Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

All Articles Published: February 2005

February 26, 2005

STRIPPING: Mandalay Bay to Excalibur

Posted by Hunter

NOTE: After re-reading this it comes off as a bit harsh. That's not my intention. While I do feel strongly about what I wrote and stand by it, my goal isn't to bash the folks who work at these hotels.

[Welcome to one of our new columns, Stripping, where we feature Las Vegas Strip casinos and give you our raw opinion about what they have to offer. Expect this to be a regular feature as we work our way down the Strip. Of course there are a lot of great casinos not on the Strip. We'll get to 'em, but Stripping focuses on Las Vegas tourism's main thoroughfare.]

In this issue we take a virtual walk from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur, via Luxor.

Mandalay Bay

Mandalay positions themselves as the Hard Rock+ (by the way, if Mandalay execs have actually used this term, I want royalties). Despite its problems, management have made some great decisions in the past and we go over their accomplishments below...

What's Great About Mandalay Bay:


Steve Wynn once described the MGM Grand Mansion as 'a jewel on the corner of a vast, middle-range hotel' and that's basically how I would describe THEHotel's relation to Mandalay Bay. If the original is an exercise in dolled up Motel Six sensibility, the designers realized they could fool the neauvo riche even more with something a little more high end. In general Mandalay is a vast sea of mediocrity and this is its saving grace. THEHotel's designers certainly went to the W's school of design: dark, dark and more dark. One thing that is super annoying is referring to everything as THE. THEPad, THETV, THEBathroom, etc... It gets THEOld really fast. Still, this is the highlight of the complex.

Foundation Room:

Before MIX opened in THEHotel, the best view in the city was restricted to the members only crew... or those that came on a comp... or those that trickled in on Mondays... Anyway, it was kinda exclusive. The view is still better and more exclusive than MIX and the bar is better decorated. Carved wood is everywhere. It's a really cool complex that FEELS exclusive, so much to the level that it make you seriously consider the $5k it costs per year.

House of Blues:

When it comes to large artists in small rooms, there are basically two places in town. One is The Joint at the Hard Rock and the other is the HOB at Mandalay. Right in the middle of the casino, it is impossible to miss. I've seen several shows in this venue, plus a comedy from Dave Chapelle. For all events, this place is a great place to see a show, especially if you can score VIP access. Even if you can't, the place is well thought out and if someone you want to see is playing, buy a ticket.


The original Mandalay Bay site plan revolved around the swimming pool. It is the signature attraction and they have only enhanced its cachet since introducing the Moorea Beach Club. This is where the Hard Rock comparisons come into full play. Actually, this pool is Monte Carlo-plus-plus... or Hard Rock plus. I guess everything is derivative in this town but this is perhaps one of the most recent, concrete examples.

What Sucks About Mandalay Bay:

Yes, Mandalay has some serious problems. It is the crown of a second rate empire and if you look closely, I think you'll agree with me.

Low Build Quality:

If you take a close look at Mandalay Bay (Mandalay) it is hard not to see the corners that were cut to make the budget. When the builder claims their $900M building can compete with Bellagio ($1.6B), you need to take a look and see if that is really true. What they are betting on is that their customer won't notice all of the little things that are missing at MB. All of Mandalay Bay's light fixtures are all finished in plastic. Look towards the ceiling and you'll see many plastic panels designed to look hand finished. Compare this to Bellagio or The Mirage or even the Golden Nugget and you see real chandeliers and lighting fixtures, not four sided lighting elements with elaborate plastic side panels. The flooring at Bellagio was put down by hand during initial construction. This stands in stark contrast to Mandalay where flooring is either fake or generic marble. Not counting THEHotel, your experience at Mandalay Bay (outside of the Four Seasons floors), is not going to be a significant upgrade from your experience at Luxor. That is the mentality under which the facility was designed and constructed and that's why comparisons to Bellagio and The Venetian are somewhat laughable.

Sports Book:

For one of the premier Las Vegas Strip hotels, Mandalay's sports book is a joke when compared to books at Bellagio and The Mirage, Ballys or MGM Grand. It's not like Glenn Schaeffer (Mandalay President) wasn't aware that other joints had better books... They basically lifted the entire theme and concept for the hotel from The Mirage... It would have been nice if they had installed a comparable sports book. Even then, Bellagio set the standard for great books: the best chairs ever, great drink service and high end displays. NOTE TO MANDALAY FOLKS; Bellagio opened MONTHS before you did. I know you had access to capital. What happened? Your book sucks and when Wynn Las Vegas opens you are even more screwed.


