The Rich Las Vegas History Of The Bellagio

The Bellagio is often viewed as the epicenter of the Las Vegas Strip. With the collection known as the “Bellagio fountain” serving as the main headquarters and meeting point for anyone hoping to find their friends and family among the crowded sea of people, it’s hard to believe one of the newest casinos and hotels has garnered the strongest reputation. 

The Bellagio is a staple in famous Vegas movies, serving as the main backdrop for films such as the 2001 Ocean’s Eleven feature film. In addition, it hosts several Michelin Star restaurants, boasts a botanical garden, conservatory, twelve-acre lake, gallery of fine art, and, with great reason, has been listed as a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. Inspired by the Lake Como town of Bellagio in Italy, the hotel, resort and casino triumph over the strip and entices its visitors to come inside and shop through its fountain shows choreographed to a variety of songs like “Viva Las Vegas” and “My Heart Will Go On.” The history of the Bellagio is just as intriguing as its stately structure on the Strip, and it all begins with real estate developer and Atlantic City icon Steve Wynn in the early 1990s. 

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Changing of the Guards

The Bellagio was originally the site of the legendary Dunes hotel and casino, which sold for $75 million in 1993 to Steve Wynn. Wynn, later owner of MGM Resorts, teamed up with Atlandia Design, owned by Mirage Resorts, and started crafting a modern model of the Northern Italian town of Lake Como, which it was named after. Dunes was demolished in October of 1993, shortly after Mirage celebrated success with the opening of their Treasure Island hotel on the strip. Mirage and Wynn hoped to continue their success with architect DeRuyter Butler and project executive Peter Smith. The plans were elaborate, estimated to cost nearly $1.6 billion, which made the Bellagio one of the most expensive hotels ever built at the time of its construction in May of 1996. 

The interior of the hotel, featuring craftsman granite countertops, elaborate marble statues and a botanical garden with flowers from around the world, was designed by Roger Thomas, executive vice president of design for Wynn Design & Development and Architectural Digest 100 four-time winner. The interiors have continued to expand over time, with gardens changing throughout the seasons, ongoing art shows, and a Poker Room, which hosts the World Poker Tour and is nicknamed ‘The Office’ by professional players due to the high table limits and high-stakes Big Game. 

Opening Ceremony

The Bellagio was completed in October of 1998 and the final product warranted an elaborate celebration. The hotel spent a reported $88 million on its opening party that started around 11 p.m. By 1 a.m., 15,000 people had swarmed the hotel including celebrities like Michael Jordan, Clint Eastwood, Drew Barrymore, George Lucas and Nevada Governor Bob Miller. VIP attendees were encouraged to make a donation to the Foundation Fighting Blindness at $1,000 per person or $3,5000 per couple, which would guarantee them a suite in the new hotel.

The celebration kicked off with a 40-minute speech from Steve Wynn which was followed by the opening and first-ever performance of the Cirque du Soleil production O. 

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Michael Jordan attended the opening ceremony

Iconic Features

Off to a roaring start, The Bellagio featured many unique elements that added to its overall splendor and quickly solidified itself as one of the must-stay locations throughout the Strip. The 36 story hotel featured 3,026 rooms and 270 suites. It sat on 122 acres of space and utilized every last inch. The 12-acre lake was filled with 1,200 fountains that ran the length of the Bellagio’s grounds and contained 22 million gallons of water. Each night, they continue to perform a choreographed routine featuring special lighting and music. But maintenance on these great fountains is no small feat. Beneath the Bellagio is a secret cavern of cords and cables, gears and grease, nicknamed The Batcave by its 30-person team of engineers, mechanics and pool specialists, all of whom are dive certified. Guests are even invited to be in control of the Bellagio fountains, with the hotel’s Hyde Nightclub allowing guests to choose from the 35 different fountain shows and press the button to start the experience, all for a cost of $250,000. 

