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Next Las Vegas Strip property headed for big change: The Mirage

Updated April 8, 2024 - 7:13 pm

The transformation of the Tropicana has begun, and the public said farewell last week to one of the Strip’s historic gaming establishments.

The next property headed for big change: The Mirage.

You have to imagine that there will be a greater outcry of support for The Mirage than the Tropicana because its history is fresher in people’s minds.

The Mirage is embedded in Las Vegas history as the Strip’s first megaresort, generally defined as a property with more than 3,000 rooms.

Built by Steve Wynn and opened in 1989, The Mirage provided many firsts for the casino industry — the first to be financed through Wall Street “junk bonds,” the first to include onsite wildlife habitats for dolphins and for Siegfried & Roy’s white tigers.

Wynn had a propensity for building what at the time was the most expensive hotel ever built, and The Mirage was no different, being established for an over-budget $630 million.

From the beginning, analysts were skeptical that The Mirage could generate the $1 million in revenue necessary to keep the resort running, but it not only met expenses but exceeded expectations, setting off the building frenzy that made Wynn rich and Las Vegas famous.

And, of course, it was the first to provide an exterior entertainment attraction, an hourly volcanic eruption, to lure people inside to see other remarkable features and to gamble.

Adult Disneyland

After Wynn sold The Mirage along with next-door Treasure Island to what eventually became MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas was transformed into an adult Disneyland that Wynn was credited with accelerating.

When MGM sold The Mirage to the Seminole Indian Tribe’s Hard Rock International for $1.08 billion in 2021, it was announced that The Mirage name would change to Hard Rock Las Vegas, which would replace the iconic erupting volcano with a massive guitar-shaped hotel tower.

After seeing the love the public bestowed on the Tropicana, what’s in store for The Mirage?

Local analysts who have followed the evolution of the Strip expect there will be the same sense of loss when the name change occurs at The Mirage, but that it’s part of Las Vegas’ nature to reinvent itself.

Comparing Tropicana with The Mirage, Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, said The Mirage situation is definitely different from Tropicana’s.

“I think there will be a feeling of loss with The Mirage as well,” Bellarmino said. “I think both were groundbreaking properties when they opened, and they are a part of the fabric of our community. So many people worked at those properties, got married in their chapels and have fond memories of going to those properties.”

The fact that The Mirage structure will remain standing but renovated provides an opportunity to capture and preserve its flavor.

“The Mirage ushered in a new era, the era of the megaresort,” she said. “It helped Las Vegas to reinvent itself from the mob days to what we have today. Like the Tropicana, its days of being a premier resort are behind it but unlike the Tropicana, the building will not be imploded. I think there will a sense of loss but The Mirage really deserves to be renovated and preserved. Its transformation into the Hard Rock helps to preserve the legacy of The Mirage.”

Bellarmino appreciates the diversity of ownership Hard Rock will bring to the Strip.

“The Hard Rock will help to usher in a new era as well, as we watch tribal gaming continue to take hold in the city,” she said. “Diversity of ownership is good for employees and for guests as it creates more opportunities. If we want our other historic properties preserved, like the Sahara and the Flamingo, then we need to support them. The current renovation of the Rio as well as the Palms demonstrate how reinvestment in properties can give them new life. One thing we can always be sure of in Las Vegas is that we are constantly reinventing ourselves and new opportunities help us to grow.”

Tribal enterprises

While The Mirage/Hard Rock is owned by the Seminole Tribe, it is bound by Nevada law to operate as a Nevada commercial casino and not a tribal casino. It’s the third tribal enterprise to take over a Las Vegas casino behind Virgin Hotels Las Vegas (Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, an affiliate of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut) and the Palms (San Manuel Band of Mission Indians of California).

Brendan Bussmann, a gaming industry analyst with Las Vegas-based B Global, said the transition of The Mirage is a great example of how Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself to meet the needs of a changing market.

“There is always going to be nostalgia for the volcano, but you could say that same thing for the pirate show or the Sirens of TI.” Bussmann said. “The destination has and always will evolve with some of things disappearing while new attractions like a guitar appear. It’s what makes this industry great as it continues to evolve but embraces what it can save in its history.”

He said the transformations at both The Mirage and Tropicana ultimately will help the market.

“The Mirage of today is not The Mirage that was the first integrated resort that forever changed the Las Vegas Strip, and it won’t be The Mirage of the future as Hard Rock International puts its own stamp on this parcel of land,” he said. “Las Vegas has and always will continue to evolve. The minute we stop is when the destination is in trouble, but I don’t see that happening.

“As for the future of the Trop, it too will be changing to a baseball-centric driver as sports continues to play a role in our current and future development. It’s the passing of another icon just as we have seen with the Sands and the Dunes over the years, but the ability to bring Major League Baseball in a new facility that fills a gap will help drive the future.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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