Setev Wynn and Joe Francis

Sleaze king Joe Francis (right) was a non-VIP guest at the SLS opening events; his battles with Steve Wynn (left) have made him persona non grata at the mogul’s properties. (Image: Getty)

The SLS Las Vegas may eventually prove to be just the first of many casinos to herald a new era of growth in America’s gambling hub. But for now, the new casino stands alone as the newest kid on the Las Vegas Strip, and the excitement over a new venue was palpable last weekend.

At the stroke of midnight on Friday night (technically, Saturday morning), the SLS Las Vegas opened its doors to the public. The $415 million casino on the site of the former Sahara, which itself was once one of the hottest resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, opened with fireworks and an excited crowd that managed to fill the facility before it had even been open for an hour.

VIP Reception for New Casino

The opening came after a VIP reception for 3,600 guests, the first people who were able to play in the casino for real money. Earlier in the week, the SLS and its 3,400 employees were tested under simulated conditions when friends and family were able to come in and try games with play money.

The casino is essentially a redesign and upgrade of the property, which underwent significant renovations in its transformation from the Sahara to SLS Las Vegas. The new venue was the brainchild of SBE CEO Sam Nazarian, who bought the Sahara in 2006.

Nazarian joined his father, Younes Nazarian, in ringing a bell to officially open the property. It was the same bell the elder Nazarian had used to open SLS hotels in Miami and Beverley Hills.

“Thank you for believing in us,” Nazarian said to a ballroom audience. “Our team put its heart and soul into this property. They did something no one else thought we could do.”

The new property features a 56,000-square-foot gaming area and a sports book operated by William Hill. The resort will also feature three night clubs and nine restaurants. The SLS is the product of 18 months of construction on what was the Sahara, which closed in 2011.

First New Las Vegas Strip Casino Opening in Four Years

The SLS Las Vegas is the first new resort on the Strip since the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opened in December 2010. The allure of a new casino was obvious, as customers were reportedly lined up around the building down Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road waiting to check out the latest addition to Las Vegas’ gaming industry.

Several celebrities took part in the opening. The red carpet was walked by athletes such as former UFC Champion Chuck Liddell and Jermaine Jones of the US Men’s National Soccer Team, along with singer Pia Toscano. But the famous face that turned the most heads may have been Joe Francis, founder of the infamous “Girls Gone Wild” series of videos.

“Thank you, Sam, for building this compound for me just so I could come to Las Vegas,” Francis said, referencing his past court battles with Steve Wynn.

Back in 2007, Wynn tried to collect a $2 million debt Francis had allegedly run up at his casinos. Later, juries would award Wynn a $7.5 million judgment against Francis for defamatory statements, and then $20 million in a 2012 slander case. Francis has also previously pleaded guilty to filing false income tax returns and bribing jail workers. Perhaps, then, it was no surprise that Francis wasn’t included on SLS’ official list of celebrity guests appearing at the opening gala.