Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

April 18, 2011

From the archives: SW talks Mirage, 1989

Posted by daveschwartz

Working on my lecture for tomorrow about Las Vegas gaming in the 1980s and 1990s, I wanted to go back to some of the original sources. So I've been browsing through the archives quite a bit.

I found a press release issued on November 14, 1989 titled "MIRAGE RESORT SETS NEW DIRECTION FOR LAS VEGAS." For those keeping score at home, that's 8 days before the Mirage's grand opening.

Here's a few excerpts:

Already, many are saying The Mirage will create a new standard for resort hotels that will redefine Las Vegas as the resort destination of the future.

"We said when we first announced the project that it would be a property which would help set a new direction for Las Vegas, one which would appeal to the entire family audience," said Stephen A. Wynn, chairman of Golden Nugget, Inc., developer of the plush, new resort.

"We've created an alternative to the traditional style of the Las Vegas casino-hotel," said Wynn. "Everyone will recognize The Mirage as a special place: a resort hotel which includes a casino, not a casino which includes a hotel."

The Mirage will attract on audience which has largely passed up Las Vegas as a choice for vacation travel. Younger, affluent families have, in recent years, sought out Mexico, Hawaii, and Caribbean destinations when choosing vacation spots. Now, with the Mirage, Wynn expects to bring some of these consumers and their families to Las Vegas instead.

So was Wynn right or wrong?

Clearly, The Mirage changed Strip casinos. So from that angle he definitely was right. The casinos built in the 1990s, to one extent or another, either tried to emulate or tried to differentiate themselves from The Mirage. It's definitely the most influential casino since Caesars Palace. I'd say that it's even more influential than Caesars, since the things built after Caesars (Kirk's International and MGM) didn't really incorporate its biggest breakthrough, the theming. The Mirage, on the other hand, immediately impacted casino design.

But Wynn wanted to more than change the way casinos looked--he wanted to change their audience. And I don't think he was successful at that. The Mirage didn't really redefine Las Vegas as a family-oriented destination. Sure, families come here, but they always did. And I'm not sure how many of them choose to come here instead of going to the Caribbean or Orlando.

So it's an interesting look into the past, particularly when you consider what Wynn's done since--after Treasure Island, he gave up the idea of appealing to families entirely. And there's that whole no-stroller policy at his casinos, which would definitely leave some families out.

When I finally get the chance to put a lot of my lectures and other writings into book form, I want to really explore this thread, since I don't think the Vegas of 2011 is at all what people anticipated in 1989, and the difference says a lot about what Vegas really is.


Read archived comments (9 so far)
April 18, 2011 2:43 PM Posted by mike_ch

MGM #1 actually had a movie theater showing MGM movies. Theming sort of existed, but was subtle.

Interesting to compare Wynn's promises of Mirage in 1989 and his dismissal of the place twenty years later when he was asked to compare Mirage to CityCenter. We went from "a resort hotel which includes a casino, not a casino which includes a hotel", to "a Flamingo room and a Caesars casino."

April 18, 2011 5:54 PM Posted by socalduck

Where I think the Mirage really succeeded was by helping to make Las Vegas a legitimate destination for corporate events. I seriously doubt the "family friendly" push was meant to attract families away from Maui, but rather it was to better compete against the likes of San Diego, Anaheim and Orlando for the types of corporate groups and events that never would have considered Vegas previously due to the perceived lack of wholesome recreational and entertainment options for accompanying family members. Considering the massive investment (and debt) Wynn incurred in building the Mirage, he needed do everything possible to fill the building every night of the year.
When it opened, the Mirage offered thoroughly modern and flexible meeting space suitable for complex productions; abundant hotel rooms of a high and consistent quality; excellent dining at a variety of price-points; and the relatively tame Siegfried and Roy as the headliner. Throw in a fantastic pool, dolphins, and a cheesy volcano and it is no wonder that the Mirage had mid-week occupancy rates in the high 90s for years after it first opened. The Mirage struck the right mix of Vegas glitz and Orlando wholesomeness, and helped legitimize Las Vegas for legions of corporate meeting planners, without whom the massive building boom of the last 20 years would not have been economically possible.

