By Sam Smith
Las Vegas. It’s the city that never sleeps. Neon lights illuminate the Strip among empty desert for miles around. It’s a place like no other, where themes dominate.
There’s Egypt, Paris, the Knights of the Round Table, and even ancient Rome. But one recurring theme that’s been highlighted across the Vegas ages is abandonment.
The world of gambling is a fickle industry for land-based casinos; one day your casino is at the height of sophistication and the hotspot for anyone who is anyone. Moments later, there’s a new sheriff in town, and what once was a bustling resort now has empty tables, saddened croupiers, and a lack of jingling that’s enough to make any one-armed bandit cry.
Since the first resorts began to arrive on the strip, competition has led to resorts falling by the wayside. Vegas is an incredibly interesting city, with some world-famous landmarks having been abandoned and eventually crushed, not least the infamous Landmark itself which regularly hosted the King, Elvis Presley.
But whilst The King ain’t dead, at least according to some, these resorts certainly are. Let’s take a look at some of the abandoned, never-got-built, and ghostly resorts of Sin City.
Think of Las Vegas and you can’t help but think of the bright lights and The Hangover style goings-on, but think of wider Nevada and there’s a history of wild western towns.
Some have turned into eerie ghost towns, a stone’s throw away from the jingling slots of the entertainment capital of the world.
Rhyolite, just two hours north of the Strip, is a classic ghost town built when Shorty Harris and Ed Cross discovered gold. It grew at a phenomenal rate and in just six years had a population of 7,523.
Cook Bank (pictured at right & below) is perhaps the finest and a must see. Built for a staggering $90,000 in 1908 – that’s $2 million in today’s money – it was lined with marble staircases and stained-glass windows, housing brokerage offices and a post office. (Map it!)
Today, its remains just as impressive and it’s a far cry from the huge resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard, reminding us what Vegas once was.
Binion’s Hotel & Casino
Binion’s was part of Las Vegas royalty for over half a century in a prime location on Fremont Street. Named after its owner Benny Binion, the hotel opened in 1951 and was long associated with the progression of poker in Vegas.
Introducing higher table limits and an egalitarian spirit, it was the perfect place for anyone to go and test their skills, and by 1970 Binion’s was hosting the prestigious World Series of Poker, which in 2003, propelled poker into the world’s consciousness.
The event helped create the infamous poker boom, when Chris Moneymaker shot to fame becoming the first player to win the event by qualifying for the event online at PokerStars (pictured at left). He won $2.5 million that day, but it would go on to change poker forever.
Sadly, the event is no longer played at Binion’s as the event soon outgrew the venue. Then, after years of bolstering the reputation of poker in the city, the hotel closed in 2009, vacating 366 rooms in the city and ending one of the most exciting hotel/casinos in downtown Las Vegas’ history.
The casino is still in use today, but all you’ll find at the former hotel check-in desk is a discount t-shirt stall, a sad replacement to what once welcomed some of the world’s finest poker players to a legendary hotel.
Las Vegas in itself is like a desert kingdom. A four mile strip of luxurious resorts, first class entertainment, and grand buildings. But it could have had the Desert Kingdom in the mid-1990s.
At the height of themed resorts, when the likes of the Luxor, Excalibur, and Paris were landing on the strip, the Balinese-style resort was planned to compliment the Desert Inn on the spot where the Wynn now stands.
Estimated to cost around $750 million, Desert Kingdom’s 34 acres of land was due to include nine restaurants, a theme park, 3,500 rooms and a 135,000-square-foot casino.
However, the plans never materialized and it became just another of Las Vegas’ dream projects which was never built.
More Vegas Dreams
Over the years there have been many plans scrapped for Las Vegas, most of which have been more extravagant than those that currently sit on the strip.
One thing the city loves to do is replicate elsewhere. Of course there’s the half-size Eiffel Tower that sits on the strip, not to mention nods to the Piazza San Marco and the Empire State Building which occupy the north and south ends of Las Vegas Boulevard.
Just beyond New York New York however, could have seen a Harrod’s department store, Piccadilly Circus, and the iconic Big Ben.
London Resort and Casino has been on and off for a number of years now, with sites suggested for both on the old El Rancho site and opposite the Luxor. However, it wasn’t just the 90s which saw themed resorts high on the Las Vegas agenda.
Moulin Rouge Hotel
Today its remains are among a sea of worn out buildings on West Bonanza Road (Map it!), but the legacy of the Moulin Rouge is everlasting. Opening in 1955, the hotel was the first desegregated hotel/casino on the strip and was extremely popular with some of the world’s most famous black superstars.
The likes of Sammy Davis Jr, Louis Armstrong, and Nat King Cole all spent plenty of time there, and in 1992 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It closed in 1955, but still maintains its gaming license thanks to opening for eight hours every two years.
The back-end of the 2000s was a decade to forget for Las Vegas. At the height of the economic downturn hotels really suffered.
The Fontainebleu Resort, just a stone’s throw from Circus Circus, is in fact still just a shell, with the Plaza Hotel Downtown buying much of the furniture for its own refurbishment in 2011.
A little further down the Strip, the Echelon (pictured at right & below) suffered a similar fate, with over 87 acres going unused after the project was halted in 2008.
Planned to be built for an estimated $4.8 billion by Boyd Gaming, the resort’s future was in jeopardy for a number of years before it was scrapped seven years ago. The resort itself was due to open in 2010 with around 5,000 rooms split across five separate hotel buildings, as well as a large convention center and 400,000-square-foot shopping mall.
The land was bought by the Genting Group in 2013, and announced plans to build a Chinese-themed resort, building a replica Great Wall as well as convention center and indoor water park, with an opening on the site, many years after ground broke, predicted for early 2016.