For nearly 60 years, from the time Clark County granted the first gaming license in 1931 until Steve Wynn built The Mirage and begat the megaresort boom of the 1990s, Las Vegas was a place where children existed primarily outside the hot zones of the Strip and downtown.
Locals visiting a casino could bring their kids to the coffee shop or showroom, sanctuaries from sin, but were discouraged from dawdling on the way and even admonished by surly security to “get moving.” Las Vegas was still for adults doing adult things anonymously.
In the wake of Wynn’s resort renaissance, the sight of Marge and Bob from Iowa pushing a baby carriage through a casino with their youngins in tow – less likely than a jackpot on a one-armed bandit in the old days – became more and more common. Gaming was still the lifeblood of Las Vegas, but the tourism model had expanded – and it included families.
Resorts were devising ways to increase their bottom lines through retail, dining and amusement attractions that they hoped would draw a previously untapped demographic. This philosophical sea change was exemplified by the MGM Grand and Circus Circus opening amusement parks in 1993.
The idea to herd children while mom and dad dropped coin in the casino probably wouldn’t have occurred to the “boys” who built Las Vegas, but as individuals who made sure to have every angle covered, they undoubtedly would have approved.
Flash forward a few years. So it turns out families didn’t spend enough money on even the ancillary attractions, let alone gamble enough, and in 2004 MGM closed its $100 million theme park. Around this time Las Vegas made an abrupt about-face and returned to its Sin City roots, announcing its intentions with an advertising campaign that promised to keep Vegas-inspired indiscretions between the city and the sinner.
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” went viral and sought to restore the city’s cred as an adult playground. The result? Risque shows returned to take their place alongside the Cirque du Family fare and G-rated magic shows that had begun appearing everywhere in the `90s. Hotel nightclubs opened up and down the Strip, hiring superstar DJs to attract cash-soaked hipsters who were willing to drop hundreds on a bottle of vodka and party till dawn. Those same properties then devised a provocative daytime activity geared to nurse the hangovers of that same, albeit less dressed, demographic: the beach party!
The real Vegas was back, baby!
Of course transitions of the type Las Vegas experienced are never so precisely demarcated. There was overlap then just as there is now, and you don’t have to look too closely to see that adults and families coexist quite comfortably. There is world-class dining and shopping and plenty of attractions for the kids. A theme park still pulsates beneath the pink dome at Circus Circus, thrill rides abound atop the Stratosphere, and in case you missed it, Las Vegas just opened the world’s tallest observation wheel, The High Roller. Oh yes, and adults are still filling the gaming coffers by the millions.
As for us at Tahiti Village, things remain as they’ve always been. Everyone welcome!