When in Rome Caesars Palace: The First Themed Casino in Las Vegas

                                                                        By Patricia M. Kirtley and William M. Kirtley

 

Abstract

“Welcome to Caesars, I am your slave” intoned toga-clad cocktail waitresses wearing high-heeled sandals on the opening day of this stately pleasure dome. This single sentence typified the intent of the creator and builder of this sumptuous development, Jay Sarno (1922-1984). He dreamed of building a casino-hotel that afforded every “reveler”- a unique gaming experience: posh accommodations, fine dining, star-studded entertainment, and up-scale shopping. Sarno chose replicas of the world’s most famous art to adorn his creation. This paper analyzes the realization of his dream through the theory of two philosophers fascinated by the reproduction of images. Roland Barthes (1915-1980) elaborated upon the objective nature of art and what the viewer brings to it. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) developed the notion of phantasmagoria to describe the illusions of sound and light shows in Paris, an apt metaphor for this establishment in Paradise. Benjamin’s thoughts on lithographs illuminate the characteristics of the art in Caesars: accessibility, flexibility, decorativeness, and anonymity. These attributes transformed this casino-resort into an icon of popular culture. The authors take a deeper look into the simulacrum, pastiche, and theme of a place that caters to men’s wants and desires. The authors also discuss the Forum, an extension of Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s holdings. The Forum provides an opportunity for consumers to shop without guilt for the most exclusive products the world has to offer in a Roman themed environment. The authors conclude with an analysis of the Forum as a cathedral of consumption, an entrepreneur’s dream where people pay, not for the intrinsic worth of goods and services; but for the status attached to them.

Key Words: Caesars Palace, Forum, themed casino, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, gambling, cathedral, consumption, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, art, replicas

 

Introduction

Caesars Means Business

                                      -Caesars Convention Center Motto 2018

            An advertisement in the Los Angeles Times on 27 July 1966, announced the opening of a new casino in Las Vegas. The ad proclaimed, “I CAESAR, INVITE YOU” (A2). It featured a cartoon of a scantily clad slave girl feeding grapes to a rotund, toga-clad caricature that looked remarkably like owner Jay Sarno. It promised a liturgy of titillating memes; “AN ORGY OF EXCITEMENT,” “Caper and cavort in Bacchanalian raptures of revelry!” and “rub shoulders with the Jet-set” (A2).

After fifty-two years, the theme, style, and predominately male high stakes gambling clientele of Caesars Palace remain much the same. It still epitomizes what French post-modernist Jean Baudrillard said about Las Vegas: “Here one could find a greater variety of large-scale reproductions than in any other place” (91). These reproductions take the form of replica art. Fredrick Jameson, another post-modernist, described it as a pastiche where “all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the imaginary museum” (4). Architect Robert Venturi noted, “The agglomeration of Caesars Palace and the strip as a whole approaches the spirit, if not the style of the late Roman Forum with its eclectic accumulation” (51). The sin and simulation of the second largest tourist draw in America owes its modern existence to a man who hated being poor (Hopkins 92).

Sarno’s notion of a themed hotel was a total concept including the costumes for the cocktail waitresses. His idea of marketing research was, “I’ll do what I think is fun, and everyone else will think the same thing is fun too!” (Sheckells 1). Sarno insisted there was no apostrophe in Caesars. He stated, “I am going to create the feeling everyone that is in the hotel is a Caesar” (Early 71). The hotel construction cost nineteen million dollars. Hal Rothman (2002), author of Neon Metropolis, noted the finished edifice embodied Sarno’s design. “The casino was elliptical reflecting his belief that egg-shaped structures relaxed people” (18).

Sarno commissioned a potpourri of replicas to adorn his dream. He bought Carrara marble; the same medium used by Michelangelo, and hired sculptors at the cost of $200,000. He ordered many statues of Venus and several works depicting scenes of “Roman military conquests and women as booty” from companies that advertised museum quality reproductions (Malamud & McGuthrie 255). His luxurious hotel-casino remains a simulacrum of ancient Rome.

Sarno created an elaborate entry garden replete with reproductions of art encouraging guests to “leave the real world and enter this fantasy world” (Sheckells 1). “Caesars Palace guests are meant to have passed through the other side of a movie screen in a Hollywood inspired projection of ancient Roman opulence and decadence” (Malamud & McGuthrie 251). Theming distanced guests from their everyday world, and “concerns that might inhibit their gambling” (Hess 89). The Palace caters to high-stakes gamblers, those who bet thousands of dollars, enjoy gourmet food and drink, and spend a fortune on lavish entertainment.

