Perhaps even more fascinating than actual casinos themselves is the history of casinos that never were. The grand designs and wild dreams of would-be casino owners which, for one reason or another, never came to fruition. Here, we take a look at some marvelous plans for gaming houses in North America that never got beyond the best-laid plans of architects and urban planners…
The combination of the fantastical pleasure dome with the decadence of Sin City would certainly seem to be a natural. In the late 1960s/early 70s, Martin Stein Jr. enjoyed success with his Las Vegas casino designs: He’d been the brains behind the then-International Hotel & Casino and the classic MGM Grand – but Stein’s imagination soared higher.
In 1975, Stein announced his vision for the Xanadu, a massive, then-revolutionary casino/hotel complex that would recall Samuel Coleridge’s poem and the subject matter depicted therein. Ultimately, though, the main commonality between Stein’s Xanadu and Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” was their unfinished states.
Stein’s plans were released in October 1975, and zoning permits were received in February 1976. Insanely enough, the tremendous size of the resort would have required a revamp of Las Vegas sewer lines! While engaged in legal battles with city administrators, the property owners reapplied for a permit in ’78, but soon canceled the request.
The Xanadu Corporation ultimately did nothing on the developed site and sold the land to Circus Circus Enterprises. To this day, the casino they opened, the Excalibur stands there. The massive 4,000-plus rooms in the hotel made it one of the world’s largest upon opening, and it’s still in the top 15 worldwide in the category. In terms of money, Xanadu Enterprises probably only lost a few million dollars on the deal; considering the success Excalibur has enjoyed through the decades, however, surely must have had owners wondering “what if?”
That’s right: When legalized gambling came to Atlantic City in the 1970s, you know Bob Guccione wanted in. The owner of Penthouse magazine and related business interests announced his Boardwalk Properties, Inc. would begin – and finish – construction of an Atlantic City Casino in 1978. Sure enough, construction began in ’78 – even though neither Guccione nor any of his business interests had actually, you know, *been issued a license to operate a casino* -- though came nowhere near to completion.
Between massive problems with construction (by spring 1980, only a four-story steel framework had been completed) and the hesitance of Atlantic City authorities to issue Guccione a license (perhaps they’d heard about his revocations in England and Yugoslavia), everything ground to a half in 1980. All sorts of lawsuits resulted from the failed Penthouse casino project, including a wild case involving Guccione suing the federal government for having FBI officers try to get him to bribe New Jersey public officials.
Guccione lost at very least $22.7 million on the deal, not including legal fees or the purchase of land. As for what happened to the remaining structure, well, read on…
It’s something of a cheat to include the story of the Sands Casino, Atlantic City version, as, unlike the other locales herein listed, this casino actually did exist for a while – Heck, the Sands even enjoyed a period of respectable popularity and got its owners a short-term return on investment. However, a pair of failed reboots envisioned for the Sands are utterly emblematic of Atlantic City’s overall decline in the 1990s – cameo by You Know Who included.
After less than a year of operation, the then-Brighton Hotel and Casino was bought by a group of four investors for the lowly sum of $10 million; this represented a loss of $60 million on building costs alone to the developer Greate Bay Casino Corporation. The owners of Texas-based Inns of the Americas and owners of the Sands Casino in Las Vegas, rebranded their new locale to the glitzier name.
Success was swift and delusion took over before the Atlantic City casino bubble burst. The hotel’s owners had divested their interests in the Las Vegas Sands and in 1987 announced a brand-new hotel and casino complex to be opened in Atlantic City in ‘90 called the Sands Park. Proclaimed Sands co-owner Jack E. Pratt at that time: “We see an exploding casino market here in the mid-1990s.”
Alas, the proposed 500-room hotel and 50,000-sq. ft. casino never even got to the design phase. Indeed, the site Pratt claimed to be his new casino’s site – the site of the never-completed Penthouse International casino hotel – got snatched up by Donald Trump before an architect could be contracted. At least the Sands folks saved $265 million in the short-term… the rusting, never-completed Penthouse International casino hotel for $61 million, and complete it for $204 million more.
Despite declining profits, a second floor of gaming at the Sands casino was added in 1994; at the time a rebranding was announced as the Sands would become the Hollywood Casino – not even this was completed. In 1998, the Sands filed for bankruptcy protection and Pratt’s shares were divested to Greate Bay Casino (remember them?).
How much was lost on misplaced faith? We can’t give you an exact dollar figure, but we can total it as … everything. They lost everything.
Right through the 1980s, the Desert Inn was one of the standards of traditional Las Vegas gambling/partying lifestyle – hey, Steve and Edie had a regular gig there! – but a recession in the early 90s saw the famed locale hit hard times. In 1993, the Caesars-owning ITT and hotel operators Sheraton Group purchased the Desert Inn and Casino from real estate giant Kirk Kerkorian for just $160 million and, in a theme to be repeated throughout this piece, had big plans for the place.
Fairly quickly after the acquisition, ITT and Sheraton representatives announced plans to create the “Desert Kingdom,” a Bali-themed (!) resort; Gary Goddard’s architecture firm, the Goddard Group, released concept ideas and master plan in early ’94. These amazingly ambitious designs – who would believe an indoor, water-based theme park? – obviously never came to fruition, but hey, ownership completed a second tower for the hotel, a massive fountain at the entrance and various renovations costing $200 million in ’97!
