Established in 1905 as a remote railroad stop in then scarcely populated Nevada, Vegas’ survival was far from a sure bet. Yet, after weathering the 1909-1931 ban on gambling, the 1922 national railroad strike, Prohibition and the Great Depression, Vegas emerged as a place of destiny.
From the saloons and gambling parlors of Fremont Street, the original Sin City, to the 1930s nightclubs along Boulder Highway, drinking, dancing and sinful pursuits became an economic lifeline during these trying times. Minus these lures, Vegas conceivably could have become a ghost town.
The rest, of course, is history, with gaming, tourism, conventions and one star-studded era after another producing the “Entertainment Capital of the World.”
As Vegas now asserts its supremacy as a global meetings destination and the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) markets the brand worldwide, competitive pressures rise along with the opportunities. Adding more convention space is one way to stay ahead—another is boosting the star power.
From the 1940s on, through the Rat Pack, Elvis and other intervening eras to today’s residency-driven engagements, production shows and mega-outdoor festivals, Vegas has gone “live.” The latest update for the modern context, as Vegas does so well, is recasting how artists present, and audiences experience, live entertainment.
Las Vegas offers 30-plus indoor entertainment venues, ranging from the 19,522-seat Thomas & Mack Center (inaugurated in 1983 by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Diana Ross) to a cluster of theaters with roughly 1,100 to 2,500 seats. Long lacking, though, was the equivalent of New York’s Madison Square Garden or L.A.’s Staples Center—until last April’s debut of the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena.
Representing a $375 million joint venture by MGM Resorts International and global entertainment giant AEG, the striking LEED Gold-designed venue is already charting well, reaching 39th place in Pollstar’s ranking for worldwide ticket sales in its first six months of operation. The arena also helped win the expansion Golden Knights for Las Vegas, hitting the ice this year as the NHL’s 31st team.
Commanding MGM’s indoor/outdoor entertainment and dining district The Park, the arena is co-anchored by another revolutionary newcomer, the 5,200-seat Park Theater. Inaugurated last December with performances by Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders, this is where Vegas’ past meets its future.
Constructed in just 13 months on the site of the demolished Blue Man Theater, the venue was inspired by the Microsoft (formerly Nokia) Theater at the L.A. Live entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles, and complements the T-Mobile Arena as its counterpart does the Staples Center.
Boasting one of the largest prosceniums in North America, the theater’s massive 140-foot stage is backed by a high-resolution 80-foot-by-40-foot LED wall. Configurable for everything from convention space to a basketball court, the retractable telescopic seating system allows for standing events of up to 6,400 people, or smaller gatherings of 2,400. Like the T-Mobile Arena, natural light and external access are emphasized via features including 70-foot windows and outdoor balconies.
With superstars including Bruno Mars, Cher and Ricky Martin booked for multiyear “extended engagements,” the venue is designed for artists to customize their show, while dropping the “fourth wall” between performer and audience. With the farthest seats just 145 feet from the stage, a giant projection mapping technology and studio-sharp sound system fully immerse fans in the action.
The venue marks Phase 1 of MGM’s $450 million transformation of the Monte Carlo into the 2,700-room Park MGM. Slated for completion in late 2018, the makeover will incorporate a 292-room Nomad lifestyle hotel on the upper floors.
In May 2016, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and partners, including Madison Square Garden and Live Nation, announced a possible 17,500-seat off-Strip performance venue. Then there is a proposed $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium targeting the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, approved by the Nevada legislature last year.
Will the Raiders (or another team) jump to Vegas? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, for one, continues to “entertain” the idea.
“It’s clear the Las Vegas market has become more diversified and more broadly involved with entertainment and hitting big events,” Goodell stated in a press conference last December. “There is a growth to the market. You can see the trajectory and where it’s going when you look at the data. There were some very positive things about it.”
While those discussions are ongoing, “continuous entertainment,” a concept introduced in the 1940s by the future Strip’s first resort, the El Rancho Las Vegas, keeps the Vegas allure in overdrive.