Sarno spent one million dollars at the inaugural party for Caesars on 5 August 1966. Many of the eighteen hundred guests, including Adam West, Eva Gabor, and Jimmy Hoffa, received an invitation scroll from an actor dressed as a centurion. The attendees consumed two tons of filet mignon, three hundred pounds of crabmeat, washed down with fifty thousand glasses of champagne before attending headliner Andy Williams’ show.

Sarno was a man of excesses. However, in a rare quiet moment of reflection, Sarno described himself: “I am a loner, different, a little sad. Most creative people are” (Schwartz 152). His profligate lifestyle led to his early death. Sarno biographer David Schwartz recounted what people in the gambling industry said, upon learning of Sarno’s demise, “He departed this life in the most fantastic suite, inside the most gorgeous hotel in the world, with a beautiful girl, owing the IRS a million bucks” (266).

After cataloging a small part of the art at Caesars Palace, the authors turned to analyzing its meaning and import. They found this establishment a bastion of masculinity, a paradigmatic means of consumption, and an icon of popular culture. The challenge was to discover how art animated a theme that transformed Las Vegas.

 

The Dream Realized

When in Rome Do as Romans Do.

(When in Rome)

John Storey, author of the widely-read textbook, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture (1997) offered several definitions of popular culture. The most pertinent one divided this term into high and low culture. Curators and docents sanction the art of high culture that resides in museums and galleries. The art of low culture is residual, reproduced, found in the marketplace, and marked with the stigma of social class differences. Cultural elites entertain a certain condescension concerning popular culture, which only serves to enflame the passions of its devotees. The replicas of Caesars Palace transformed high art into an invitation to seduction.

Lithographs fascinated German literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin. He described copies of an original as flexible, accessible, decorative, and anonymous. The art works in Caesars represents all of these categories. Sarno commissioned several statues of Caesar Prima Porta, David, and Venus, sculpted in different sizes and serving diverse purposes. He ordered bespoke art in various media: cast and sculpted statues, bas-relief, and paintings. The scope of this collection is wide, from Eastern to Western, Archaic Greek to modern. Many of the art works are in the gardens, the casino, and the Forum, but there are also numerous objects of interest in the pools, spas, luxury suites, and corridors of the various hotel towers.

The art at Caesars is available all day and night, seven days a week. Visitors can walk up to it, touch it, and have a picture taken with it. The resort decorates the art on holidays and special events like Gay Pride Week or Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Such approachability brings this world-famous casino squarely into the realm of popular culture. Art decorates the casino and reinforces its theme. Museums identify their art as original. Every piece supposedly is authentic with provenance. Replica art is, more often than not, anonymous. “Caesars collapses the historical specificity of individual Roman emperors into one mega-emperor. What matters most is the category emperor, rather than any particular ruler” (Malamud & McGuthrie 253). Ask someone at the bell desk whether a statue is of Julius or Augustus Caesar and they will reply, “They are all Caesars. After all, it’s his Palace.”

Benjamin’s work reaffirms the conviction that replicated art has its own reality. It reminds us of the original artist’s message, intent, and creativity. It enriches our lives as a thing of beauty. A particular piece may not carry a name or author, but is approachable by the people. Benjamin wrote an essay in 1935 entitled “Paris the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” in which he enthused about the interplay of light and shadow on ceilings and walls by magic lanterns. He called these images phantasmagoria (Khatib 11). The gilt and glitter of Caesar Palace constitutes a modern-day version of the commercial and entertainment galleries of Paris.

Sami Khatib, a disciple of Benjamin, observed that the concept of phantasmagoria extended to “collective fantasies and dream images” (5). Khatib stated that Benjamin hoped consumers might one day awaken from dream consciousness and recognize things for their true worth. Until that day, Caesars will maintain their lucrative business based on controlling the human desire to dominate, control, and possess.

The history, the theory, and Sarno’s dream come together with a visit to this special place in Paradise. This elegant eighty-acre resort has six towers with 3,976 rooms, seven pools, a convention center, extensive gaming areas, signature restaurants, the Colosseum, and the Forum. This maze without clocks keeps guests gambling, shopping, and consuming. The Roman art found throughout this property forms its signature attraction. Julius Caesar divided all Gaul into three parts. This paper examines replica art in three areas: the sprawling casino, the beautifully maintained gardens, and the luxurious shopping center known as the Forum.

