Hotel Histories

History of the Circus Circus

Opened October 18, 1968


Caesars owner Jay Sarno decided that a casino should be opened that attracted all members of the family. On October 18, 1968, Sarno and associates Stanley L. Mallin of Atlanta, and the Rogers brothers of Beaumont, Texas, opened the $15 million Circus Circus Casino with a Coney Island-style merry-go-round as its sign on the Strip.

Architects Rissman and Rissman Associates designed a giant pink and white oval shaped circus tent across from the Riviera. The football field sized casino and big top was built by R.C. Johnson Construction of Las Vegas. The workers were paid overtime to speed the completion of the casino. The tent-like canopy had to be poured in a continual fashion so that no one section would harden before any other. The result was a proof that produced the image of a taut canvas. Despite paying overtime, the casino missed its October 1st opening date.

Circus acts were scheduled to perform until 2:00am, but instead the excitement lasted until 6:00am, when the acts finally had to stop due to fatigue.

Opening night guests entered through the second floor which gave them a panorama view of the huge, oval-shaped casino stretching below, surrounded by amusement arcades and restaurants. The sounds of slot machines and the drone of the dealers mixed with the squeals of laughter from children who gazed mystified at the jugglers, acrobats, and clowns. To separate the gamblers from children as required by law, a second level contained midway games and attractions in view of the circus acts.

Sarno was so proud of Circus that he charged admission just to come in and look. He was so confident of his idea's drawing power that he opened the casino without hotel rooms, figuring people would be drawn from all those plain-vanilla resorts. He planned to build the hotel rooms later. Circus suffered considerable money problems. There was a problem with paying off the many construction loans that had been taken out to finance the facility. Anticipated revenues from the casino's operation was not as good as had been expected. In April of 1969, the Nevada Gaming Control Board ordered it closed.

Only a last minute resignation by Sarno, elevating Mallin to the office of President saved the casino from being shut down. Sarno rejoined the organization in January of 1970, after having arranged to rectify some of the resort's pressing financial matters with a personal load of $200,000. Sarno had sold the midway concessions and had not been particular with who bought them. Some of the midway games were dishonest, and their operators lacked discretion.

During 1969, Circus opened their new 750 seat Hippodrome showroom with the Nudes in the Night. The Hippodrome featured dancing waters direct from Radio City Music Hall with continuous performances.

Even though the exact date isn't known, Circus opened a 175 seat lounge called the Gilded Cage.

In 1972, Circus originally a casino, became a full-fledged hotel resort with a 15-story room tower housing 400 rooms. The resort also contained an authentic Japanese bath. Trained Geisha girls treated guests by brushing and anointing them with aromatic soaps, then guiding them to a steam bath and then to a cool pool.

Apparently, in mid-1973, the buffet replaced the Hippodrome and Gilded Cage.

In May of 1974, Sarno leased the property and sold the structures to William Bennett and William N. Pennington. It was a complex deal that did not result in a complete transfer of real estate until 1983. The new owners were unique to the Vegas corporate picture. They were the sole stockholders in Circus Circus Hotels, Inc., the company that succeeded CIRCO, Inc., which was the original operating company. Bennett and Pennington did not have to deal with a complex hierarchy of stockholders and board members, which made their operation one of the most efficient and clear-cut in the state. At the time Bennett and Pennington took over, things were dim for the resort.

The new operators proved that Sarno's ideas would work, with a few modifications. They brought the midway under the hotel's direct control, replacing the more ribald sideshows and the sleazier games. They recognized that Circus Circus had been trying to do too many things at once, working to attract high rollers with high limits and credit, yet driving them away with distractions. The real potential of a casino that bathed the senses with excitement, they saw, was to attract the casual gambler who would risk a few bucks while taking in the sights. Concentrating on the middle-class market, they put the operation into the black in two months.

In 1975, a 15 story, 395 room twin tower was completed which brought the number of rooms to 795.

In 1978, Circus built a five-story parking garage with 1,000 spaces to accommodate its growing visitors.

In 1979, Circus opened a 421 space recreational vehicle park on the rear of its property. The vehicle park was equipped with 50-amp hookups, swimming pools, Jacuzzi, saunas, 24-hour convenience store, fenced tots' playground, pet runs, on-site disposal station, game arcade, and a laundromat. Circus also purchased the Slots-A-Fun Casino next door.

In 1980, Circus added five three-story buildings containing 810 rooms calling it Circus Circus Manor. Also built were parking areas for each building, in-room kitchenettes, its own swimming pool and a lobby as well as a mini-casino.

