In June, casino magnate Derek Stevens made headlines with a contest to fly in 2,000 people for the grand reopening of his Downtown Las Vegas casinos, which had closed in March due to the coronavirus.
At 12:01 a.m. on June 5, Stevens opened the doors of his D Las Vegas and Golden Gate casinos, the moment the resorts could legally open.
“Our team has worked around the clock to bring back the Vegas experience our visitors know and love,” Stevens said at the time. “We’re excited to get our employees back to work and to welcome guests to the entertainment capital of the world.”
Since then, the path to recovery hasn’t been smooth or straightforward. Is Stevens still as confident about Vegas’ recovery as he was last summer? The answer is yes, with an asterisk.
“I’m still bullish on the Las Vegas recovery, but it’s going to be a bit more delayed, and it’s going to recover in a different manner and with a different customer,” said Stevens, in an interview with GGB News last week. “The bigger and mid-size conventions are going to take a little longer to return. But independent travelers are saying they want to come back to Las Vegas.”
That group includes leisure travelers—vacationers who want to get away for a weekend—and a new category of remote workers who are mobile, flexible, and would rather work poolside at a Vegas resort than the living room couch. “They’re independent, but instead of working in their house or apartment, they’re taking trips and working remotely,” Stevens said. “These are the two groups leading Vegas back.”
On October 28, Stevens will double-down on the recovery, introducing the first new Las Vegas resort in decades: the Circa Resort & Casino, also on Fremont Street in Downtown Vegas. The grand opening fits in with the recovery narrative.
“Before the pandemic, there was a great pent-up demand for a new product, (and) the pandemic has maybe intensified the interest in new projects,” Stevens said. “Historically, new casino openings have always been widely attended, a lot of people set their trips up for such a thing. I think Circa is going to be good for our properties, and I really think Circa is going to be great for Las Vegas as a whole.”
Amazingly, while other casinos are sending out layoff notices, Stevens has been hiring scores of new workers. Does he know something other casino owners don’t?
“That’s another reason Circa is coming into the market at the right time,” he said. “In Las Vegas, the hospitality business took a big hit. We’re hiring 1,500 people for our project, and that’s great for the overall community.”
Hindsight Is 20/20
For all his optimism, knowing what he knows now, would Stevens have done anything differently going into 2020?
“If you look with 20/20 hindsight, we did a major expansion at the D—opened a new sports bar, high-limit slots and keno. We did that before the shutdown. That wasn’t optimal.”
In addition, last November, the D closed its stage show and replaced it with a sportsbook to take advantage of March Madness. Clearly, Covid-19 made short work of that plan. But now, with major sports back on, “It’s really amazing,” Stevens said. “The handle is far in excess of what we figured for our Year 2 projection.
“The key thing for us was letting all our employees know, ‘As soon as we can reopen, we’re going to,’” he added. “’We’re going to be here and we can’t wait to have you back.’ I think everybody felt really, really good about that.”
These are hectic days for the entrepreneur, whose new venture will debut in fewer than 40 days. “We’ve got a lot of last-minute things and we have to be prepared to operate,” Stevens noted. “This is a five-year project, and we have a little more than a month.”
Although the casino’s design doesn’t necessarily reflect the new realities of Covid-19, “A couple of key things are now more important,” he said. “First, at our Stadium Swim venue, our outdoor pool amphitheater, we’re focused on the importance of clean water. Four years ago, we talked about the cleanest water and the best and most robust filtration, including UV filtration. Now in 2020, that’s even more important.”
Second is the property’s unique air flow system. “All our fresh air comes through the raised floor. There are no air ducts in the ceiling. It’s more efficient to cool a large space, but it also creates an atmosphere where air is always rising. We felt that would create a better and cleaner air environment. Again, that was something we designed a few years ago, and it’s even more important now.”
Hopefully, one day the current health and economic crisis will be history. Until that time, Stevens has work to do. “Everything is right on schedule” for Circa, he said. “And October 28 is the date.”
As for the larger community, its primary business and economy, he added, “The great thing about Las Vegas is that it’s a city that reinvents itself. It’s done that time and time again. The demand to come to Las Vegas will be back. Structurally, Las Vegas in the long term is in a really good position.”