 

The Gardens

Caesars, like Rome, added and subtracted art over the years.

(McCombie 60).

Caesars meticulously landscaped gardens lie along Las Vegas Boulevard across from the Flamingo Hotel-Casino. Visitors see evidence of construction as the Palace continually reinvents itself. Builders recently removed two lovely fountains and an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius to make way for a Gordon Ramsey restaurant named Hell’s Kitchen. The manicured gardens also feature the Garden of the Gods Oasis with seven different themed swimming pools and sun bathing cabanas. A beautiful statue of Tyche, the Greek goddess of chance, presides over a swim-up blackjack table in one of pools. As visitors walk north along Las Vegas Boulevard, the following art works come into view.

Hippocampi – These creatures possess the upper body of a horse and lower body of a fish. This mythical creature originated in Phoenician and Etruscan times.

Winged Victory of Samothrace – The original statue of Nike, the Greek god of victory, stands on a landing on a staircase in the Louvre museum. Jay Sarno commissioned Italian artisans to craft a replica of this ten-foot statue from a block of Carrara marble. This iconic statue of the 2nd century masterpiece says “Caesars” more than any digital and neon freestanding sign. Framed by an elongated reflecting pool, Nike ushers a warm and powerful invitation to all visitors to enter and enjoy the delights of Caesar Palace. David Schwartz described her as “a fitting symbol that hope never dies” (271).

In 2017, Caesars Entertainment Corporation removed the fountain to make way for a Samsung pop-up store. They placed this famous lady in front of the store, forlorn and bereft of identification. A podium near her holds a sign that reads, “Redemption,” alerting customers that they can redeem coupons allowing them to try out Samsung’s latest electronic products.

The Corporation will achieve a modicum of redemption when it fulfills its promise to return Nike and her pool to its original spot when the Samsung “exhibit” closes its doors. The writers at VitalVegas.com, a web site that touts Las Vegas tourism, observed that in the meantime, “we’ll all need a [long prolonged] Silkwood shower because seriously is nothing sacred?” (1). Why would anyone object to repurposing a replica? Benjamin noted that while a replica loses the tradition and history of an original, it maintains the intent, style, and eternal values of the artist who created it (23). VitalVegas mourns the loss of a semblance of an original and draws attention to the shame of its degradation to the status of a commercial prop.

Bronze Sphinx – Located on Las Vegas Boulevard, this winged creature from Greek mythology has a lion’s body and woman’s torso. This terrifying creature strangled all who could not answer her riddle, but killed herself when Oedipus answered the riddle correctly. A Marble Sphinx sits in approximately the same area. Sited nearby are two lovely bronze statues of a Naked Lady and a Venus de Medici.

            Augustus Caesar Prima Porta – Workers discovered this 1st century AD statue on the grounds of a Roman villa in 1863. It now resides in the Vatican museum. A replica of this majestic statue rests on a central traffic island in the vehicle entrance to the property. It serves as the corporate logo for Caesars Entertainment Corporation. The statue portrays a handsome confident Imperial ruler wearing military garb. He is moving forward, one hand held high, in a gesture common to orators. Caesar’s other hand grasps the baton of command. Cupid, riding a dolphin, tugs at Caesar’s feet.

Brahman Shrine – The smell of incense leads visitors to the Brahman shrine located to the left of the gardens. This unexpected place for reflection features a fourteen-foot tall shrine covered with tiny pieces of beveled glass. This decorative housing contains a cast bronze gold-plated statue of the Hindu and Buddhist god of creation. Brahma has four heads and eight arms.

A Bangkok Thai newspaper tycoon gave this copy of a Brahman shrine to Caesars in 1983. A plaque at its base notes the donor’s intent was to provide “a place of prayer which in turn bestows prosperity and good fortune on those who come to visit and make their hopes and wishes known.” The shrine is completely accessible to the public. People leave seven-color flower garlands and small elephants as offerings to Brahma. They sing and dance and play music to entertain him. Scholars find the shrine fascinating because it illustrates the nexus of two of the world’s great religions, Buddhism and Hinduism (Suryanarayanan 1).

