Casino Beat: Is Luxury Wearing Thin?
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Tuesday I finally went to see the fantastic 3-D film “Avatar” and like most people, that night I had extremely vibrant dreams. Maybe it was the 3-D glasses. Maybe it was the science fantasy (as opposed to science fiction) storyline. The next morning I woke up and read that billionaire Carl Icahn took control of the stalled Fountainebleu project through bankruptcy court. I took it as a sign. He’ll put a lot of people to work and do what it takes to complete the eyesore that is currently a huge, ugly symbol of the once uber-inflated Las Vegas economy. I’m glad Carl Ichan is getting back into the casino business.
Although the last thing the Strip needs right now is more rooms, in the long run completing the Fountainebleu will be a good thing for locals and tourists alike. It doesn’t have to mean death knells for the Riveria and Sahara casinos either, as some have speculated. Like Diane Taylor exemplified in her article “New Life Emerges From the Recession” the pain of the recession often brings with it new and unexpected opportunity.
We’ve had one “ultra-luxury” resort opening after the other for years on the Strip to the point that our once venerable skyline has almost become one shiny glass tower after another. Almost. Fountainebleu is going to join in the “luxury” marketing of Las Vegas along with the Aria, Wynn, Wynn’s Encore, Bellagio, new towers at the Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood, plus the Plaza if it ever breaks ground. The M Resort and Red Rock are also both very nice, very recent additions to the off-Strip luxury market.
But where’s the fun?
The Venetian was the last themed resort to open on the Strip and even it was brought into the marketplace with the “ultra-luxury” moniker. That was in 1999, more than ten years ago. So “Avatar” got me thinking. Is anyone trying to look at the Las Vegas casino and resort marketplace with a fresh perspective? The answer is yes.
It’s probably obvious that I think Pandora, the moon circling a planet in Alpha Centuri where the Na’vi live in James Cameron’s “Avatar” universe would be a GREAT theme for a resort. “Avatar” is already the highest grossing film of all-time and it’s still in theaters. They haven’t even gotten to the ancillary on-demand, video and pay TV markets. The merchandising will probably rival George Lucas’ “Star Wars” and New Line Cinema’s “Lord of the Rings” franchises by the time the sequel comes out. Thousands of cases of “Avatar blues” (post screening depression) have already been reported and there are probably tens of thousands more that will go unreported. It seems pretty obvious that fans from around the world would flock to a Avatar/Pandora-themed resort in Vegas.
The fact that we don’t already have some sort of space-themed/Area 51 resort baffles me. And it appears I’m not alone.
The web-site Vegas Today and Tomorrow holds hope that some fresh themed resorts might eventually open. Although Michael Henderson’s proposed 10,000 room Moon Resort seems unlikely to find a home in the current economy, there’s a “Beverly Hillbillies” resort complete with flaming oil derrick that reportedly is still in the works for either North Las Vegas or Reno. And Legoland got approval late last year to build a Lego-themed hotel outside the park entrance in Carlsbad, California.
So it seems clear to me that if we don’t get back into being the leader in themed resorts, someone else, somewhere else, will.
A look at Wikipedia’s list of themed casinos that never opened will probably illicit a few sighs of regret (Palace of the Sea) along with even more sighs of relief (would cocktail waitresses wear a gray suit and striped tie in a World Trade Center-themed resort?). I think if someone like James Cameron or Peter Jackson looked at building an inter-active legacy in Las Vegas the entire world (and their holding companies!) would notice. If I could have a bungalow shaped like a hobbit house or a bed that resembled an “Avatar” immersion chamber I would pay whatever they asked (two-night minimum stay required, taxes and resort fees not included ;-).
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good luxury resort. A room at the Bellagio with a spa pass is incredible. The views from the M Resort, Wynn and other shiny glass towers are gorgeous. The entertainment and restaurant options at the top resorts rarely disappoint. But if I can visit New York, Venice, ancient Rome, ancient Egypt and King Arthur’s court when I’m in Vegas, I’m sure I’m not alone in longing for a chance to visit Middle Earth, a Star Wars cocktail lounge, or Pandora too.
Mr. Icahn, it’s not too late to make Fountainebleu stand out from the crowd! James Cameron, how would you like 10-1 odds on a sure bet and cure everyone of “Avatar Blues” at the same time?
Sure, I might just be dreaming out loud. But then again, I’m not the only one. Las Vegas is a land where dreams sometimes do come true.
Click here for the LLV movie review of Avatar, if you haven’t been to see it yourself yet.