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Circus Circus

Rendering of Circus Circus tower, circa 1971

Conceived by Jay Sarno, who had just opened his Caesar’s Palace in 1966, Circus Circus was the first family-oriented, lower-market casino in Las Vegas, famous for its circus acts and its role in Hunter S. Thompson’s book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, who described it as “what the whole hep world would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war." 

Howard Hughes, who also hated the casino, wrote in one of his secret memos, "The aspect of the Circus that has me disturbed is the popcorn, peanuts, and kids side of it . . . And also the Carnival Freaks and Animal side of it . . . In other words the poor dirty, shoddy side of Circus life. The dirt floor, sawdust and elephants. The part of a circus that is associated with the poor boys in town, the hobo clowns, and, I repeat, the animals. The part of the circus that is synonymous with the common poor -- with the freckled faced kids, the roustabouts driving the stakes with three men and three sledgehammers . . ."

Homer Rissman commented on his design for the casino’s original tent: ”People expect to see things here that they don’t see on the main street of their own communities. A Circus, Circus transplanted anywhere else wouldn’t make much sense.”  When it first opened in 1968 it was only a casino without a hotel which made it financially unviable. A hotel, financed by the Teamsters, was added by Sarno in 1972 who sold out in 1974. Additional towers were added in the 1980’s for which Martin Stern developed a proposal that was not built.

Aerial photograph of Circus Circus, circa 1974
Location of all projects in the collection

Circus Circus