Aerial photograph of Circus Circus, circa 1974

Circus Circus

Las Vegas, Nevada

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.



 Artist's rendering of the proposed Circus Circus tower (Las Vegas), circa 1971


Rendering of Circus Circus tower, circa 1971


Aerial photograph of Circus Circus, circa 1974

Aerial photograph of Circus Circus, circa 1974


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Location of Project

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  • 1966

    Caesars Palace opens

  • 1967

    Circus Circus opens

  • 1972

    A 15-story hotel tower, 450 rooms, and a showroom are added

  • 1974

    Circus Circus is sold to William Bennett and William Pennington after Jay Sarno backs out due to financial trouble

  • 1975

    A second 15-story hotel tower is built

  • 1976

    YESCO constructs the Lucky the Clown marquee which still stands at 123 feet tall in front of Circus Circus

  • 1980

    New additions include the Circus Circus Manor which features five new buildings, parking areas, a swimming pool, a mini casino, and a monorail

  • 1982

    A $7-million dollar expansion and renovation project is completed, including a new marquee and porte cochere

  • 1985

    A second high-rise parking garage and wing are added

  • 1993

    Circus Circus opens its own indoor amusement park called Grand Slam Canyon (currently Adventuredome)

  • 1996

    Circus Circus opens another tower

  • 2000

    Chapel of the Fountain, the long-running wedding chapel at Circus Circus, is renovated

Skyline Comments
Photograph of a rendering of the International Hotel (Las Vegas), circa 1968:
This is a great image. Thanks
Photograph of men playing faro in a Fremont Street casino (Las Vegas), circa 1930:
I love this picture and the other one you have on the Faro Game. Please let me know How I...
Film transparency of the swimming pool and patio of the Thunderbird Hotel (Las Vegas), circa 1950s:
The 1950'S images are great! Do you have more like this and how can I order reproductions?