Could Circus Circus Be the Next to Go?

Circus Circus by Jorg Hackemann/Shutterstock

Circus Circus by Jorg Hackemann/Shutterstock

Now that the Riviera is on the chopping block, which iconic piece of Vegas real estate will next meet the wrecking ball?

Things on the Strip have cooled quite a bit since the 1990s, when it seemed as though at least one vintage Vegas casino crumbled to dust every year. As recently as 2007 (when the fabled Stardust was taken down), creating a Next Vegas Implosion Top 10 was an easy conversation starter.

But even during the blow-’em-up ’90s, it was inconceivable that the Riviera—once partially owned by Rat Packer Dean Martin—would ever fall. Even though Vegas has a way of making any time other than the present seem like the distant past, the Riv through the end of the 20th century survived on its reputation as one the few remaining old-school joints. That rep, spurred by its starring role in the 1995 film Casino, floated on the success of its stage shows—Splash, Crazy Girls, An Evening at La Cage—and weekly free jazz jams of the kind that made Vegas lounges famous. Even though all that had slowed by the 2000s, it felt as if the Riv might never die.

Long before the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority purchased the Riviera, I always figured its neighbor, Circus Circus, was the next target—and still do. Jay Sarno’s three rings of ridiculous awesomeness was my favorite place to hang as a Vegas kid. With its second floor of carnival games, arcades, cheap pizza, regular circus acts and the scantily clad “showgirls in the sky” performance, Circus Circus was to Vegas teens what the mall food court was to California suburbanites. But the place hasn’t aged well, and management seemed content then (as now) to let Circus Circus play a niche role as low-rent, family-friendly Strip accommodations.

But things are changing. Development on Las Vegas Boulevard is pushing toward Downtown, and the Strip’s last RV park—the Circus Circus KOA—has been redeveloped as (part of) the Rock in Rio festival grounds. And MGM Resorts International owns both the 48-acre festival spot, as well as the neighboring 68-acre Circus Circus. It’s interesting to note that MGM’s CityCenter was built on 66 acres.

Simply put, anything still riding the tired concept of “theming”—except for Caesars Palace, which has done a fine job of keeping itself current—and “family friendly” appears to be on a short list for demolition rather than renovation. After all, it’s difficult to remake either a castle or a circus tent into anything but.