Why re-brand an iconic casino such as the Sahara into something as soullessly named as “SLS”?

You aren’t the only one asking this question; if my friends are any indicator, plenty of locals are hand-wringing about what they see as the blanding of Vegas branding. Some of this concern is nostalgic (“The Sahara is classic Rat Pack Vegas!”), some of it is preservationist (“Las Vegas always destroys its own history!”), and some of it is aesthetic (“It’s going to be all white walls and glass. Yuck!”).

There is also the big-picture belief that when casino owners chase a vaguely bland-modern vibe, Vegas loses its edge as a global city of righteous excess and thereby gives up some of its appeal to the increasingly important international visitor. On a Strip where buildings have long been billboards, what does the Encore say when compared with the (long-gone) Landmark, or, perhaps more importantly, to the Marina Bay Sands, where an infinity pool stretches between two hotel towers 55 stories above Singapore?

It’s hard to argue with the logic that Las Vegas should strive to be bombastic, especially given the challenges facing us from Asia (the newly announced Resort World Las Vegas, a casino to be built on the Stardust/Echelon site by a Malaysian company at a cost of $2 billion-$7 billion, should help with that). However, I am looking forward to the north end of the Strip getting a long-overdue share of revitalization. Sam Nazarian’s SBE hospitality group, which owns the Sahara site, has successful SLS locations in South Beach and Beverly Hills, and is well-schooled in what it takes to attract “the New Rat Pack”—the young, moneyed party crowd that the north end of the Strip needs in order to thrive.

Yes, I miss Old Vegas. But it could never compete with modern Macau. Besides, to some folks, “Old Vegas” is The Mirage, and I don’t see much nostalgia associated with that. Sure, SBE could have restored the Sahara, modernized its Rat Pack appeal, and kept the old name, but today’s global economy—with its globetrotting tourists and conventioneers—suggests that international branding works, particularly for boutique properties.

For what it’s worth, the Rat Pack-era Sahara was mostly lost long ago in a weird remodel that stripped the casino of any Strip presence by adding a roller coaster, odd landscaping and a confusing entrance with a cheesy dome over the driveway. Nostalgists should have been mourning the loss of the haunt back then, not when a respected company is trying to resurrect a property—and a stretch of the Boulevard —that has long needed it. Besides, I’d rather have the Desert Inn back.

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