April 19, 2011 9:25 AM Posted by Phil

When the Mirage opened my son was still of arcade game range and without a doubt when the Mirage opened you saw a lot of kids in that hotel even though their arcade was relatively small near the pool entrance. I say that because my son knew where he could have fun and where he was shut out, and we as parents made a conscious effort to hit the places where we all could have fun and the Mirage was one of those on the list, no doubt. It wasn't just about the arcade, it was the tigers, the fish tank, the volcano, kid friendly Siegfried and Roy, hell Chevy Chase filmed his one of his family style Lampoon Vacations from that hotel. I think if you talked to young adults today who were 8-14 years old back when the Mirage opened, they would tell you that all the kids knew about that hotel and liked it. From that perspective, I think Steve Wynn was right and achieved what he set out to do, of course MGM ruined it, but thats another story. I think Steve started that families are welcome PR speak with content and it came to fruition more with the addition of the Excalibur, Treasure Island and Luxor. We all know all of that has fallen by the wayside, Vegas now is more about followers than leaders, its all about following whats trendy, so when the club thing burns out in a few years they may go back to families again to "reinvent" itself.

April 19, 2011 9:33 AM Posted by Phil

Just to add to my previous comments. The original Mirage meant for me a place where the kids and their parents shared in the experience and thats what made it different. Outside of the hotels that have large malls where you see a family walking together, where do you see environments created where there are multiple things to do together as a family, to me thats what the original Mirage was. Thats why the average middle class family loved it when it opened.

April 19, 2011 1:37 PM Posted by Joe

Unfortunately, I have never been inside of the Mirage before 2005 so I haven't experienced what it was like before the big remodel. Does anyone know what restaurants use to be where Samba, Onda, Fin, Stack, and Japonais are now?

April 19, 2011 6:11 PM Posted by detroit1051

I hope Dr. Dave can answer Joe's questions and also let us know if there is a site which gives details on all Strip properties when they were new. My memory is fading, but the restaurants I remember in Mirage's best years were Kokomo's which was much nicer and more elegant than it is in its current version.
Renoir was Steve Wynn's finest restaurant, a wonderful room run by Alex Stratta. It was off the casino somewhere near where Fin is today.
There was an Asian restaurant with a large Japanese cherry tree in the center. Onda was a more formal, quiet Italian restaurant which I really liked. Can't remember if it was called Onda back then. Caribe Cafe was a great coffee shop.

April 19, 2011 6:26 PM Posted by detroit1051

The Chinese restaurant was Moongate, Here's a photo of Renoir. It was over the top French.

April 20, 2011 2:43 PM Posted by Dave

Couldn't get to this today--hopefully will be in the office to do so tomorrow.

And "Moongate" sounds like an Iron Maiden song. Which, in my book at least, isn't a bad thing.

April 26, 2011 6:49 AM Posted by Paco

I don't think that it is possible to discuss Las Vegas in a vacuum. A lot of places like "Club Med" thought the key to their ultimate expansion around that time was in "family vacations".

Twenty years ago, the GLBT travel market was not as well organized or targeted as aggressively. Clearly this market is less concerned with pinching pennies.

And on a macroscopic level, if you look at the numbers of people being added to world population, 1989-1990 was the peak in human history. Today half of the world's people live in countries where the total fertility level is below replacement level, a dramatic change from 1989.

Year - Millions of people added to world population
1981 82.7
1982 79.9
1983 81.0
1984 80.1
1985 81.5
1986 83.8
1987 86.3
1988 86.9
1989 86.5
1990 87.3
1991 82.9
1992 84.7
1993 82.1
1994 80.6
1995 80.9
1996 80.2
1997 78.6
1998 77.6
1999 76.8
2000 76.2
2001 76.5
2002 76.2
2003 75.7
2004 75.7
2005 75.9
2006 76.6
2007 77.6
2008 77.1
2009 75.8
2010 75.7
2011 75.7