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Circa opens doors in downtown Las Vegas, welcomes public

Updated October 28, 2020 - 1:26 am

Downtown Las Vegas is celebrating the opening of its first built-from-the-ground-up casino since 1980.

Derek Stevens’ 1.25 million-square-foot Circa opened Wednesday at 12:01 a.m..

Related: Everything you need to know about Circa

1:05 a.m.

Early Wednesday, the line to Circa stretched to Third Street, then split north toward Ogden Avenue.

Brent Kossick of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was among the first to enter the casino. His first stop was the Mega Bar, where he picked up a Stone IPA.

Kossick hadn’t planned to be in town for Circa’s opening, but his stay at the Flamingo happened to line up perfectly.

“I’ve been (to Las Vegas) 12, 13 times, but I’ve never had a chance to go to a casino opening,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life so far. This is amazing.”

Kossick planned to explore the casino and play a few hands of blackjack before heading back to his hotel room on the Strip. He plans to book a room at Circa on a future visit, once its hotel rooms open.

Christina Anderson and Gilbert Herrera drove in California for Circa’s grand opening. The two typically stay at Derek Stevens’ other downtown properties, the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate, and wanted to see his latest offering.

Anderson said she was impressed by the sportsbook and was excited to check out Circa’s restaurants. The two are also fans of the property’s 21-and-older-only rule.

“It’s a place to get away from the younger generation,” Herrera said.

“No strollers,” Anderson added.

The two were also impressed with the property’s health and safety protocols and said they felt safe despite the crowds.

“They’re always sanitizing the properties, so we’re never afraid,” Anderson said. “There’s no reason to panic or stay away.”

Brooke Henkel of Las Vegas continued to explore the property after attending the VIP event with Toni Law, a proxy for the Circa Sports Millions contest. She said the opening came at an opportune time for Las Vegas.

“This is a gift,” she said. “Our city needs it. Our people need it.”

12:34 a.m.

By 10 minutes to midnight, photographers were crowded around the craps table where the first roll of the dice was set to take place.

A few minutes later, security began clearing room for the VIPs selected to wager on it, many of whom had been posing for photos with Derek Stevens a few moments earlier.

After buying in (we only saw $100 bills among the currency exchanged for chips), the players were each dealt a card to see who would roll first.

Around midnight, after all the bets had been placed, the man who had drawn the high card rolled the dice and set 6 as the first point in Circa history.

It took him just over two minutes and five more tosses of the dice (one of which bounced up onto the rail, and therefore didn’t count) to roll another six and secure payouts for the pass line.

The shooter continued rolling, setting 10 as his second point of the night, while the media began dispersing.

— Al Mancini

11:51 p.m.

The VIP crowd was ushered to Stadium Swim around 10 p.m. for an hourlong presentation.

George Shea, host of Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest, acted as MC for the event, which honored Circa’s staff members, surrounding properties and the Las Vegas legends that built them.

“When we stand at Circa, we stand at the threshold of another universe,” Shea said, touting the property’s three-tier Stadium Swim pool amphitheater shortly before moonwalking across the stage to get the crowd riled up.

Synchronized swimmers entertained guests throughout the event. Shea introduced members of Circa’s executive team, each escorted to the stage by showgirls after exiting tunnel through a cloud of smoke.

Circa co-owner Derek Stevens wrapped up the event by addressing the VIP crowd. His speech emphasized that Circa’s opening is meant to boost not only his own business, but those of downtown and the greater Las Vegas area.

“We’re all in this together,” he said.

— Bailey Schulz

11:37 p.m.

The casino floor, restaurants and shops were all nearly empty as the festivities at the pool continued upstairs.

Dealers continued to man tables that weren’t yet open for wagers. But the dancers were no longer dancing in the pits. And the workers in the stores, bars and restaurants used the break as a chance to catch their breath.

A little after 11 p.m., the VIPs began returning to casino — most of them heading to the bars first. Their private party was about to come to an end, however, as Circa prepared to officially open to the public at midnight.

— Al Mancini

11:18 p.m.

Circa guests looking for an Elvis souvenir won’t have any trouble finding something to suit their tastes.

There are two tables of merchandise dedicated to The King in the sundry store, Circa Essentials. Among the Elvis Presley items for sale were Elvis aprons, coasters, fleece blankets, flasks, wallets, magnets, air fresheners, lunch boxes, at least a half dozen different Presley cups and mugs, and two different Elvis bobbleheads.

That store is one of a trio small retail shops located in a cluster on the casino’s second floor. The other two are the swimwear shop, Circa Swim, and a clothing shop, Circa Collections.

— Al Mancini

11:02 p.m.

It turned out to be a long and elaborate presentation, complete with synchronized swimmers at Stadium Swim and an elaborate series of videos introducing the leadership that made Circa happen.

Derek Stevens is all about sharing the credit, and even the department directors had a role in Tuesday’s 10 p.m. presentation, with photos of everybody on poker chips or lining the edge of a roulette wheel.

At one point, the principals of the organizations that designed and built Circa were onstage to accept the applause of those gathering around Stadium Swim. The entire pool staff was paraded onto a stage, and swimmers waved to the crowd.