Getting to Luxor from Mandalay usually involves walking through Mandalay Place, their new high end shopping 'environment'. I guess your other choice is walking on the street but I don't see a lot of people heading that way these days. The shopping mall is now the default route, and unless you want a burger from the Burger Bar, it's pretty boring.

What is Great

Not much. The fact here is that a semi-reasonable theme was bastardized to a large degree. Based on our experience, most Luxor dealers just don't care that much about providing a fun environment. What is perhaps the greatest themed casino in Las Vegas has gone without a suitable steward for too long. The pyramid with it's incredible light beam is known globally. They haven't capitalized on their inherent ability to bring people in. THEY HAVE A FREAKING HUGE PYRAMID. Despite the fact that the rooms, food and entertainment (yes, Blue Man Group) are not at the level of a Bellagio, MGM Grand or TI shouldn't matter. This is one of the most recognizable buildings in Las Vegas and it is a second rate attraction. That's a major mismatch.

What Sucks

See above. Luxor has the best theme idea of any place in Vegas and fails the most miserably. The standard rooms - they are so average it is unbelievable. If you can, score a Jacuzzi Suite. Located on the corners of the pyramid, they actually offer a unique experience at this otherwise average hotel.


I have pretty much nothing good to say regarding the Excalibur. I sometimes find myself in the casino and I honestly focus on trying to leave. I realize that some customers feel very much at ease at the Excal and there isn't anything wrong with that. Still, it's not my kinda place and I avoid it like the plague. Since it has no high end intrigue or attractions, it really can't contribute to this column.

STRIPPING: MORE TO COME; NEXT UP - New York New York, MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, and More...

February 26, 2005

New Column: Stripping

Posted by Hunter

We're preparing to introduce a new semi-regular column: STRIPPING. This column focuses on casinos based on the Las Vegas Strip. Our first entry, coming soon, will feature Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur. It is based on our extensive experience visiting Las Vegas casinos and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do. We plan to be brutally honest and since our Mandalay Resort Group rep won't even call us back, we don't feel that bad.

February 23, 2005

Wynn Las Vegas: Summary of What We Know

Posted by Hunter

As we get closer to the April 28th opening of Wynn Las Vegas, the hype machine is already kicking into overdrive. Wynn interviews and news stories are all over the press at this point and the company is airing a commercial during the Academy Awards ceremony next week.

While Steve Wynn has kept most of the details under wraps, we wanted to summarize what we know so far in case you haven't been keeping track at home.

Here's what we know...

Design Focus:

While designing Wynn Las Vegas the team wanted to make the place feel a lot smaller than Bellagio, despite the complex being about the same size. According to Wynn this place has "...nooks and crannies and hideaways...". Wynn often talks about 'designing from the inside out' vs his previous creations being designed from the perspective of the Strip as an audience. Under this paradigm, the guest is treated as the focal point of the experience instead of the passer-by. To learn the secrets of Wynn Las Vegas you have to head inside, and Wynn is banking on the fact that is just what you will do.


2,700 rooms and suites starting at 630 square feet. The hotel tower is being reported as 50 stories and skips floors 40-49 due to Chinese superstition. The rooms feature high-end bedding that is supposedly being custom made for the resort. Wynn has a deal with Gateway to provide flat screen LCD and plasma televisions for the resort. The hotel details several different configurations of rooms and suites that will look familiar to anyone who has stayed at Bellagio, The Mirage, or Treasure Island. The suites feature access to the VIP check-in lobby and pool area (more details below).


You may have heard that Wynn is largely turning his back on the concept of using big name celebrity chefs to lure diners to his restaurants. Instead he has decided to go after excellent chefs that haven't made huge names for themselves nationally and paying them big bucks to be in their Las Vegas kitchens five or six nights per week.

From an design point of view, expect many of the restaurants to open out over the resorts lake and mountain and to create 'theaters' of performance in the restaurants. For instance, the Japanese restaurant will look like something out of 17th century Japan when you are sitting in the restaurant. You will feel fully immersed and according to Wynn, it will be a first for any hotel anywhere.

