The SLS Las Vegas is returning to the hotel-casino’s roots. After operating under the name SLS for five years, the property is circling back to the iconic Sahara name, starting Thursday.
The 1,720-room property on the corner of the Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue is undergoing a major rebranding effort that includes the name change to Sahara Las Vegas and $150 million in renovations. According to experts, this transformation could be a major boon to the property.
“The Sahara brand meant something a while back,” said Michael Green, UNLV associate professor of history. “(It could) mean something again.”
History of the property
The Moroccan-themed hotel-casino originally opened with only 240 rooms in 1952, costing $5.5 million.
“The Sahara had a little extra appeal for Las Vegans at the time,” Green said. “It was the beginning of the Strip. … It tried to be thematic in its approach, which was a little different at the time.”
The property became a Las Vegas icon as it continued to grow, hosting major talent such as the Rat Pack, Tina Turner and The Beatles.
But the good times didn’t last forever. Things slowed down on the north end of the Strip in the mid-1990s as megaresorts continued to sprout farther south, Green said.
“The entire north end of the Strip, and this is not limited to the Sahara, couldn’t — or didn’t — keep up,” Green said. “It’s a reminder that … the newer properties have to be here for the Strip to succeed. The older properties are not what people always want to see.”
In 2011, three years after it was bought by SBE Entertainment and Stockbridge Real Estate, the property closed for renovations. The next time its doors would open in 2014, the property went by a new name: SLS Las Vegas.
Ownership switched hands once again in 2018 when the Meruelo Group agreed to purchase the property for an undisclosed price.
Sahara spokesman Christopher Abraham said the SLS brand never resonated with the Las Vegas audience.
“Our guests weren’t certain what it stood for or the type of experience they would have once they got here,” he said via email. “SAHARA is an iconic Las Vegas brand that is already known worldwide, and the name will allow us to significantly expand our market reach to engage multiple demographics that will appreciate the intimate, unexpected experience SAHARA Las Vegas offers.”
Green said the name change could boost the property’s business, especially if it’s trying to attract a younger audience.
“There is a lot of nostalgia for the older Las Vegas,” Green said. “Younger demographics like the idea of the old Las Vegas with new amenities.”
This comes as the hotel-casino faces more competition, with more properties emerging on the north side of the Strip.
Less than a mile north on Las Vegas Boulevard, the STRAT is close to completing $140 million in renovations. Also nearby are Resorts World and Drew Las Vegas, set to open in 2020 and 2022, respectively.
“My guess is (the Sahara is) going to capitalize on a classic name ahead of a wave of new development coming their way,” said Brent Pirosch, director of gaming consulting services for CBRE’s Global Gaming Group. “We tend to tear things down and build new in Las Vegas. A classic name might get people to come and visit and see what’s going on.”
Abraham said while the new name pays homage to the property’s history, the renovations will add a new spin.
“We are creating an entirely new resort,” he said. “Anyone walking into SAHARA Las Vegas will find a completely modern, boutique resort experience.”
The property is updating its casino floor, rooms, hotel lobby and more. It has also introduced a new Casbar Lounge, named after a historic live-music venue that hosted stars such as comedian Don Rickles and entertainer Duke Ellington.
“All properties are engaging in some form of refreshment or renovation to stay competitive,” Pirosch said. “Renovations … are all a part of the cost of doing business here.”