“Las Vegas is made for Virgin and Virgin is made for Las Vegas.”
This was a comment from Richard Branson back in 2010, during celebrations to commemorate 10 years of Virgin Atlantic Airways running direct flights from London to Las Vegas.
However, more memorable than the quote was Branson getting a soaking during a failed stunt.
Driving a jet ski in front of the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel, the British billionaire suddenly lost his balance and sent both he and Virgin stewardess Vicky Lewis tumbling into the water.
Undeterred and standing by his previous quote, Branson is now back in Vegas to buy a hotel.
Despite the previous relationship, Branson isn’t buying the Bellagio. Instead, he is purchasing the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel.
The plan is that hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested to revamp and rebrand the property. Work is scheduled for completion at some time in 2019, when the location will be called Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
What Branson has bought
Little has currently been disclosed in terms of what will remain of the current Hard Rock, what will receive a makeover and what will be completed ditched.
Entertainment can currently be enjoyed in ‘The Joint’, which is effectively a rock club large enough to accommodate 4,000 visitors.
There is also the Vanity nightclub, which stretches over 14,000 square feet and contains a ‘cyclone’ chandelier. This rises from the centre of the room and includes 20,000 crystals lit by colour-changing LED lights.
Elsewhere, there is another venue called Vinyl, substantial meeting space, plus a selection of restaurants, shops and boutiques.
Add an 11-story tower hotel, alongside a casino and there is plenty for Branson to work with.
He said: “We’ve got all of this incredible, historical rock memorabilia and we will treasure it.”
However, the massive guitar positioned outside of the Hard Rock may not survive long term, although the venue will stay open throughout renovation and continue to operate under the Hard Rock brand through 2019.
A giant V is likely to take pride of place outside instead (although not with the intention of welcoming visitors to the city).
Interestingly, the location of the Hard Rock is not on the 4.2 miles of the Las Vegas Strip. It is considered to be about a 30 minute walk away.
Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leul does not see this as a negative.
In an interview with luxury and lifestyle travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler earlier this year, he said: “We love that it’s off the Strip because we believe that we’ll still also cater to the people who go to the Strip but also cater to locals, which is a big part of our strategy.”
The Hard Rock Casino
There is no shortage of games within the 30,000 square-foot casino, with table games on tap 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Visitors can expect to play blackjack, craps, baccarat, Pai Gow Poker and high card flush.
Alternatively, there are over 600 slot machines to spin the reels on.
High-stakes baccarat and blackjack play is available in the Dragon Salon, where video poker games are additionally on offer.
Meanwhile, at pre-set times of the week and year, swim-up games can be sampled. This gives visitors the chance to play blackjack without even needing to get out of the water.
One thing that is unlikely is that Branson will be spending too much time wagering at the tables or on the reels.
In his autobiography ‘Finding My Virginity’, Branson recounted a story of a Vegas visit to a casino with his children.
The intention was to show his children the risks of betting and how quickly money could be lost. Yet on this occasion, the plan backfired.
The forthcoming rise of Virgin Hotels
In the same Conde Nast Traveler interview as mentioned previously, Branson highlighted: “I’ve wanted to do a hotel in Vegas for many, many, years.
“My favourite hotel for many years has been the Hard Rock. It’s been allowed to get a bit tired over the years, but it’s got fantastic staff and that’s the absolute key. It needs a lot of money spent on it.”
And the Las Vegas purchase is only part of what is gearing up to be a rapid expansion of the Virgin Hotels brand.
The first hotel opened in Chicago in 2015, with another set to open this summer in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Vegas, Dallas, New Orleans, New York and Nashville are among the other US locations where progress has been made in terms of erecting future hotels.
And Virgin Hotels is coming to Europe too, in Edinburgh.