Circa will add to Derek Stevens’ downtown Las Vegas empire By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports December 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm Derek Stevens owned a small percentage in the Rat Pack-era Riviera Hotel-Casino when I first became acquainted with him more than a decade ago. He was considered an “activist investor” at the time, a businessman out of Michigan who was sharply critical of the aging Riviera’s management and direction. The property was then squarely in the midst of a financial nightmare. The Riviera, which has since been demolished to make way for an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, helped end Stevens’ infatuation with the Las Vegas Strip. Derek Stevens stands above the under-construction Circa pool area/Photo by Howard Stutz Instead, Stevens focused on downtown Las Vegas. In the past decade, he has – with the help of his behind-the-scenes brother, Greg – unquestionably become the face of the resurgent gaming market there, having transformed two obsolete casinos into thriving Fremont Street entertainment attractions and built an outdoor events center. His under-construction Circa Casino Resort, Stevens believes, will finally turn downtown Las Vegas into a destination for tourism. “I’m proud to deliver something completely new to the Las Vegas experience,” Stevens said. Circa is the next step in Stevens’ vision for downtown. At 435 feet, the property will have the largest tower north of the Strip, other than the Stratosphere. Circa is also the first ground-up resort development in downtown since 1980. The property occupies an entire city block, which previously housed two casinos and a strip club. The property’s showcase pieces are its fifth-floor pool deck, a three-level race and sports book, and the “Garage Mahal,” a high-tech transportation hub for downtown. Stevens, 51, plans to open Circa by the end of next year. Downtown Las Vegas is on an upswing. Casino revenue in October grew more than 7% and was the single-highest figure for that particular month in 20 years. Downtown gaming revenues overall are up 6.4% for the first 10 months of 2019. Derek Stevens celebrates a winning wager at the D Las Vegas’ “Long Bar” /Photo via Michigan Today- University of Michigan The Golden Nugget, which is owned by Houston billionaire Tillman Fertitta, is downtown’s largest hotel-casino. Circa is planned to have 777 rooms, which amounts to a boutique hotel on the Strip. It’s also privately financed by Stevens, who didn’t divulge its cost. Being private affords Stevens luxuries his corporate counterparts can’t match. Calling him a self-promoter is a compliment. His six-figure wagers on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament have garnered him countless headlines, and he appears in local television ads for Circa Sports, the sports betting mobile app and casino sportsbook he launched last summer. Prior to unveiling a replica of Belgium’s famous Manneken Pis statue at the D Las Vegas entrance in 2015, Stevens’s staff produced a two-minute YouTube video that featured a pseudo-board of directors meeting, which included the casino’s scantily clad Party Pit dealers, a security guard twirling his revolver, several juggling bartenders and a late-arriving hot dog mascot, “Conney D.” Stevens was shown marching through the casino in a bright yellow jacket, carrying the hotel’s flag to greet the property’s newest “entertainer”. That wasn’t coincidence. Stevens has custom colorful jackets made for virtually every occasion. On Monday, Stevens gave media and city officials a tour of Circa to mark the halfway point of the property’s construction. He revealed that hotel rooms would actually start on the eighth floor and the floor levels would be something unique. He’s far from shy. “You know me, I love a good promotion,” Stevens said. In many ways, he’s a throwback to the hands-on downtown Las Vegas casino operators of the pre-corporate era, such as Benny and Jack Binion, Sam and Bill Boyd, and Jackie Gaughan, who passed the torch of the El Cortez to Kenny Epstein, another hands-on casino owner. During the tour, Stevens was in his element, functioning as part businessman and casino developer, part gregarious showman and promoter, and part booster of downtown Las Vegas. Stevens and his brother bought a 50% ownership stake in the 106-room Golden Gate in 2008. Four years later, with their ownership increased to a majority, a $12 million expansion added a five-story hotel tower, which included 14 suites and two penthouses. A year earlier, the brothers bought the old Fitzgerald’s for an undisclosed price; the property was in probate court following the death of its owner. After 16 months and $22 million in renovations, the property was renamed D Las Vegas as tribute to Detroit. It quickly became the centerpiece of both downtown’s revitalization and Derek Stevens’ gaming empire. That is, until Circa opens next year. “What we’re doing here,” Stevens said, “is creating a great attraction – not just for downtown, but for all of Las Vegas.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.