Lavish Suites Become Weapon in Las Vegas War

The Wall Street Journal - Marketplace

March 10, 1995
(Creative Edge produced custom stone floors and furniture
for many of the suites discussed in this article.)

An occasional celebrity might wangle his or her way into one of the updated Fantasy Suites at about $7,500 a night, but the penthouses will reveal their charms only to the deepest of deep pockets, insiders say. Unfair? Maybe not, nsince the high rollers bring in enough revenue that the penthouses paid for themselves in about their first 30 days.

Next door is the lush Mirage resort, generally credited with starting the current suite wars with its eight opulent villas. The biggest, at 4,200 square feet with an added 3,900 –square-foot private garden, exudes elegance with its palette of taupes and creams, silk-lined walls, endless yards of lavish trim and antiques.

“There’s an extravagance of space, but it’s very quiet and dignified,” says interior designer Roger P. Thamos. “It’s certainly not the anticipated glitz traditiorally associated with Las Vegas. As a Las Vegas native, I was always embarrassed by that.”

The villas occasionally can be booked by dignitaries and celebrities for more that $3,000 a night, and have housed former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush and billionaire investor Marvin Davis. The more California-casual Lanai Suites are known for their most famous visitor, megastar Machael Jackson, whose favorite lanai includes his gigantic portrait and a wall of platinum records.

For players who crave traditional Las Vegas with an updated twist, the gigantic MGM Grand’s three 6,040-square-foot presitdential suites(furnished with an astonishing 21 telephones), two 4,845-square-foot penthouse suites or 52 two-story suites might fit the bill. Decors range from “Las Vegas,” lifted right out of the 1950s, to “Marrakech,” complete with eye-popping bed canopies that look like giant fezzes on streamers and loads of artificial plants.

A staff dedicated just to the suites, with 25 butlers and miltilingual VIP Services specialists, cater to guests’ every whim. The staff also sees that guests aren’t offended by such cultural faux pas as white flowers (associated with funerals by some Asians) and the number four on any suite doors (associated with bad luck in some Asian countries).

Even if MGM’s suites lack the cost-be-damned décor of its competitors, the gigantic resort has a few other aces up its sleeve. Not far from a new private gambling salon is a glowing new restaurant by culinary celebrity Charlie Trotter. His complex, fanciful fare has won him cult status among cognoscenti, and his just opened, semiprivate restaurant has a weeks-long waiting list.

Casino executives will only say about the identity of their guests that not one of them is American.

Among those known to be in the cosseted group is Australian billionaire Kerry Packer, who hit a $9 million winning- streak at the MGM Grand during the New Year holiday. Scions of Influential Asian families, such as the Queks of Malaysia, jet in at their hosts' expense, as do wealthy Mexican, South American and Middle Eastern players. Before his financial demise, Japanese businessman Ken Mizuno was famous for marathon baccarat stints at the Mirage, the Las Vegas Hilton and elsewhere.

Stephen A. Wynn, chairman of Mirage Resorts, says he's already dreaming up new suites for his next Las Vegas Strip extravaganza, which bears the dreamy name Beau Rivage and features a huge manmade lake as its centerpiece. And what could the ultimate suites possibly include to top the competition? Mr. Wynn isn’t divulging specifics, but he promises: “They’ll be unique.”■

By Pauline Yoshihashi
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

Thirty floors above tile platoons of quarter slot machines at the rambling Las Vegas Hilton casino, up a gilded private elevator and just beyond a towering security guard, is a closed door to another world with a sign that reads, simply, Villa Tuscany."

Raymond C. Avansino Jr., Hilton Hotels' president, pauses at the threshold of the latest example of hotel-industry indulgence, a haven for the unimaginably wealthy in the gaudiest city on earth. This 15,000-square-foot aerie and its two companion suites-a more modest 12,500 square feet-each cost more than $10 million to create. Tonight, the first high rolling guest will sample Villa Tuscany's renaissance charms.

Once inside, Mr. Avansino strolls past a panorama of hand painted murals, a bathroom with gold-plated bathtub faucets that joins a fireplace, the intimate work area with private fax and computer and into an immense master bedroom. Mood music flows at the flick of a bedside touch control, and the lush Egyptian-loomed draperies are swept aside to reveal a drop-dead view from the Spring Mountains to the glowing Strip: "We're very proud," the executive says, smiling.

The Hilton suites are just the latest breathtaking entry the can-you-top-this sweepstakes among a handful of is Vegas glitter palaces battling for the business of roughly 200 of the richest international gamblers. This clientele is far removed from the battalions of tourists currently overwhelming the city.

If tonight's guest isn't captivated by the Villa Tuscany's views, no problem. He can hone his shots on the outdoor putting' green, skinny-dip in a private pool, channel-surf through an ocean of audio-visual programming or belt out "My Way" on the built-in karaoke system. A private chef is available as well as a butler who's fluent in whatever language happens to be printed on the customer's currency. There is round-the-clock security.

What does it cost, or whom must one know, to get into these palatial digs? For tonight's guest (whose name Hilton won't disclose) and for gamblers with a seven-figure credit line at the casino cage, it's on the house. For virtually anyone else, there is no room at the inn: you simply can't book a night at what is probably one of the world's most expensive suites.'

Any guest qualifying for such treatment "can go anywhere they want, generally whenever they want," says designer Henry Conversano, whose eponymous Oakland, Calif., firm created the Hilton suites. Hilton's philosophy is that high rollers don't want a five-star Parisian experience in Las Vegas any mort' than they want a karaoke in Venice. So Mr. Conversano's mandate was; “to shoot for the best in the world, with the Las Vegas idiom in mind": lush but high tech , with indulgences such as huge, sensual bathrooms. "Design is entertainment," Mr. Conversano says.

A mile or two from the Hilton are Caesars Palace's two $6 million- penthouse suites, each a cozy 6,000 square feet of extravagance. The new suites offer luxuries beyond Caesars' smaller Fantasy Suites downstairs, ranging from a marble and malachite bathroom floor to a private barber's room and workout area.

"Of course, we want them on the floor gambling, but when they're ready, we want to transport them to an elegant, serene, peaceful environment,” says designer Dalton Robertson of the Los Sageles firm Wilson & Associates, better known for its world-wide resort and luxury hotel work than casino design. “The customer is more sophisticated today.”

While Caesars, like its competitors, isn’t eager to discuss either its clients or their bankrolls, it’s nkown that only those with multimillion-dollar credit lines will ever enter the penthouses.