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Best of Dan Ippolito

Gaming Guru

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Top 10 casino openings and expansions for summer 2020

6 July 2020

Casinos across the U.S. are reopening, while some are extending their temporary closures and even closing down again due to COVID-19.

However, as more properties resume operations, we are still seeing new amenities and features being unveiled at numerous properties. Here we take a look at the top 10 openings and expansions of casinos since our last edition in February before all of the closures.

10. Bugsy & Meyers Steakhouse at Flamingo Las Vegas
On 2 July, Bugsy & Meyers Steakhouse at Flamingo Las Vegas on the Strip began accepting reservations. The Las Vegas Strip resort reopened just over a month ago on 4 June.

The restaurant's name is a nod to Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and business partner Meyer Lansky, who famously opened the Flamingo Las Vegas back in 1946 with the intention of bringing Hollywood glam to the desert.

Bugsy & Meyer's menu has a variety of dishes—from small bites to be enjoyed at the bar, to steakhouse classics and throwbacks, to tableside presentations, a raw bar and more.

9. International Smoke Las Vegas at MGM Grand
International Smoke at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas officially opened in the winter. Chef Michael Mina and restaurateur Ayesha Curry brought the heat from the kitchen to the table with this dining concept.

Offering an array of roasted shellfish, starters and entrées designed for sharing, the menu accommodates groups celebrating any occasion. From large family gatherings, to girls' night or date night, to catching a bite before the game, International Smoke can serve all of these purposes.

Signature cocktails include the Shape Shifter, with Espolon Blanco Tequila, passion fruit, pineapple and honey; and the Gina Jamaica, with Tito's Vodka, Barsol Pisco, cucumber and basil.

8. Todd English returns to Vegas dining scene
When Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opens in late 2020 replacing Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, it will be accompanied by a dining concept with famous chef, Todd English.

The restaurant opening is set to coincide with the grand opening of the Las Vegas property.

“I’m thrilled to partner with JC Hospitality, LLC and Virgin Hotels Las Vegas,” remarked Todd English. “The concept is still evolving, but I envision that it will be fun, casual and modern. It will reflect the energy of the property.”

Todd English has had a decades-long history in Las Vegas with successful restaurants up-and-down the Las Vegas Strip, including former spots P.U.B and Olives.

7. SAHARA Las Vegas unveils more upgrades
Back in March, SAHARA Las Vegas revealed plans for its continued $150 million resort transformation including significant upgrades to the property exterior, all-new restaurants and more. This all happened within a year of SAHARA making its return to the Strip in August 2019.

A new water feature will serve as the centerpiece of the resort’s main entrance with lush foliage and a warm, earthy color palette welcoming guests as they enter the property.

Resort changes include the addition of three new dining concepts to the resort’s award-winning culinary program. Opening this fall, those concepts include the previously announced popular Philadelphia crab house and sports bar, Chickie’s and Pete’s, a Chinese restaurant concept helmed by renowned Chef Guoming “Sam” Xin, and a soon-to-be revealed Italian concept.

Construction also continues on the previously announced transformation of the main resort pool. From VIP cabanas to a private pool overlooking the main pool, nothing will be left untouched as the entire pool and its amenities receive a complete overhaul.

6. Elio opens at Wynn Las Vegas
On 18 June, Elio at Wynn Las Vegas opened for a summer preview.

Upon opening, the restaurant featured a $70 three-course summer preview menu. Guests can choose from dishes such as the Striped Bass with ginger mojo and cucumber; Carrots al pastor with piña butter, Lamb Barbacoa with shishito peppers and salsas; and for dessert Tres Leches with white chocolate and lime. Sparkling rose, white or red wine pairings, and mezcal flights are available at an additional cost.

Elio's lounge offers a full menu, signature cocktails and nightly DJ. Showcasing an extensive list of mezcals and tequilas, the restaurant's cocktail menu includes lively libations such as the Ride or Die complete with Toki, Mezcal Malbien and piloncillo.

5. Choctaw Casino Durant celebrates virtual topping out ceremony
Choctaw Casino Resort – Durant celebrated a “topping-out” ceremony on 21 May that represented a milestone in construction for the new Sky Tower and expansion project at its new resort property in Durant, Oklahoma.

Set to open in the spring of 2021, the 19-story tower will feature 1,000 more luxury hotels rooms, an expanded gaming floor and new amenities such as a new pool, parking garage, retail space and entertainment and dining options.

“This is more than a building, it’s a commitment to a brighter future for the Choctaw people and the surrounding communities that we celebrated today,” states Chief Gary Batton. “We’re all incredibly proud of the work that has been done by the construction team and excited to continue creating jobs in our communities.”

Amid COVID-19 and social-distancing requirements, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma hosted a virtual topping-out event. The virtual celebration included congratulatory videos from partners including, the developer TynanGroup LLC, lead design-build team Tutor Perini Building and JCJ Architecture.

