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Big-dollar resorts give Las Vegas an upscale look

June 16, 2000
Web posted at: 1:05 p.m. EDT (1705 GMT)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- There's a lot more to Las Vegas these days than Wayne Newton and neon.

You can stroll down a Parisian boulevard, navigate a Venetian canal by gondola and sun yourself on a tropical beach -- all without leaving the city limits. And, of course, you can still play the slot machines.

"It's interesting what 5 or 6 billion dollars will do to change a city, particularly when it's along a strip of maybe only a couple of miles," said William Weidner, president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands, Inc., which owns the new Venetian Resort.

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The Venetian is one of four huge resorts that have opened in the strip in the past two years, adding 13,000 hotel rooms and a new level of sophistication to the desert gambling town.

The Venetian's lobby is reminiscent of Europe's great museums, and the complex boasts the largest rooms in the world, according to the "Guinness Book of World Records."

But aside from the popular gondola rides, the most distinctive element is the architecture, from recreations of St. Mark's Square to the Doge's Palace and the Campanile Tower.

To re-create the Italian landmarks, the resort brought in a company that specializes in period architectural detail.

"We went over to Venice and we spent about three weeks taking about 3,000 photographs of the things we were going to replicate," said Bob Hlusak, vice president of Treadway Industries. "But obviously we couldn't do that in stone and marble because they had about, oh, 600 years to do it and we had about two."

Treadway used a lighter, fabricated material. A sculpture of the archangel Gabriel, for example, is made of foam and polyurethane and coated in 22- karat gold.

"If you think for a moment, if you're tricked for a moment, if you just turn the corner and say, 'I thought I was in Venice,' then we've done our job," Weidner said.

A popular destination

Nearly 34 million travelers visited Las Vegas in 1999, an increase of 10.5 percent over 1998 and the most visitors ever. The new resorts can claim some credit for that growth.

"Everyone wants to see the new place," said Scott Doggett, author of "Lonely Planet Las Vegas." "The Strip is constantly reinventing itself, and it's doing that because the competition to bring people into the casinos is greater and greater."

The illusions and amenities change from one resort to the next, but the main source of revenue remains the same.

"They make their money in gambling," said Doggett. "It's not at the health spa, it's not at the bar. It's gambling."

According to Doggett, the reported revenue from casinos exceeds $5 billion a year -- more than $10,000 a minute.

Competition for those dollars continues to change Las Vegas, with new resorts catering to different age groups and budgets.

For example, Mandalay Bay sports a tropical theme, including a pool with 6-foot (1.8-meter) waves and a beach. The resort boasts one of the city's hottest nightclubs -- Rumjungle -- and the Russian-themed Red Square restaurant, an offshoot of the successful Miami eatery.

"People like to be seen at a property like this, and that's exactly why we designed Mandalay Bay to attract a young, hip crowd," said Michael Starr, the resort's vice president and general manager.

Food, fountains, fun

If you're not into gambling and glitzy nightlife, Las Vegas has more sedate options -- for example, garden strolls through the conservatory at Bellagio, one of the strip's most exclusive resorts.

Bellagio also is home to many of the city's top restaurants, including Olives, Prime and Le Cirque, all branches of famous restaurants in other cities.

"There is now a concentration of restaurants in Las Vegas which rivals both New York, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco," said Mario Maccioni, executive director of the Las Vegas Le Cirque. "It has now become a culinary destination."

Bellagio may be most famed for its fountain show, which spans more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) and features water shooting as high as 240 feet (73 meters), all of it choreographed to music ranging from classical to Broadway.

Another familiar landmark is the Eiffel Towel -- a half-size replica of it, anyway. It's the focal point of the $785 million, 2,916- room Paris Las Vegas, where visitors walk inside and discover what looks like a Parisian street, complete with shops selling French goods.

Inside the structure is the elegant Eiffel Tower Restaurant. Overlooking the Strip, it puts all of Las Vegas in perspective.

"I think this is the pinnacle. This is it," one visitor declared. "This is what America is all about!"

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The Venetian
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
Bellagio Las Vegas
Le Cirque
Treadway Industries
Paris Las Vegas

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