In the meantime, ITT interests were getting chummy with management of Planet Hollywood to create a hotel/casino resort even wilder than Goddard’s. In June 1996, Planet Hollywood and ITT executives formed a joint venture designed to build casino resorts; among the very first projects announced was an $830 million, 3,200-room Planet Hollywood Hotel, including a 100,000-sq. ft. casino that “will be built on [the] 34 acres” of land ITT had acquired in ’93.
It wasn’t. Further, the Desert Inn’s ownership group sold the property to casino property agent Steve Wynn in 2000 for $270 million, a loss of $90 million on investment not including profit (if any). The Desert Inn was demolished by Wynn in ’04.
Talk about your loss leaders: Estimates have placed the total hit taken by CityCenter owners MGM Resorts and Dubai World at approximately $6 billion as of January 2015 – and subsequent years haven’t been kind, either.
CityCenter itself is a massive entertainment area of several buildings designed by Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn Architects and announced in late 2004. Construction on the site began in June 2006, with workers going on strike two years later after the sixth death on the site was reported in May ’08. In 2009, the first facilities at CityCenter were opened despite a three-month court battle earlier that year between MGM and Dubai World over a $200 million investment the latter had made in the project.
By 2010, it was reported that a $4 billion dollar budget had ballooned to $9 billion, with the The Harmon Hotel and Casino the biggest boondoggle within the project. The Harmon Hotel and Casino was planned as a 49-story boutique hotel, but construction was stopped thanks to improper planning which had called for the wrong type of structural rebar. Instead, the Harmon Hotel morphed into a *25*-story building which was completed in 2010 – but never opened: In November ’10, MGM representatives had to admit to massive structural defects and thus planned for the demolition of the place after bringing a total income of $0 and a total loss of $400 million.
Like everything else associated with the CityCenter project, the demolition took longer than expected, and was only completed in mid-2015.
We’re not sure if a total price tag has ever been put on the losses the unfinished Echelon Place project cost Boyd Gaming, but we do know that even after ditching the project for nine figures, Boyd ultimately had to write down nearly $1 billion in losses on six uncompleted buildings, a not nearly finished casino and an empty promenade.
Boyd went after the former side of the Stardust Resort and Hotel on The Strip hard, plunking down $43 million for the 13 acres alone, followed by the buying up of nearby structures as well. Boyd executives announced the $4 billion project in January 2006, concept designs and master planning by BLT Architects was released later that year, and construction began in March ’07. Things seemed to be progressing smoothly, but in August ’08, construction was suspended on the site until at least June ’08. Nothing had happened by the end of 2009, and executives publicly blamed the recession for their inability to complete the project.
In the end, the site (as well as an extension to the county-issued building permits to 2018) was sold to Malaysia-based Genting Group for $350 million in 2014. The former owners of the would-be Echelon must be enjoying a little schadenfreude right now, however, as Genting has pushed back the opening date of a new casino from 2016 to ’18.
Relatively little money has been spent by private parties on a number of politico-backed casino proposals for Canada’s biggest city, but who can tell how much taxpayer money has been expended by the likes of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and current mayor John Tory pitching proposals and establishing exploratory groups for a boondoggle that the majority (not to mention several city councils) simply don’t want.
A number of battles to bring a large-scale casino to Toronto were fought in the 2000s, with plans and proposals submitted by Caesars Entertainment, among other Las Vegas-based interests. The biggest – and seemingly final – proposal to be defeated was the $3.1 billion plan put forth by Oxford Properties Group with designs by Foster + Partners in 2012.
August 2016 saw Tory propose a benevolent-sounding 21-acre park near the convention center in Oxford Place. Seems great, but Oxford Properties has reiterated that establishing a casino would be part of a convention center-area revamp. Estimates for reworking the proposed park area are set at over Can. $300 million – casino construction not included.
Genting Group recently attempted to expand its formerly UK-concentrated interests into the sunny beaches of Miami, Florida – and six years later, they’re still trying.
In 2011, the casino giant bought up the 14-acre site which formerly housed Miami Herald headquarters (sign of the times, eh?) for $236 million; almost immediately thereafter, representatives announced plans for a $3.8 billion project which would revitalize the beachfront property into a casino resort featuring four hotels; residential apartment buildings; a convention center; a mall of 50 eateries, bars and clubs … even a 3.6-acre rooftop lagoon. The designs by Arquitectonica are incredibly impressive – perhaps too much so.
Residents of the area were incensed enough that such a structure would be built impinging upon the burgeoning arts district that a referendum was put before Dade County voters on the subject in 2012; Genting was disallowed from building a casino by a wide margin of votes.
The following year, Genting came back with a second plan, this one featuring no casino, just one hotel and two residential apartment buildings. Not much has happened on this project proposal, but there have been lawsuits! And Genting isn’t quite giving up on Miami just yet. In December 2016, the company announced a consulting agreement with the owner of Gulfstream Park, which includes a racetrack and casino, on nearby Hallandale Beach.