THE TWO FACES OF LAS VEGAS : The new breed of Las Vegas vacationer is more interested in relaxing by a swimming pool than crowding around a gaming table--and developers are responding with resorts divorced from the bright lights of the city.

Times Travel Editor

What with a rebel in the crowd, the heat's on the high roller. Imagine the dude who refuses to chance even a nickel in a slot machine.

Since the days of the late Bugsy Siegel, Las Vegas has courted the high roller along with the low roller. But now (trumpets, please) we introduce the "no roller."

To explain, the no roller is that adventurous soul who happens to love Las Vegas but loathes casinos. A pox, says he, on pit bosses and blackjack dealers.

He gets his kicks out of trips to Lake Mead and picnic outings to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park (pictured here). Or by soaking up rays around a swimming pool . . . rather than getting burned at the gaming tables.

Forget the roulette tables. Golf and tennis are his games. He thumbs his nose at the gambling crowd, avoiding casinos like Tommy Lasorda avoids a meal without pasta.

But Las Vegas without a casino? A hotel without a lounge? No slots, no blackjack, no bingo, no beautiful girls?

If the truth be told, Las Vegas is making an effort, however feeble, to gain an aura of respectability.

It began five years ago with the opening of the Alexis Park, a Palm Springs-style resort that hasn't so much as a slot machine on the entire property. What's more, it gets high points as one of the peachiest addresses in town.

The Alexis opened with raves. It's still getting them.

Now there are others, including the St. Tropez, which does business directly next door. And there's Marriott's new Residence Inn, facing the Convention Center on Paradise Road. And Motel 6 on Tropicana. This being Las Vegas, it should come as no surprise that with 900 rooms, this particular Motel 6 is the biggest in the nation.

What each of these sanctuaries has in common is an appeal to the no roller. No dice, no wheels of fortune, no bingo parlors. Only grassy spreads, waterfalls and the seclusion of a resort that's divorced from the bright lights of Las Vegas.

The Marriott, with 192 rooms, comes off like an exclusive enclave uprooted from Beverly Hills or Bel-Air. The Motel 6 is, well, a Motel 6. Still, with rooms going for $23.95 a night, it is doubtless one of the best bets in a town that survives on bettors.

Without question, though, the Alexis Park is the leader of hotels devoted to no rollers, coming off as an oasis in the land of high hopes and broken dreams.

Low-rise and low-key, it is impossible to fault. Its developer directed workers to dig channels for streams that flow across the $40-million property.

In a land as arid as Death Valley he created waterfalls, swimming pools and provided shade for his oasis by planting a couple of hundred palm trees. A Caribbean-style refuge in the neon-lit desert.

The whitewashed Alexis resembles a slice of the Costa Del Sol. Furthermore, it's strictly the suite life, which is to say the resort features only suites. Suites with Jacuzzi baths, mini-bars, fireplaces and satellite TV.

Why, though, one wonders, would an otherwise astute businessman gamble on a hotel without a casino in Diceland? Simply because a new breed of vacationer is becoming more interested in relaxing by a swimming pool than crying out "bingo!" This along with a desire for a sanctuary to return to after a night on the Strip--should gambling be one's passion.

The fact is, the Alexis was a gamble that paid off, what with occupancy rates that remain a steady 100% on weekends. This is due in part to overcrowded Strip hotels that send guests to the Alexis because the Alexis isn't a threat to their own casinos.

At the Alexis, guests shape up in spas and an aerobics center. They jog and play tennis and chase the little white ball across a putting green. And for those who disdain those dreary wedding chapels along the Strip, a gazebo is primed for couples wishing to exchange vows.

Next door, that other casino-less caravansary, the St. Tropez, features suites with mini-bars, VCRs, coffee makers and wall safes. Transfers are provided from the airport along with trips to the Strip. This plus other bonuses. Come evening, the hotel pours free drinks for its guests.

There is, of course, the other Las Vegas, the never-say-die, 24-hour land of fantasy that a Russian scribe once described as both wanton and evil.

The town counters with the old claim that more churches and synagogues exist per capita here than any place in the world. Even among the pious, though, money is king. During Mass recently at the Guardian Angel Cathedral, the padre announced that poker chips were as welcome as cash.

Las Vegas' casinos are on a roll, what with 50,000 slot machines and 2,600 gaming tables. And more are on the way.

Steve Wynn of the Golden Nugget is building a 3,600-room high-rise (The Mirage) at the southern approach to Las Vegas that will be a touch of Hawaii in the Nevada desert. Waterfalls will spill into gardens planted with palms. Plumeria will spread its fragrance. Myna birds will sing out from banyan trees. Volcanoes will erupt regularly. Gas jets will set reflecting pools aflame. Wynn promises everything but a personal appearance by Madame Pele.

A 17,000-square-foot atrium will be the centerpiece of Wynn's monument. Before forging ahead, Wynn and his sidekick, Barry Shier, checked out Disney World, Disneyland, Opryland and Florida's Botanical Gardens to gather ideas. After that they hired Broadway lighting director David Hersen to set the scene for the flaming volcanoes and fiery lagoons.

A 20,000-gallon aquarium is in the works, along with a swimming pool with waterfalls to shower bathers. In addition, Wynn's resort will feature six lanai apartments with six individual swimming pools. The bill for water features alone will add up to $30 million.

Guests at this $565-million playpen will slip by a white Siberian tiger and cross a bridge to reach a colonial-style porte-cochere. Baggage will be moved underground. Cars will be driven beneath the lagoon. After that, high rollers will find themselves in a casino surrounded by the Garden of Eden.

It's possible that guests will ask themselves, "Is this really Las Vegas or a corner of Kauai?"

While Wynn moves ahead with The Mirage (the new resort is scheduled to open next December), the operators of Circus Circus are putting up a 4,000-room hotel-casino to be called The Excalibur. What's more, it promises to resemble Disneyland without the Matterhorn. A Circus Circus entourage eyeballed 20 castles in Germany, England and Scotland before coming up with its own castle theme.

Based on a variety of European castles, when completed in mid-1990 it will feature a royal village, costumed performers, shops and booths. Everything but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Obviously, The Excalibur won't be playing to the no roller. Not with 100,000 square feet of slots and gaming tables spinning dreams of riches for its owners.

There's more.

Another developer recently jumped in with the announcement of a $1.2-billion resort with 5,000 rooms to be called Pharaoh's Kingdom. This would make it the world's largest resort, with a casino three times bigger than those being built by Wynn and Circus Circus.

Besides the hotel-casino, the developer told of plans for an 80-acre family theme park, a golf course, a $100-million spa and 700 villas.

With a promise of 6,000 jobs, the opening date of the Egyptian theme resort with its glass pyramids is set for 1990.

All of which leaves the no roller to concentrate on the Liberace Museum, the Imperial Palace Auto Collection, the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory, the Scandia Family Fun Center and Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Meanwhile, should some inveterate gambler be tempted to deposit a few bucks on the green felt and come up a loser, he has only to turn to Stoney's Pawn Shop off Fremont Street.

Stoney's Henry Kronberg, a transplant from New Jersey, has been rescuing gamblers since 1962. As evidence, his display cases are crowded with every imaginable item known to drifters down on their luck.

A cowboy hocked his saddle. A motorcyclist left behind his helmet and a security guard traded his handcuffs for a loan till payday.

Kronberg smiles and shakes his head. "Me? I only gamble across this counter."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
62°