His restaurants will not open up directly on to the casino floor but instead be separated by waiting rooms, lounges and other constructs. As Wynn says, "People know how to find the casino...".


We believe Wynn will have at least one nightclub when it opens but it's possible there will be more. We also believe that at least one additional club will be part of the 'Encore' expansion that is slated to open in 2007.


Steve Wynn's collaboration with Franco Dragone began in 1992 with Mystere. The Cirque de Soleil show produced for Treasure Island was like nothing ever seen on the Las Vegas Strip. 'O' followed Mystere and once again, the show was sold out every night for years. Dragone is no longer with Cirque but his link to Steve Wynn remains strong. The original name of the hotel, Le Reve will open in April and showcase a theater in the round where no seat is far from the stage. The facility is basically a circular cage sitting over a bowl - the water will run underneath and all around you, like nothing you've ever seen before.

Beyond that, the hit Broadway musical 'Avenue Q' will open in the fall in its own theater.

Beyond that, Wynn has mentioned the fact that he'll have capacity for additional shows with the Wynn Las Vegas 'Encore' expansion scheduled to open in 2007. He realizes that entertainment is a huge draw and a lot of fun to put together. As Wynn says, 'My marquee has space for four shows....'.


Like Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas will feature an assortment of high end retail. Expect stores from Brioni, Chanel, Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Cartier, and Manolo Blahnik. Additionally, there will be an onsite Ferrari and Maseratti dealership and full service station.


The only Las Vegas Strip hotel with an 18 hole PGA level course. What else can do you want to know? The course is designed by Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn, the same crew that build Shadow Creek, the course will sit on over 100 acres directly behind the hotel and feature a full pro shop.

If you are a golfer, you will want to give the course a try. A huge waterfall at the 18th certainly won't turn you off.

The rumor is that the course will be named after the original property - 'Desert Inn Golf Club'.

Pools and Gardens:

Expect a pool complex that is a cousin to the one you see at Bellagio. Large open spaces with a lot of landscaping, private pools for suite and 'tower deluxe' rooms and spacious main pools are the signature attractions.

For a look at the pool deck along with the meeting facilities: Wynn Las Vegas Pool Deck Map.


Steve Wynn and his wife Elaine own a small but incredible impressive collection of pieces that will be on display at Wynn Las Vegas. Perhaps the most amazing of these is Picasso's 'Le Reve', Wynn's original inspiration for the resort.

Casino and Other Additional Features:

Gambling? Wynn Las Vegas will feature a 110,000 square foot casino with every major slot machine and table game. Hotel guests will be able to use their room keys as slot cards in any of the property's 1,900 slot machines, cutting down on the number of cards carried.

The poker room will feature 25 tables along with an electronic paging system to alert players when their tables are ready.

Much has been made of the use of RFID casino chips and table equipment in the casino. It seems as if Wynn Las Vegas will be one of the most high profile joints to use this new technology.

Wedding Chapels:

The hotel will feature two luxurious wedding chapels that overlook the pool deck.

VIP Amenities:

Guests staying in a Tower Suite or above will be treated to separate check-in areas, private pools and first access to tables at restaurants, shows, and more. Wynn plans to pamper all his guests by especailly those that are looking for a 'Four Seasons' level of experience.

What's Next?

Well, there's still a lot more to know about Wynn Las Vegas. We'll update this article a bit over the next few days based on feedback we get from our readers. Plus, more articles will be coming down the pipe as we get more information.


January Construction Photos at Flickr.

February 22, 2005

MGM MIRAGE Outlines Structure of Combined Company

Posted by Hunter

In their first Nevada Gaming Control Board meeting on the proposed merger with Mandalay Resort Group, MGM MIRAGE outlined to regulators how the new company would be structured.

Since the acquisition of Mirage Resorts in 2000, each company owned resort has been owned and operated by LLCs that are in turn owned by one of two operating divisions, MGM Grand Resorts and Mirage Resorts.

As of today, MGM Grand Resorts consists of the resorts in Primm, NV, MGM Grand, New York New York and MGM Grand Detroit while Mirage Resorts includes Bellagio, The Mirage, Treasure Island, 50% of Monte Carlo and Beau Rivage in Mississippi.

