By midmorning Friday, it was business as usual at the Monte Carlo.
Shortly after 10 a.m., George Vals, 54, found his seat at a $2-to-$4 limit Texas hold'em game inside the Strip casino's poker room. The chair was close to the one he occupied on Jan. 25, when a rooftop fire burned portions of the hotel tower's facade and forced the Monte Carlo's evacuation.
The fire caused almost $100 million in damage and lost business to the resort owned by MGM Mirage. Repairs temporarily closed the hotel-casino, giving some 2,800 workers an unscheduled paid vacation and displacing loyal customers.
About 45 minutes ahead of schedule and without fanfare, MGM Mirage reopened 1,200 of the hotel's 3,000 guest rooms, the Monte Carlo's 100,000-square-foot casino, several restaurants and much of the property's public space.
Magician Lance Burton was slated to reopen his long-running show Friday night in the 1,200-seat theater that bears his name. Many of the emergency responders who helped put out the fire and assist with the evacuation were invited to attend the show as guests of Burton and the resort.
When customers entered the Monte Carlo for the first time in three weeks, several employees applauded.
"This is my home. I wanted to be the first one back through the doors," Vals said.
Outside near the hotel's large fountain, Doris Brookey, along with family and friends, posed for photos. Home in Dayton, Ohio, they had watched images of the fire, knowing they had a group trip to Las Vegas scheduled for Presidents Day weekend. They decided to walk over from the neighboring New York-New York and explore the casino.
"It's gorgeous inside," Brookey said.
Luann and Tom Carter of Denver visited the Monte Carlo during the resort's original grand opening in June 1996. He won $2,100 on a slot machine during that trip. The Monte Carlo's reopening coincided with the Carters' annual trip to Las Vegas for their anniversary. They visited Friday morning to see if they had any similar luck.
"No matter what, we always come by and play here," said Tom Carter, 46.
Meanwhile, Chester Scott, a bartender in the casino bar near the Lance Burton Theater, had served a few Bloody Marys and beers to Monte Carlo customers almost immediately after the reopening. The casino was sparsely populated, but Scott was sure business would pick up.
"It's good to be back, and it's like we never left," said Scott, 37, who has worked at the Monte Carlo since its opening. "Come back tonight. I'm sure it will be busy and we'll be back to normal by the weekend."
Normal is something Monte Carlo employees and guests are hoping to experience.
Many spent part of the morning discussing the events of Jan. 25, when fire alarms forced the evacuation of an estimated 5,000 hotel guests and nearly 1,000 workers. Poker dealer Holly Gordon said some players had to evacuate with racks of casino chips. She cashed in some of the chips with money out of her purse.
"A lot of the employees got together over the last few weeks," said Gordon, who has been a poker dealer at the Monte Carlo for six years. "We really missed coming into work every day. We're all happy to be back and to see our customers."
Doris Larson of South Dakota walked across the Strip to the Monte Carlo from the Polo Towers. She was hoping to purchase tickets to the Lance Burton show. She passed the time playing slot machines.
"I always play here every time we come to Las Vegas," Larson said. "I'm glad it's open again."
Monte Carlo plans to open 1,300 more rooms by next Friday. The remaining 500 rooms, mostly on the hotel's upper floors, are undergoing more extensive repairs.
Monte Carlo President Anton Nikodemus said he was confident the property's available hotel rooms would be filled for the weekend.
"We actually turned on the marketing efforts at the very beginning of the week and we've had tremendous bookings over the course of the past few days," Nikodemus said. "Travelocity and Expedia put the Monte Carlo front and center as one of the feature properties, and that's given us a great response."
Several hotel guests checking in Friday morning said they had booked reservations far in advance, but grew concerned after watching images of the fire on national television.
Edward Kozlovsky and his girlfriend, Jenia Cozub of Hackensack, N.J., stay at a different Strip hotel-casino every year. Kozlovsky checked with hotel officials earlier in the week on his reservations.
"I knew they were putting Monte Carlo guests at other places, so I wasn't too concerned," Kozlovsky said.
Jamie and Jarrett Bolton of New Freedom, Pa., planned their Las Vegas vacation in November.
"We called yesterday and they said they were opening," Jarrett Bolton said. "We're looking forward to a nice weekend."
The fire sent thick, black smoke spewing across the valley. County fire inspectors blamed flying molten metal and a lack of safety measures by construction workers for the fire. Welders working atop the hotel were using a hand-held torch to cut corrugated steel for a rooftop walkway when the hot metal, called slag, triggered the fast-moving fire, burning flammable foam that was used in the exterior design.
The company blamed for the fire, Union Erectors, disputed the Fire Department's report, saying its workers followed proper safety procedures and had the proper work permit needed for the job.
Nikodemus said the fire's aftermath has allowed Monte Carlo to push ahead with a redesign of the resort's hotel rooms, starting with upper level rooms that suffered the most smoke and water damage.
"It was part of the overall plan for the Monte Carlo's future," he said. "Instead of 2009, we'll speed things up a bit."
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or (702) 477-3871.