4. Downtown Grand Las Vegas reaches expansion milestone
Thirteen months after breaking ground, the Downtown Grand Las Vegas topped out on its expansive, third hotel tower in February.

With over 250,000 square feet of additional hospitality space, the new tower is on track to begin booking this spring for stays starting in September 2020.

Anchored by seven guest-room floors and adding 495 new rooms to the property’s existing inventory of 629, the Downtown Grand’s third tower is located on the east side of the property.
To accommodate the additional room inventory, the property has also begun work on expanding the footprint of its current fitness center.

“The topping out of our newest tower is an energizing milestone for all of us at the property,” said John Culetsu, VP and Managing Director of the Downtown Grand. “We are in the final phases of development and closer to the ultimate goal of extending our revered guest experience to many more travelers. We look forward to delivering the city’s newest room product this fall.”

3. FireKeepers Casino Hotel opens new sportsbook and celebrates milestone
It was a big day for FireKeepers Casino Hotel on 22 June. First, the construction of the second hotel tower reached the topping off point and was recognized with a traditional tribal ceremony. Then soon after, the ribbon was cut to symbolize the grand opening of Dacey’s Sportsbook, the first tribal-owned casino sportsbook to open in Michigan.

“Today marked another significant step forward in FireKeepers history,” stated FireKeepers CEO, Kathy George. “Two memorable events in the same day reflects the great leadership of the tribe and their focus and support, maintaining FireKeepers position as a top regional U.S. gaming destination.”

The expansion will result in an additional 203 hotel rooms, including fourteen suites, plus a transformed hotel lobby area, a new Nibi signature restaurant, new high limit slot and table game areas and a new VIP slot and table gaming space and VIP lounge.

2. South Point Casino debuts expanded poker room
When the resort welcomed back guests on 4 June, South Point Hotel Casino and Spa debuted its newly renovated poker room.

The Las Vegas property has added eight additional tables, bringing the room’s total to thirty, the room still features the most room in between tables in Las Vegas. Players are able to enjoy the upgraded 55-inch 4K televisions throughout the room, in addition to two new 90-inch televisions.

Every seat in the room includes a phone charging station. Winners will be paid out at a new podium, which provides guests a better customer experience.

Games featured in the poker room include $3-6, $4-8, $6-12 limit Texas Hold'em and $1-2, $2-3, $3-5 blind no limit Texas Hold'em. Mixed Games, Stud and Omaha also spread upon request.

1. Circa Resort & Casino to open ahead of schedule
On 17 June, CEO and developer Derek Stevens announced his newest Downtown Las Vegas property, Circa Resort & Casino, will debut 28 October 2020.

Previously slated for a December 2020 launch, the 1.25 million-square-foot integrated casino-resort will open with its first five floors of amenities and state-of-the-art parking hub – Garage Mahal – ahead of schedule. Upon completion, the resort will have approximately 1,000 employees.

To achieve this expedited timeline, Stevens reallocated construction resources from Circa’s hotel tower to the first five floors. Slated for completion at the end of 2020, the tower will house Circa’s 777 rooms and suites starting on the eighth floor; room reservations went live on 24 June.

“Sometimes life throws you curveballs, and 2020 has been an unpredictable year for the entire world,” said Stevens. “However, thanks to the creativity and ingenuity from our partners at McCarthy Building Companies Inc. and Tré Builders, we can move forward on this accelerated path and have an opening unlike Las Vegas has experienced. We are excited to see what the future holds and to give visitors and locals something to celebrate.”

On 28 October, guests will be able to enjoy several amenities including:

- World’s Largest Sportsbook – One of Circa’s signature features will be its three-story, stadium-style sportsbook, boasting a 78-million-pixel high-definition screen that will be viewable throughout Circa’s two-story casino with a capacity to host up to 1,000 guests.

- Pool Amphitheater – Operating 365 days a year, Circa’s pool amphitheater will quickly become an outdoor entertainment destination for sports watching, special events and parties. Year-round, guests can catch the biggest games and major televised events broadcast on the 14-million-pixel screen presiding over Circa’s six temperature-controlled pools and two spas.
Dan Ippolito

As Casino City's associate editor, Dan produces and edits all of our weekly newsletters, and writes about the gaming industry for our websites and the GPWA Times Magazine. Dan graduated from Marist College in 2017 with a degree in Communications and a concentration in Sports. Email him at daniel@casinocity.com, or follow him at @casinocity_dan on Twitter.
Dan Ippolito
As Casino City's associate editor, Dan produces and edits all of our weekly newsletters, and writes about the gaming industry for our websites and the GPWA Times Magazine. Dan graduated from Marist College in 2017 with a degree in Communications and a concentration in Sports. Email him at daniel@casinocity.com, or follow him at @casinocity_dan on Twitter.