Circa leaders haven’t said how many people came to the black-tie event or how many invitations were issued.

— Richard N. Velotta

9:48 p.m.

Journalists weren’t allowed to mingle with guests of the Circa party, but everybody was invited to Stadium Swim for the big 10 p.m. announcement.

But it was pretty easy to see where the big congregating locations were.

The sportsbook attracted some guests, especially when World Series Game 6 was underway.

Easter eggs and nuggets are scattered all over the casino, and the Vegas Vickie sign was an enticing photo opp.

The Mega Bar was a popular hangout for party guests, and Derek Stevens held court at what will inevitably become one of Circa’s feature attractions.

An unexpected surprise is the LEGO Statue Gallery, a retail outlet. Inside is a LEGO statute of Stevens, in case you don’t catch a glimpse of the actual guy.

— Richard N. Velotta

9:24 p.m.

As most of the bars and restaurants began filling up with the invited VIP guests, the basement steakhouse, Barry’s Downtown Prime, is still relatively quiet — a largely undiscovered gem, at least for now.

It’s not only the largest of Circa’s restaurants, it’s also the most elegant, with multiple nooks, crannies and private dining room. Chef/partner Barry Dakake gave us a tour of the kitchen, where he’s already stocked up on white oak, apple, cherry and orange wood, as well as charcoal for the grill.

Dakake also showed off some of the serving vessels he had specially designed. They include a tagine emblazoned with the name of the restaurant in Arabic calligraphy that he’ll use to serve his short rib, and a metallic stand with bulls head handles, which he’ll use to serve the tomahawk steaks.

Those tomahawks, along with two other cuts, are already on display — perched above blocks of Himalayan salt, behind glass, in a special fridge diners can view from a one of the private dining rooms.

— Al Mancini

8:53 p.m.

The Review-Journal caught up with Circa owner Derek Stevens at the property’s 165-foot Mega Bar, where he was in high spirits.

“I’m feeling great,” said Stevens, sporting a mask and a jacket decorated with the casino’s logo. “Opening this is obviously great for downtown (and) great for all of Las Vegas. Fifteen-hundred new jobs is pretty awesome, particularly at this time.”

Stevens added that he’s looking forward to his 10 p.m. announcement at Stadium Swim, but didn’t offer any details on what he would discuss.

“For people that have never been in a casino when it opens to the public, that’s something special. That’s a bucket list thing,” he said. “We’re fired up tonight.”

— Bailey Schulz

8:42 p.m.

Circa began filling up with nattily attired guests Tuesday night as Derek Stevens celebrated tomorrow’s opening.

A line began forming to get into the black-tie event but, Stevens had it covered — attendants with tablets simply identified the guest and checked each in before sending them to a line where a temperature was taken from the wrist.

Stevens plans to address his guests from Stadium Swim at around 10 p.m. Everybody’s expecting fireworks.

Many of the guests were milling around the three-story Circa sportsbook, catching the last innings of Game 6 of the World Series. When the Los Angeles Dodgers recorded the final out, a massive bellow flew out of the sportsbook as Dodgers fans began celebrating the victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

— Richard N. Velotta

8:13 p.m.

The sound of slot machines and upbeat music greeted guests as they stepped through the doors of Derek Stevens’ Circa for the first time. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were up for grabs as they explored the 1.25 million-square-foot property’s casino and three-story sportsbook, the largest in the world by cubic feet. Suites, however, were off limits; the hotel tower isn’t set to open until later this year.

“It’s absolutely amazing. There’s really nothing like this downtown,” said Andrew Citores, owner of Getaway Club, a local travel company. “We’ve only seen 10 percent of it and we’re already so impressed. You would expect this property to be on the Las Vegas Strip.”

Citores said he expects the property will attract locals looking for a staycation as well as tourists looking for something different from a typical Strip resort. His wife, Elizabeth Citores, agreed.

“The downtown scene doesn’t have something like this,” she said. “Downtown needed this. I think it’s going to attract a lot more people.”

Las Vegas residents Melly Devore and Sonny Alcantar were watching Vegas Vickie kick her neon boots shortly after arriving at the event. The couple said they were initially impressed by the lights on the building’s exterior when driving up to the grand opening, and continued to be astonished upon stepping inside.

“It’s so beautiful,” Devore said. “I love it.”

— Bailey Schulz

1:30 p.m.

Circa owner Derek Stevens says today not only represents a big day for him and downtown Las Vegas but for 1,500 employees going back to work.

Stevens set up in front of one of his “Easter eggs,” the iconic animated Vegas Vicki sign that stands guard over the Vegas Vicki lounge.

As construction workers polished up the last of the improvments to the casino interior, Stevens met with the media one last time before a black-tie VIP soiree tonight followed by the grand opening of the city’s newest resort at 12:01 a.m.

Stevens spent much of his press conference explaining how he developed Circa’s concepts and how the assemblage of downtown land was key to putting together a massive three-story sports book.

He applauded the five restaurateurs who believed in him enough to commit to opening places at Circa and his creative team that developed innovations like Stadium Swim and the rooftop Legacy Club.

Stevens said the importance of opening in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic can’t be minimized, especially for the new workers.

It all comes full circle early tomorrow morning.

— Richard N. Velotta

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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