The Bellagio Casino — The Place That Changed Las Vegas

The Bellagio Casino — The Place That Changed Las Vegas

For many decades, Las Vegas has rightfully maintained its status as the world’s gambling capital. The city that never sleeps and a place that can make dreams come true. Walk down any of the streets of this city, especially the Las Vegas Strip. You will meet dozens of luxury hotel complexes and casino resorts along the way, and one of its brightest gems is rightly considered to be the legendary Bellagio Casino.

The Casino on the Place of… Casino

The Bellagio’s history is not as romantic as many other Las Vegas resorts. This venue is located on the site of the former Dunes Casino, which opened back in 1955.

NameBellagio Las Vegas
OwnerThe Blackstone Group
Date of foundationOctober 15, 1998
Floor area156,000 square feet

The Bellagio’s first owner, Steve Wynn, bought the hotel and all the surrounding land in 1992; this deal cost the American businessman $75 million. He never planned to reconstruct the Dunes and initially wanted to demolish the old casino and build a new resort.

Initially, Wynn wanted to build not one but five or six hotel complexes of 500 rooms each.

The idea for the resort’s name came to the Mirage Resorts owner quite by accident. According to the original project, the complex was going to be called Beau Rivage, as the French style was chosen as the basis. Still, chief designer John Gjerde, having been to Lake Como in Italy during his vacation, was so impressed with the local architecture that he suggested Wynn change the plans. Steve personally visited the lake and spent half a day in the adjoining village of Bellagio. The refined Italian style struck the businessman, and he decided to abandon the French project, on which they had been working for more than 10 months.

In order to match the architecture of the Italian village, an initial project was slightly changed:

  • The area of the lake, which was supposed to be the main decoration of the complex, was reduced.
  • The number of floors in the hotel tower was also reduced from 49 to 36.
  • The total number of guest rooms decreased.

Planning and designing for the new standards took more than two years. Wynn later claimed that no one rushed anyone, as it was important for the businessman and investors to get it right.

Construction work began on November 1, 1995; the casino was planned to be built in three years and opened in March 1998. During construction, the cost of the facility increased several times, particularly because of adding new features and services. The final cost of the resort was more than $1.6 billion, making the Bellagio the most expensive hotel-casino in the world.

Steve Wynn
Steve Wynn said, “Bellagio will redefine Las Vegas. It’s the most ambitious and luxurious project we’ve ever undertaken.”

A prime example of the meticulousness with which the dream resort was approached was the planting of mature Japanese turmeric trees, a plant capable of withstanding the arid climate of Las Vegas. They were specially purchased in California, and each tree cost about $10,000. And a Mediterranean garden of over 300 European pine trees was planted around the central pool.

The Long-Awaited Opening

People eagerly awaited the Bellagio opening, and Mirage Resorts launched an extensive advertising campaign in anticipation of this event. In particular, they began regularly broadcasting one-minute videos with the famous Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli on television; these commercials alone were $10 million.

Mirage Resorts began taking crowd control measures 2-3 months before the opening date to prevent tragedy.

Although Bellagio was initially scheduled to open in March, it didn’t happen until mid-October 1998. A party to celebrate the occasion was attended by 1,800 people, including Nevada governor Bob Miller. After the celebration, the opening was held. More than 25,000 people gathered in front of the resort entrance, and on the first day, at least 80,000 customers visited Bellagio.

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The complex included a 3,005-room hotel tower, casino, restaurants, and boutiques. The owners expected to generate income not only from gambling: other services and amenities were expected to bring in about half of all profits.

Bellagio has become a role model for many other casinos and received extremely positive reviews from regular customers and the media.

Expansion and Transition to New Owners

Despite the overwhelming success in the early days after opening, 1999 was not so positive financially. For the year, the resort brought in only $260 million for the owners, while minimum expectations were at the $300 million mark. The financial problems were attributed to the extremely high cost of living. The average room rate in Las Vegas at that time was $80, but to stay at the Bellagio, you had to spend at least $200 a night.

This situation forced Wynn to postpone plans to expand the complex, and the 1,300 new rooms that were supposed to appear in the hotel’s second tower in 2000 were erected four years later.

In May 2000, Bellagio changed owners, as Mirage Resort was taken over by a larger company MGM Grand. At the end of the same year, the company changed its name to MGM Mirage, and at the same time, a new owner came to the casino who managed to solve financial problems.

The idea of expansion became actual again in the summer of 2002. The $375 million project added a new hotel tower, spa, additional commercial space, and a restaurant. Construction was completed in December 2004, and the total number of rooms rose to 3,933.

Bellagio Las Vegas
Panoramic view of the Bellagio Hotel Casino

An additional 1,400 employees have been hired to service the new facilities, bringing the total number of employees to more than 10,000.

In October 2018, MGM Resorts announced its intention to sell the resort to the Blackstone Group; the companies completed the deal a month later. The sale price was $4.25 billion. At the same time, the new owner leases the casino to the same MGM Resorts for $245 million per year.

Casino Games

The total gaming space is 156,000 square feet (14,500 square meters): this space accommodates about 2,700 slot machines and 173 tables for roulette, blackjack, craps, and other table games. There is also a big poker room, which was last expanded in 2004 as part of a global renovation.

Bellagio has almost no signage above the gaming halls, as the owners want to keep the focus on the architecture.

The casino has a separate high-stakes poker area called Bobby’s Room; it is named after Bobby Baldwin, one of the first executive directors of MGM and also the president of Bellagio.

Slot machines at Bellagio
Casino gaming halls with slots and other games

Also in 2013, the casino added another private room for high stakes lovers called Villa Privé; it covers 2,600 square feet (240 square meters).


Bellagio is a real city within a city, as the vast territory is home to many colorful attractions:

  • Fountains. A resort lake is a place for a musical fountain show. The jet of water is capable of rising over 450 feet. The fountain system is interconnected, and each fountain works to the beat of the music selected for the show.
  • Botanical Garden. This green attraction covers 13,500 square feet (1,250 square meters); you can find it in front of the hotel entrance. Admission to the Botanical Garden is free; there are about 20,000 visitors daily.
  • Fiori di Como. This is a huge glass composition of 2,000 square feet (190 square meters) suspended under the ceiling of the hotel lobby that depicts flowers.

The beauty and luxury of Bellagio repeatedly made the resort a filming location for many famous movies; for example, scenes of Ocean’s Eleven, Lucky You, 2012 were filmed here.

Bellagio fountains
Musical fountains of the Bellagio Casino resort

Today Bellagio continues to be one of the largest and most luxurious casinos in Las Vegas. Each year it is visited by tens of millions of people from the USA and other countries.

Interesting Facts

There are some interesting facts about Bellagio:

  • The residents of the Italian village of Bellagio have found nothing in common with the casino’s architecture.
  • In 2010, an unidentified man wearing a helmet stole chips from a craps table worth more than $1.5 million. He managed to escape, but a few months later, the offender was arrested while trying to exchange the chips for money. The perpetrator turned out to be the son of a Las Vegas judge.
  • There have only been two fires in the Bellagio’s operation, and none were fatal.
  • The walls of the French restaurant Picasso, located on the complex’s territory, are decorated with real paintings of the famous Spanish artist.
  • Fiori di Como is the largest glass composition in the world. Various experts estimate its value from $1 to $10 million.
Publication Author
Donald Peterson
Author of articles
Donald Peterson is an avid gambler from Edmonton, Alberta, who also writes about his experience with casinos. He’s been in the business for over 10 years, following the ever-changing industry landscape. His articles are aimed at helping beginners with choosing casinos, suitable games, and strategies.
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