Once the merger is complete, the company plans to structure management as follows:

MGM Grand Resorts: MGM Grand, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Excalibur, Primm Valley, Jean resorts, MRG's Laughlin properties, and whichever Detroit casino isn't sold.

Mirage Resorts will include Bellagio, The Mirage, Treasure Island, Circus Circus, Circus Circus Reno, Monte Carlo, New York New York and the announced Project CityCenter.

John Redmond is the president and CEO of MGM Grand Resorts and Bobby Baldwin is at the head at Mirage, both reporting to MGM MIRAGE Chairman and CEO Terri Lanni.

Still to come are the rumors about shifts at individual properties, especially Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage and Treasure Island.

February 16, 2005

MGM MIRAGE/Mandalay Resort Group Merger Approved By FTC

Posted by Hunter

[Disclosure: I own MGM MIRAGE stock.]

This afternoon we got word that the FTC unanimously approved the merger between Strip heavyweights MGM MIRAGE and Mandalay. More info from the LV Sun: here.

How do I feel about it? Unlike many other Las Vegas visitors, I welcome the merger.

When MGM Grand bought Mirage Resorts I was a bit sad, mostly because the four Las Vegas Mirage properties really had a special feel to them and Wynn is clearly a top notch operator. Looking back on it now, the Mirage properties have changed. Some of the changes are good (Bellagio Spa Tower) and some are a bit scary (Treasure Island). Word is more changes are coming, specifically for The Mirage.

I see this one differently. MGM MIRAGE and Mandalay are both companies that are exceptionally well run. I see a lot of opportunity to get a lot of out the relationship that will be created between say, The Mirage and Mandalay Bay. Getting comp credits for my stay and play at The Mirage to head to Mandalay restaurants sounds good.

Am I worried about decreased competition? Not really. There will always be independent operators like Wynn and Adelson (Venetian) to offer a balance. I don't play at the low end of the market so I am less worried about the 'little guy' player. I see a real benefit for the mid-level and high end player here. I like the additional choices this merger will bring me as a customer.

As a shareholder I love it. Mandalay has been making more money in the last year than they ever have before. It's almost amazing. The combined company will have a hell of a lot of debt but also a lot of cash flow...

The most important aspect of the deal? Real estate. By buying Mandalay they get access to some of the best development and redevelopment sites left on the Strip. Between empty lots near Mandalay Bay, across from Luxor, behind NYNY and the concept of redeveloping Excalibur and/or Circus Circus in the next 10 years, they are setting themselves up to succeed financially.

So, the last thing they have to do is get clearance from the Nevada gaming authorities, the Nevada Gaming Commission and Nevada State Gaming Control Board. I can't see regulators standing in their way, this is great for the State.

Oh, and they have to sign the check.

February 15, 2005

Wynn On Wynn

Posted by Hunter

In an article in today's Las Vegas Sun Steve Wynn detailed some of the features of his upcoming resort, Wynn Las Vegas.

Due to open April 28th of this year, the resort has been in the planning and construction stages for almost five years and he's hoping that all of that planning is going to pay off. Wynn has claimed in past interviews that he has learned from the mistakes he made in designing The Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio and vows not to repeat them.

His main over-arching design goal seems to be intimacy, quite a challenge to make a 5 million plus square foot facility feel intimate. We'll see when the resort opens if he manages to achieve this goal. To do so would seem to require a break from the traditional hotel casino design principles, which have been basically unchanged for decades.

One thing is certain - the public will know this opening is coming. Wynn Resorts is already pushing their TV commercial out to many television networks and it will air during the Academy Awards.

Apparently the first pictures inside the resort will be published by Vanity Fair magazine in an upcoming issue, similar to the opening of Bellagio in 1998.

So, even as they prepare to open Wynn Las Vegas, Steve works with architects on the upcoming expansion, code-named 'Encore at Wynn Las Vegas'.

An interesting tidbit from the article was that Wynn considers Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson to be his 'enemy'. I guess that parking tiff really has put the two at odds.

February 5, 2005

Golden Boys No More? Golden Nugget Las Vegas Sold.

Posted by Hunter

If you follow Las Vegas you've probably already heard... Tim and Tom of 'The Casino' fame are selling the Golden Nugget after only thirteen months.