and sister properties Luxor and Excalibur changes its name from Circus Circus Enterprises to Mandalay Resort Groups after opening Mandalay Bay at the opposite end of The Strip.
Between 2005 and 2008 there were several rumors about a major renovation for Circus Circus including one that would have integrated it into a massive, modern complex of hotels and casinos on the neighboring land that was once home to El Rancho. That project – a partnership between MGM Resorts and South African gaming magnate Sol Kerzner – collapsed during the recession of 2008.
In 2013, Adventuredome replaced one of its original rides – the Rim Runner water flume – with a new roller coaster called El Loco.