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Stevens in his element during ‘the time of his life’ Circa opening

Now that Circa is open — the first one downtown in four decades — the public finally is seeing what all the hype is about.

The resort opened 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, hours after a black-tie soiree gave hundreds of Derek Stevens’ guests a chance to see the place for the first time Tuesday evening.

Resort officials didn’t share a head count or say how many invitations were sent, but those who were there were happy to seek out the historic Easter eggs and hidden treasures of Circa that Stevens’ workers have strewn.

Stevens, the owner of Circa, was in his element Tuesday night.

The only thing Stevens could have scripted better was to have had his VIP party occurring during a World Series Game 7 and to have his beloved Detroit Tigers swapping at-bats with the world champion Dodgers. That’s how important sports is to Stevens and Circa.

Price still unknown

The three-story sportsbook — all 78 million pixels of it — attracted some guests, especially with the World Series underway.

The Vegas Vickie sign was an enticing photo opp. The 165-foot Mega Bar was a popular hangout for party guests, and Stevens held court at what will inevitably become one of Circa’s feature attractions.

An unexpected surprise was the LEGO Statue Gallery, a retail outlet. Inside is a LEGO statue of Stevens, in case you don’t catch a glimpse of the actual guy.

Stevens has never disclosed how much it cost to build Circa, but state gaming regulators pored over private filings in two hearings to be certain construction was collateralized by Stevens’ other downtown properties.

Lines started to form outside three hours before the opening and those in line must have thought it was like waiting for the fireworks display to go off on New Year’s Eve in downtown Las Vegas.

Brent Kossick of Kalamazoo, Michigan, no doubt familiar with the legend of Derek, was among the first to enter the casino and his first stop was the Mega Bar.

Kossick hadn’t planned to be in town for Circa’s opening, but his stay at the Flamingo happened to line up perfectly.

“I’ve been (to Las Vegas) 12, 13 times, but I’ve never had a chance to go to a casino opening,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life so far. This is amazing.”

‘Time of your life’

Great quote, Brent — “time of your life” is one of the marketing taglines for Circa and it’s emblazoned in circular patterns on a chandelier at the pristine 982-space Garage Mahal transportation center.

Kossick planned to explore the casino and play a few hands of blackjack before heading back to his hotel room on the Strip and he plans to book a room at Circa on a future visit, once its hotel rooms open.

The split casino-hotel opening was also part of the legend of Derek with Stevens uncertain regulations would enable him to do it. He sought permission from Nevada regulators to separately open the casino and some amenities Wednesday, with 512 of the total 777 rooms and suites coming in December, all because of social distancing requirements that slowed construction workers’ use of an industrial elevator.

Crowds weren’t deterred by the property’s health and safety protocols, which included a scan of the wrist to check a person’s temperature.

Christina Anderson and Gilbert Herrera drove in from California for Circa’s grand opening. The two typically stay at Stevens’ other downtown properties, the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate, and wanted to see his latest offering.

Anderson said she was impressed with the sportsbook and was excited to check out Circa’s restaurants. The two are also fans of the property’s 21-and-older-only rule.

“It’s a place to get away from the younger generation,” Herrera said.

“No strollers,” Anderson added.

“They’re always sanitizing the properties, so we’re never afraid,” Anderson said. “There’s no reason to panic or stay away.”

Brooke Henkel of Las Vegas continued to explore the property after attending the VIP event with Toni Law, a proxy for the Circa Sports Millions contest. She said the opening came at an opportune time for Las Vegas.

“This is a gift,” she said. “Our city needs it. Our people need it.”

Once called ‘Lucky Line’

From the start, people knew Circa was going to be something different and Stevens had well-planned surprises in store from the beginning — even a few that didn’t initially pan out. He originally conceptualized the resort as the “Lucky Line,” and legendary casino architect Paul Steelman presented drawings with a 500-foot skyscraper with a rooftop restaurant and observation deck that looked a lot like the Strat profile.

Revisions followed and Circa emerged with some new features — a tiered six-pool swimming complex with two spas, 15,000 square feet of wet space and a 125-square-foot big screen for watching sports.

But sports wasn’t on the screen Tuesday night (the Dodgers had long since recorded the final out of the World Series). It was time for Stevens’ moment.

While many anticipated another of Stevens’ surprises, Tuesday was all about giving back. In an elaborate video that played on the big screen, staff directors were introduced with their photos on poker chips and ringing a spinning roulette wheel.

The hour of congratulations and tributes, hosted by George Shea, of the Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest fame, also featured another novel casino opening event — synchronized swimming in the Stadium Swim pools.

When Stevens took the stage, his four-minute speech turned into 20 with all the people he wanted to thank. Most of the Circa staff — some 1,500 employees in all — were paraded on stage as their pictures flashed on the big screen.

“This is Circa,” Stevens began. “Welcome everyone … 21 and over.

“I’d like to explain to you what Circa means about ‘we’re all in it together.’”

Stevens said “all in it together” means collaboratively drawing people to Las Vegas and putting competitive differences aside.

Stevens specifically named the Westgate Super Book sportsbook, Caesars Palace, the downtown’s arts district, the Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Hakkasan at MGM Grand as places people should go besides Circa when visiting Las Vegas.

That’s just the way he did it in his early visits years ago to the city he now loves and calls home.

“We’re not really competing with each other,” he said. “We’re not trying to kick the hell out of each other.”

Mayors, colleagues applauded

Stevens had special words for Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her predecessor and husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman. He also paid tribute to his Fremont Street Experience partners, inviting several of them to place the first craps bet when the casino opened shortly after midnight.

He also named a handful of Strip executives who witnessed the first roll — a 6. Five rolls later, the shooter made the point — a winner.

“We’re going to try to put a product together that focuses on fun and really embraces the city,” he said. “And I couldn’t have done it without this team behind me.”

With that, Stevens signed off: “Let’s go out and have the time of our life tonight.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Bailey Schulz, Al Mancini, Kevin Cannon and Mike Shoro contributed to this report.

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