People playing poker
Poker is integral to the Bellagio’s reputation

Another key element to Bellagio’s ongoing reputation is its poker room. Home to the World Poker Tour’s Five Diamond World Poker Classic, the location is considered the home base by many professional poker players from around the world. The casino features the Bobby Baldwin room, named after the 1978 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, who was the youngest winner at the time. “Bobby’s Room” features the high stakes Big Game where stakes can range from $4,000 to $8,000 and are frequented by well-known players such as Doyle Brunson, a two-time World Series of Poker Main Event Champion, and Jennifer Harman, winner of two World Series of Poker brackets in open events.

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Tides of Change in 2000

In 2000, The Bellagio became an MGM Mirage property following the merger between Mirage Resorts and MGM Grand Inc. In 2006, the casino floor was remodeled and new uniforms were issued to a majority of the hotel’s employees, changing the original color scheme of vibrant reds and golds to a more subdued beige. Despite the changes, employees maintained loyalty to the establishment, as 2,000 current employees at the property have been there since its initial opening. 

Ownership changed again in October of 2019 when MGM Resorts announced it would sell the Bellagio to The Blackstone Group for a reported $4.25 billion. The deal would allow The Blackstone Group to lease the Bellagio back to MGM Resorts for an annual rent of $245 million. The sale was completed in November of 2019 and under the new deal, MGM acquired a five-percent ownership stake in the venture and continues to operate the resort through the new lease. 

Elements of Chaos

The history of The Bellagio has been marked by warm celebrations and welcoming ceremonies, but there have also been elements of chaos throughout the hotel and casino’s history that have added a darker light to the Bellagio’s past. 

In December of 2010, a helmet-wearing gunman robbed the Bellagio’s casino for $1.5 million in chips. The suspect was later caught and sentenced in August of 2011 to a prison term of 9-27 years. In March of 2017, the Rolex jewelry store at the Bellagio was robbed by men wearing pig masks. Carrying sledgehammers, the group smashed their way into the high-end jewelry store where one of the perpetrators was quickly arrested. In April of 2017, a section of shops at the North End of the Bellagio Fountains caught fire, caused by a faulty exterior lighting system. No individuals were hurt during the fire.

A Hopeful Future

The Bellagio continues to be a source of excitement for those traveling to Las Vegas and boasts some of the best restaurants and luxury stores along the strip. This includes Spago, Picasso, Michael Mina and Le Cirque, as well as the shops of Alexander McQueen, Bulgari, Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Gucci and Prada. The seasonal conservatory and botanical gardens contain bromeliads and Orchids with hydrangeas, chrysanthemums and poinsettias depending on the time of year. The Bellagio Gallery also features the works of some of the most world-renowned artists including Ansel Adams, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, and Vincent Van Gogh, a variety of which can be seen as Julia Roberts descends from the ceiling in Ocean’s Eleven. 

The features and unique aspects of The Bellagio have resulted in several awards including the “AAA Five Diamond Award” for 15 years in a row, as well as earning recognition on the Conde Nast Traveler Gold Lists as one of the Top Hotels in the World. But despite all the awards, added features, and unique history to Las Vegas, the only true way to appreciate the scope, scale, and splendor of the Bellagio is to go and visit the hotel and resort yourself. 

Frequently Asked Questions About The Bellagio History

When was The Bellagio first created? 

The Bellagio first started construction in May of 1996 and was completed in October of 1998. An opening celebration was held on October 15, 1998 just before 11 p.m. 

Where’s the best place to eat at the Bellagio? 

The Bellagio has several Michelin Star chef restaurants located on site. Picasso has received two Michelin stars while Le Cirque and Michael Mina have each received one. There are also several other options including Spago, Harvest by Roy Ellamar, and Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant. 

How often do the fountains perform a show?

The Fountains of Bellagio performances take place in front of the Bellagio hotel every 30 minutes in the afternoons and early evenings and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. to midnight. Two minutes before a water show starts, the nozzles begin to break the water surface with lights, illuminating the hotel in purple, red and white. 

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