The History of the Bellagio

Las Vegas Bellagio

Walk down the Las Vegas Strip and it would be almost impossible to miss the Bellagio and its famed dancing fountains. Celebrating its 20th birthday last year, the elaborate and eye-catching Bellagio has redefined the Las Vegas experience. With its world-renowned restaurants, exclusive poker rooms, conservatory and botanical gardens, gallery of fine art, and a Cirque du Soleil production, it is no wonder the Bellagio is listed as one of the top hotels in the world. That is why we are going to take a closer look at the history of Bellagio, the many attractions that it provides and what the future holds for this famous hotel and casino.

The Grand Opening

Inspired and named after a resort town on the shores of Lake Como in Northern Italy, the Bellagio was opened on October 15, 1998. The brainchild of Steve Wynn, then head of Mirage Resorts, the resort had an original design and construction cost of $1.6 billion dollars; making it the most expensive building in the world upon completion. 

The Bellagio reportedly spent $88 million on its opening night ceremony. It all began around 11 p.m. with Steve Wynn giving a 40-minute welcome speech and then processed by Cirque du Soleil’s aquatic show, “O”. There was a fireworks show reportedly scheduled, but it had to be canceled due to high winds. By 1:00 am, the casino and other public areas around the Bellagio were packed with an estimated 15,000 people. Just a few VIP celebrities that were present at the opening night included Michael Jordan, Clint Eastwood, Drew Barrymore, George Lucas, and Nevada Governor Bob Miller. All VIPs present were highly encouraged to donate to The Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Famous Bellagio Poker Room

Famous Bellagio Poker Room

The Bellagio is partners with the World Poker Tour and has hosted the annual Five Diamond World Poker Classic since its inception in 2002. Due to the high table limits, it is very common to see professional poker players at the Bellagio poker room. Many, in fact, call it their home base or the “Office”. The very high-stakes games at the Bellagio are played in “Bobby’s Room“, named after famed professional poker player Bobby Baldwin. It is reported that stakes at these games can range up to $8,000 and that the total pots exceed $1 million dollars. 

Non-Casino Attractions

The Fountains at Bellagio

Since the beginning, the Bellagio has made efforts to entice tourists with amenities that extend beyond the casino. Step outside the main doors and look upon the Fountains of Bellagio to find such an effort. Set in an 8-acre manmade lake, the Fountains is a choreographed water feature with performances set to light and music. While the performances take place in front of the Bellagio, there are numerous vantage points on the Las Vegas Strip where people can watch the show.

Typically, the show takes place in the afternoon every 30 minutes, and from 8 pm to midnight they occur every 15 minutes. If you look at the hotel tower around two minutes before a show starts, you will see the lights beginning to change. The color of the lights indicates the type of show (i.e red, white, and blue are used for Independence Day). While the resort tries to do shows every day, they do cancel shows unexpectedly if there are high winds or if there is a planned event. For VIP guests taking part in special occasions, such as weddings, the Bellagio offers the chance to choose the music for that day’s fountain performances. Interestingly, from 1998 to 2010, the Fountains of Bellagio was the largest fountain in the world. It has since been surpassed by the Dubai Bay fountain and Okada Manila.  

Besides the Fountains, the Bellagio is home to various works of art. When the property was first built, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art displayed the personal art collection of Steve Wynn. After the hotel was sold to MGM in 2000, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art became a rotating exhibition space that displays artwork on loan from numerous museums and private collections from around the world.

Popular Culture References

Ocean's Eleven Movie Poster

Just three years after opening its doors, the Bellagio served as the central setting for one of the highest-grossing films of 2001; Ocean’s Eleven. In the film, a group of thieves conspires to rob the vault inside the Bellagio. The antagonist in the Ocean’s Trilogy, Terry Benedict, is also loosely based on Steve Wynn. In addition to owning and developing two of the same casinos as Wynn (The Mirage and the Bellagio), Benedict also has an extensive art collection. In the film’s 2007 sequel, Ocean’s Thirteen, two of the characters stand in front of Bellagio, reminiscing about Dunes Resort and Casino, which had previously occupied the site.

Additionally, the Bellagio Fountains make multiple appearances in pop culture. Artists such as Britney Spears, Drake, and Bruno Mars have all used the Bellagio Fountains as a backdrop for some of their most popular music videos. In 2008, the fountains made a brief appearance in the Disney animated film Bolt.  

Looking Ahead 

With major casinos on the Las Vegas strip undergoing renovations and new properties being built every year, there is increased pressure to cater to new audiences and increase revenue numbers.  Just last month it was announced that MGM Resorts would be selling the Bellagio to The Blackstone Group for $4.25 billion. Per the agreement of the deal, The Blackstone Group would hold ownership of the property, but MGM Resorts would lease the space and continue to operate the Bellagio for an estimated annual rent of $245 million dollars. The deal is expected to be finalized by the end of this year. Since the Bellagio was one of the first in Las Vegas to showcase major attractions alongside their casinos, it will be interesting to see what the future holds. To stay on top of the latest casino and gambling news, be sure to keep visiting the Casino Schedule Ease blog.

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