In 1981, Circus implemented the Circus Sky Shuttle which linked major areas of the resort. Dual pink and white air-conditioned cabins ride along an elevated guide-way spanning Circus Circus Drive 18 feet above street level. The Sky Shuttle carries up to 1,200 passengers per hour, and is fully automated, pollution free, energy saving and quiet.

In 1982, completion of the $7 million expansion and renovation included enlarging the casino, dining and valet parking facilities, interior decoration and a new front entrance marquee. The sign, dubbed Lucky, is a 123 foot tall clown. The sign was mostly rear-list plastic but the porte cochere was the star. The Circus marquee created an instantly identifiable image of a turn-of-the-century entertainment emporium, scaled it to be visible across the parking lot, and still made its astonishing bulk appear to float overhead.

In 1983, Circus went public with shares being traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Bennett served as Chairman of the Board of Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc., and William Pennington was on the Board of Directors.

In 1985, a second 1,000-car high-rise parking garage was built. Also added was the West Casino adding 17,000 square-feet of gaming space along with a new bar and snack bar.

On February 28, 1986, Circus opened the 1,188 room, 29-story Skyrise Tower featuring bars, dining areas, swimming pool, a third high-rise garage, a 10,000 square-foot race and sports book, and another 17,000 square-foot casino making Circus the largest casino in the world with over 100,000 square feet of gaming space. Also added was the Circus Skywalk, linking the Skyrise Tower and the Big Top.

On August 23, 1993, Circus opened The Adventuredome. The first theme park in Las Vegas, the 150 foot high, five acre, $90 million dome, enclosed by 8,615 panes of glass features the world's only indoor double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster, The Canyon Blaster, which travels at 55 miles per hour.

The Adventuredome also includes the Rim Runner boat ride which features a 60 foot water plunge at its climax, circulating 600,000 gallons of water; laser tag Hot Shots; and the Xtreme Zone, where seekers can climb walls and bounce into the air on a "bungee trampoline." The park remains open year-long and is kept at a constant 72 degrees for the comfort of all.

Adventuredome has the traditional Carousel, standard children's rides, bumper cars, midway games, clown shows, and arcade games.

On December 23, 1996, The West Tower, with an additional 999 rooms, was completed. This tower features a centralized hotel lobby at the base, and a 40,000 square-foot shopping district called The Promenade. The Promenade has easy access to the Skyrise Tower and serves as the gateway to The Adventuredome.

In 1997, Circus opened its 8,000 square-feet of banquet and meeting facilities in the Skyrise Tower and completed renovation of the Casino Tower. In this same year, The Adventuredome opened its Fun House Express. The multi-million dollar ride is an IMAX Ridefilm, which utilizes state-of-the-art motion simulator technology.

As of 1999, Circus is situated on 68.30 acres with buildings covering 2,870.08 square-feet. The megaresort has 3,744 guestrooms, 5,719 parking spaces, 399-space recreational vehicle park, a wedding chapel, three swimming pools, four restaurants as well as the famous Circus Buffet. Circus employs 3,800 employees and the resort holds 52 public elevators, 12 service elevators, nine escalators, and two moving walkways.

Circus has over 101,286 square feet of gaming space in the three casinos. In the Casino Tower one can find a 160-seat Keno lounge as well as a full race and sports book with a seating area featuring individual television sets to monitor sporting events.

Restaurants include The Steak House, Stivali Italian Ristorante, Promenade Cafe, The Pink Pony, Circus Buffet and Pizzeria. Snack bars include Westside Deli, Skyrise Deli, McDonalds and The Adventuredome Snack Bar. Bars/lounges include the Keno Bar, West Casino Bar, Steak House Bar, Stivali Bar, Skyrise Lounge and Horse-A-Round Bar.

No circus would be a true circus without a Big Top show. Circus Circus presents dazzling aerialists, high-wire walkers, trapeze artists and clown shows twice an hour daily from 11:00am to midnight free of charge.

As of June, 1999, Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc., was changed to Mandalay Resort Group.

In March, 2000, Circus Circus announced that their 30 year old Chapel of the Fountain was renovated. The original and longest-running hotel-casino wedding chapel in Las Vegas sported a new look. It is now in a romantic renaissance setting, with an English Garden theme, decorated in eggplant purple, gold, and taupe.

In April of 2000, the magic of special effects filmmaking, combined with modern motion simulator technology is taking a popular theme park attraction to a whole new level of excitement. Reboot: The Ride, is playing at the new IMAX RideFilm Cineplex in The Adventuredome of Circus Circus, is guaranteed to take passengers on a simulation experience they'll never forget.

More detailed information can be found at