Capture of the Sabine WomenThis statue stands in a small island amidst the traffic headed for the main entrance. Flemish sculptor Giambologna (1529-1608) sculpted the original in 1582. Many prefer to call the statue the Abduction of the Sabine Women, rather than dealing with the ugly implications of the title on the plinth, Rape of the Sabine Women. The original is located in the Loggia del Lanzi, in Florence, Italy. Giambologna carved this 13.5-foot statue from one block of marble. He strove for a sense of action and movement, particularly in its vertical lines. The statue’s spiral construction offers many vantage points. A Roman soldier firmly grasps a terrified Sabine woman. Her father lies vanquished at the soldier’s foot. Giambologna displayed his sedulous skill in portraying both sexes of three different ages.

The legend of the Sabine women is one of the founding myths of Rome. It provided a lurid explanation of how the first Romans used force and cunning to marry outside their social group (exogamy) and develop a strong populace capable of dominating their neighbors as a Republic and an Empire. Romulus slew his brother Remus and became the sole ruler of Rome. Men dominated the population that settled in the city that bore his name. Romulus proclaimed a feast day and invited the members of the neighboring Sabine tribe to celebrate. At a signal from Romulus, his soldiers murdered the Sabine men and took their women by force. Titus Livius in The History of Rome (1905) described the “abducted maidens” as “despondent and indignant” (para. 1.9). Romulus boorishly asked them to forgo such feelings and to “give their affections to those whom fortune had made masters of their persons” (para. 1.9).

The statue, carved in Italy to exacting specifications, welcomed visitors when Caesars Palace opened in 1966. Sarno recalled the difficulties he encountered in shipping his favorite statue to the United States: “I had to argue like hell to get the sculptor to ship it to America. He feared it would be damaged in transit” (De Matteo, Strip, 1). Some guests exiting their limousines may see this statue as “simply classy, a fancy sculpture of naked people, that marks the entry as elegant” (McCombie 57). Two statues of armed soldiers mounting horses frame this magnificent marble creation.

Venus de Milo (See appendix A) – Sarno thought so highly of the goddess of sex and beauty that he commissioned several different Venuses. A farmer discovered the original Venus de Milo on the island of Milos in 1820. A French officer bought the statue as a gift to the king. The king donated the statue to the Louvre. The statue exhibited the practice of early Greek sculptors of using several blocks of marble for different parts of the statue. They used metal pins and rods to affix the appendages. One of the statue’s missing arms held her garment and the other an apple.

Curators “lost” the statue’s arms and plinth after the statue arrived in Paris. They did this because the name on the plinth threatened their claim that Praxiteles, the greatest Greek sculptor of all, carved their new acquisition and therefore was superior to the Venus de Medici, a statue Napoleon looted from the Italians. Scholars eventually uncovered the fraud. They attributed the sculpture to a lesser sculptor and a much later period. Other scholars insisted it was a copy of a Roman statue. Still others believed the statue was not one of Venus, but of a female sea goddess, Amphitrite. The answers to these assertions remain a subject of scholarly dispute (Puchko 1).

Venus de Medici – The Roman sculptor of this statue falsely attributed his creation to a 1st century Greek and thereby sought to enhance its value. Venus looks over her left shoulder, her head in profile. Her arms circle protectively in front of her body. Her son Cupid and an Amoretti, a winged child riding a dolphin, sit at her feet. These figures signal to the Greeks and Romans that beauty was not an end in itself, but a means to desire and procreation. The Pope brought the statue to the Villa de Medici in 1638. However, he thought it lewd and sent it to Florence. Napoleon brought it to France after he conquered Italy. The original Venus de Medici now resides in the Galleria Uffizi in Florence, Italy.

Venus Italica – Antonio Canova sculpted the third statue, Venus Italica (1819), which is in the Galleria Pitti in Florence, Italy. Canova’s sponsors commissioned him to sculpt a copy of the Venus de Medici seized by Napoleon. On obtaining a cast of the de Medici statue, he discovered the turn of her head was due to a mistake made by restorers (Honour 686). Canova told his sponsors that, as an artist of the highest caliber, his only choice was to create an original statue. Art historian, Hugh Honour, related a story that explains the attitude of Canova’s masterpiece. The artist hired a young woman model. As she was disrobing, Canova’s brother unexpectedly entered the room. Alarmed, she stood and clasped the drape to her body. Canova exclaimed this was the pose he wanted. He pulled out his sketchpad and recorded the moment (669).

            DavidMany consider Michelangelo’s David the finest sculpture in the world. Not to be outdone by anyone, Caesars Palace features several Davids. A large version resides in the Appian Way shopping gallery. Viewers have a close view of a life size David at the main entrance of the casino. Carved from a flawed block of marble, the statue shows the moment before the contest between young David and mighty Goliath. David’s weight is on his back foot. He radiates, confidence and resolve, bristling with latent power, yet fully aware of his disadvantages.

