‘There are many in the industry commentariat who lament the loss of the Sarnos and the rise of the Bennetts, but both were true visionaries.’
Jay Sarno rides an elephant outside of Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, as two performers on stilts stand by.
The elephant is probably Tanya The Elephant, who performed at Circus Circus. (Photo credit UNLV)
the customer. Both sets of owners recognized this, but they responded in different ways.
Innately, Sarno understood this, citing casinos as boring places, creating a physical experience rooted in emotion, asking the question: How do we create environments that allow our customer to escape their reality?
The concept of visiting the circus is rooted in childhood, invoking something out of the ordinary, a spectacle of otherworldliness.
The first version of Circus Circus was exactly this, as patrons came and marveled at Sarno’s imaginarium.
For those of us too young to remember the early years, James Bond’s Diamonds Are Forever immortalized the property, along with a Jay Sarno cameo in full carny schtick. Watch it.
Circus Circus in 1971 was unique. The noise, the atmosphere, the focus on entertainment and the range of amenities were all innovative to the extreme.
This was an “experience” that no operator today would have the courage to repeat. Sarno dealt in fantasy, giving psychological fulfillment via escapism.
This has been much emulated by Wynn and others.
Bennett was deeply rooted in operating, meeting the physical needs and desires of customers, with a managerial and strategic skill set suitable for volume business.
Portfolio-owning companies still face this conflict with inherent discomfort;
With discipline, detail and determination, Bennett shaped casino management.
Undoubtedly, he would have been successful with any other property, but the red-and-white canvas he inherited was perfect for his style of painting.
There are many in the industry commentariat who lament the loss of the Sarnos and the rise of the Bennetts, but both were true visionaries.
More than 50 years later, Circus Circus is still standing, successfully producing profits for MGM, a place for those priced out of the mega-resorts built in recent years.
Walking around Circus Circus is like a tour of living history.
Like the Ford Model T, the Apple II and Picasso’s Blue Period, Circus Circus is essential to understanding the evolution of Las Vegas, casino design, and the management of the gaming and casino industries.
It’s worth revisiting and appreciating. There will be nothing like it ever again.
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