A crowd had gathered outside the big glass windows of a boutique halfway down the corridor of Bellagio’s Promenade Shoppes. They were jockeying for position, wriggling for a peek, holding cell phones up for photos, murmuring and squealing. They wore flip flop and T-shirts, cowboy hats and miniskirts. They were all on a casino vacation, not gambling, but getting their thrills at a retail store instead. They were dazzled by both the store’s merchandise – blingy, lusciously hued shoes and handbags — and its owner, Sarah Jessica Parker, on hand for the opening of her second SJP boutique.
Welcome to casino shopping. Big names, flashy fashion, and high-roller price tags.
Retail has become a major growth area for casinos as they look for non-gaming sources of revenue, they’re pulling out decorative elements and filling them with boutiques; they’re creating new shopping malls and additions for visitors to stroll, window shop, and buy. Now casinos tout their latest retail coup, claiming to be the “first east coast outlet of this brand” or the “the only Givenchy boutique in America.” Foxwoods’ new Tanger Outlets Mall is under construction, “with over 80 fashion outlet stores including American Eagle, H&M, Banana Republic Factory Store, Calvin Klein, Fossil, LOFT, Nike Factory Store, Steve Madden, Tommy Hilfiger and many more are expected to draw shoppers from all over the world.”
I don’t get it. The prices for everything on casino resort properties are almost always inflated ($8 for Band-Aids??). And the brands — deluxe or down to earth – are unsurprising. There’s little in the way of one-of-a-kind or locally-made casino shopping (at least not yet).
Yet more and more travelers plan to shop on casino vacations, and revenue from retail is thriving in major casino destinations such as Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore.
After a few retail experiences in Las Vegas recently, I decided one reason for the success is that casino shopping is a lot like casino gambling: It’s designed by masters in the art temptation.
Those lusciously colored shoes at SJP? I wanted a pair. I even told myself that $395 wasn’t all that expensive, really. I could cut down on, say, paper towel usage, to make up for the splurge. The “buyer beware” caution is particularly fitting when shopping (or just passing through the stores) at a casino hotel.
I do most of my buying – souvenirs, mostly, and local specialties – off casino property. I think of casino shopping as simply another form of entertainment, a mix of artistry, excess, beauty, comedy and fantasy. If the setting for all of this adds to the experience, that’s a winning casino vacation shopping experience. Vegas, of course, has some of the best. Here are my picks.
Caesars Palace raised the retail bar forever when it opened Caesars Forum Shops 25 years ago. Caesars Palace was the first Vegas casino to create an entirely themed retail environment, the first to sign up high-end designers like Gucci and Ferragamo, and the first to offer celebrity chef restaurants. Add 160 specialty stores and eateries, the free animatronic fountain shows, a 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium and a faux sky that changes from dawn to dusk, and, well, that’s the sin qua none of casino shopping.
Walking along a cobblestone path, blue sky above, and gondolas floating by on the canal – you can almost believe you’re in Italy at the 75,000-square-foot Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian and Palazzo. Not only is the setting terrific, but you will find some out-of-the ordinary gems along with the litany of luxury icons like Van Cleef & Arpels, Christian Louboutin, Diane von Furstenberg, and Chopard. New York’s famous Bauman Rare Books has an outpost here, and the Double Helix Wine Bar & Boutique, a gathering spot for Vegas sommeliers, can track down any rare wine label you ask for. The crowd favorite of the enclave is the 85,000-square-foot Barneys New York. Oh, and the gondola rides.
Planet Hollywood knows its target market, and came up with just the right mix of features for its Miracle Mile retail promenade. The “shopping adventure” includes 170 shops, covering the young and trendy brands (DC Shoes, Urban Outfitters, Steve Madden, H&M, White House/Black Market), plus Kush Fine Art Gallery and a Swarovski shop. The adventure part of the experience is in the attractions shoppers find along the way: a Beatles tribute show, a fountain with a fog and light show, and rainstorm every hour over the Tommy Bahama shop.
The Esplanade at Wynn offers 75,000 square feet of the classiest and most exclusive names: Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Oscar de la Renta, Manolo Blahnik. Alexander McQueen, to name a few. Of particular note here: the largest in Rolex store North America, complete with a Rolex museum and the Ferrari/ Maserati dealership.
Oh, back to those must purchase souvenirs. There are endless tourist shops all over town, but Gambler’s General Store on 800 South Main Street is one of the mother lodes for Vegas-style gifts.
Where are your favorite places to go casino shopping? Let us know in the comments!
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