Circus Circus Refresh to Return Las Vegas Strip Casino to ‘Glory Days’

Circus Circus Las Vegas has been under a property refresh since early 2020 after the Las Vegas Strip casino resort was sold to billionaire Phil Ruffin for $825 million.

Circus Circus Las Vegas casino resort
Circus Circus Las Vegas casino resort
The Clown welcomes guests arriving at Circus Circus. The Las Vegas Strip casino resort is amid a $30 million updating. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The pandemic’s supply chain interruptions, however, have greatly prolonged Ruffin’s roughly $30 million updating of the resort long popular with money-conscious travelers. The Las Vegas Review-Journal caught up recently with Circus Circus Senior VP of Operations Shana Gerety for an update on the renovation progress.

A lot of it is just to continue to create Circus Circus to be the property that people thought of back when it was built in 1968,” Gerety explained. “Bring back some of the glory days and really try to capture an all-inclusive experience.”

Circus Circus opened on October 18, 1968. Famed Las Vegas Strip visionaries Jay Sarno and Stanley Mallin, who together also built Caesars Palace, were responsible for its development.

As for the repetitive name, the late Sarno explained during the casino’s early days that he and Mallin originally sought to build a casino featuring a Roman circus motif. But they later changed their minds and opted for a circus that more people are familiar with.

“It’s a circus circus,” Sarno said.

Today, the Circus Circus casino offers 2,200 slot machines and 30 table games, plus carnival and arcade games. The property’s hotel towers collectively number more than 3,700 guestrooms.

Families First

Circus Circus was a considerable departure from Sarno and Mallin’s previous project, the luxurious Caesars Palace. Sarno was adamant about the Strip having a family-friendly offering. He called Circus Circus “the most exciting project of my life.”

Not everyone was sold. Howard Hughes said Circus Circus was out of place and had no business being on the Strip. Other critics mocked its circus theme and various high wire and trapeze acts, as well as the various carnival games offered for children.

Circus Circus struggled in its early years, primarily due to its lack of an on-site hotel. The casino finally found its footing years later with an RV park being added in 1979, and a 29-story hotel in 1986. Circus Circus’ Adventuredome was built in 1993, and another hotel tower, this one 35 stories tall, in 1996.

Throughout it all, Circus Circus maintained its core demographic: young families and budget-friendly travelers. Gerety says part of the property refresh still to be completed involvs brightening up the casino’s iconic red-and-white circus tent that greets guests as they arrive.

“Back when the property opened, it had a lot of bright, fun colors,” Gerety detailed. “We want to get back to the bright pinks and purples and blues. Make it feel more like a circus.”

Not Ideal Timing

Ruffin’s gamble on Circus Circus was completed from MGM Resorts in December of 2019 — just three months before the US went on lockdown as the coronavirus invaded the nation. The billionaire’s $825 million investment was seemingly doomed after Las Vegas went dark in mid-March and became a ghost town.

But Las Vegas’ resiliency has shined post-pandemic. And Ruffin, who said in 2019 that Strip casinos are “irreplaceable,” is benefiting from having another gaming property on the main drag.

In addition to Circus Circus, Ruffin owns Treasure Island and a 50% stake in the non-gaming Trump Las Vegas hotel and residential complex.

Nevada and Las Vegas casinos are experiencing record play in the aftermath of the pandemic. Statewide gross gaming revenue (GGR) has eclipsed $1 billion in 14 consecutive months, and Strip resorts are reporting unprecedented numbers. Strip GGR over the past 12 months totaled more than $7.9 billion.

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