What Was the First Nightclub in a Las Vegas Casino?

Studio 54 in MGM Grand | Photo credit: Creative Commons Search// Flickr user: Mark Richardson

Studio 54 in MGM Grand | Photo credit: Creative Commons Search// Flickr user: Mark Richardson

The nightclubbing scene has proven such a huge draw and cash-flow machine for Las Vegas resorts for so long that it may seem like it has forever been a thing. And it has, sort of. But the closest old Vegas parallel—the high-energy casino lounges—were quite a different scene. Rather than moneymakers, the lounges of old were actually loss leaders, showcasing high-quality live talent performing to tiny dance floors for little more than an affordable two-drink minimum. Those lounges had one goal: to entice and capture well-dressed and well-heeled gamblers.

The modern nightclub is a different animal altogether. Enormous and expensive (see Omnia, the lavish $107 million, 75,000 square- foot-club at Caesars Palace), nightclubs are expected to cash-flow their way to profitability quickly (often within one year) and collect as much dough as possible before the next one opens. The result? Seven of the nation’s Top 10 nightclubs are in Las Vegas, grossing almost half a billion dollars in 2014.

So, how did this casino clubbing begin? While there were numerous examples of nightclubs on and near the Strip, they were freestanding and unaffiliated with a casino. Paul Anka’s Jubilation (later the Shark Club), the Metz (Club Utopia), the Drink (Ice), the Beach … all were huge draws for a new generation of young travelers who partied more and gambled less, and their money-printing potential grabbed the attention of casino management. The first to jump was the Rio, which opened Club Rio in 1995 with showroom-like tiered seating and a massive dance floor. Within three years, Studio 54 (MGM Grand), Drai’s (Barbary Coast), Ra (Luxor) and Baby’s (Hard Rock) had opened. In 1999, C2K occupied 50,000 square feet at the Venetian, thus beginning the rise of so-called megaclubs, and Vegas as a clubbing destination.

An interesting side note: The music being played has a big impact on the success of any club. In the beginning, casino nightclubs shunned hip-hop and the supposed “trouble” that came along with it, while being blind to the drug-fueled sexy shenanigans common in the post-rave culture they courted. When a local woman suffered an Ecstasy overdose at C2K in 2000, casino owners, wary of Gaming Control intervention, fines or worse, moved away from electronica. At about the same time, hip-hop began its pop culture domination, and guess what? Since then, as tastes evolve and shift, casino clubs simply shift with them. Following the money is, after all, an old Vegas tradition.

Questions? AskaNative@VegasSeven.com.

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