One of the hallmarks of this statue’s greatness is that, in addition to its technical brilliance, it houses the potential to mean powerful things to diverse groups. Roland Barthes, the French philosopher, believed a work of art has a connoted message, “the manner in which a society to a certain extent communicates what it thinks of it” (17). The Opera del Duomo commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt the statue to stand adjacent to Biblical prophets on the roofline of the cathedral in Florence. When commission members realized the energy and majesty of this work, they decided to place it in the central square of Florence. There it represented the resolve of Florence to maintain its independence from larger and more powerful city-states like Rome. The replica at the entrance stands as a symbol of boldness, self-assurance, and success for the men who enter the casino. The statue, in modern times, often serves as an emblem of the gay rights movement.

Bacchus Michelangelo’s Bacchus deftly portrays the god of wine and revelry.

The great Italian artist portrayed the Greek god as naturally robust and self-assured, the epitome of endless pleasure. Bacchus appears relaxed and inviting. He holds a goblet of wine in his right hand and the skin of a tiger in his left. Sacred ivy leaves wreath his hair. The satyr by his side steadies and balances his statue. The Cardinal who commissioned the statue thought it blasphemous and refused to accept the finished work. Put a suit on Bacchus and he could be any of the young men doing business and seeking pleasure at Caesars. Sarno named the expensive all you can eat buffet after Bacchus.

Hebe – The original statue of Hebe by Adam de Vries (18th century) is in a private collection. Hebe represents youth, Spring, and forgiveness. She is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. She served as cupbearer to the gods on Mount Olympus bringing them the nectar and ambrosia that kept them youthful. She also acted as chambermaid to several goddesses. She married Hercules and bore him twin sons. The Romans called her Juventas and assigned her the protection of young men coming of age. This replica accents her youth and shows her holding her symbols: a bowl and pitcher.

            A marble Statue of an Armed Roman Soldier and a reflecting pool sits alongside the curved driveway to the hotel. The corporation now donates coins tossed in the pool to Vegas Strong and the victims of the mass shootings.

Apollo – Guests can find this marble copy of a bronze original (c. 350 BC) by Leochares, at street level outside the Colosseum. Known as Apollo Belvedere, artisans rediscovered this artwork during the Renaissance. This god represented healing and music. The extended arms point to the release of an arrow. Aerospace aficionados will recognize the head of the statue featured on the official symbol for the Apollo XVII moon landing space mission.

A visit to the gardens of Caesars Palace provides a refreshing respite, despite obstacles created by new construction. Each statue has its own story to tell. Anonymous art abounds. Management moves or retires various works of art at will, proof of its flexibility. The reflecting pools for donations to Vegas Strong display the Corporation’s powerful connection to the people of Las Vegas. The Corporation promised it would eventually restore the Winged Victory to her rightful place of honor.

 

The Palace

Did Caesar Live here?

(The Hangover 2009)

The muted tones, marble fixtures, and elegant, classical furnishings of Caesars Palace welcomes visitors to one of the most luxurious resorts in the gambling capital of the World. The front doors beckon guests to the dark, seductive, interior recesses of Sarno’s dream. Two hammered bronze bas-reliefs frame the narrow entryway. The one on the right is another rendition of the Rape of the Sabine Women.

Augustus Caesar Porta – A second prominent statue of Augustus greets those who come through the main entryway. At seven feet, the bronze statue is smaller than the one located at the vehicular entrance to the casino. Supposedly, it is good luck to rub Caesar’s left index finger.

Three Muses – The large oval hotel lobby stretches out to the left of the Caesar statue. A marble rendering of the three graces or muses, stands in the center of a large fountain. The muses represent music, poetry, and the fine arts. Their Greek names are Aglala, Thalia, and Euphrosyne. Christian Romans renamed them Faith, Hope, and Charity. The hotel adorns them with beautiful bouquets on holidays.

Sculpted ceilings and ornate details make this hotel lobby a tourist attraction in itself. Sarno insisted the lighting fixtures represent the sun, in homage to the archaic Roman god, Sol. The Mural behind the reception desk depicts the chariot of Helios pulling the sun across the sky. When his son, Phaeton, tried to drive the chariot and lost control, he flew too close to the earth, causing burning and destruction. Only the intervention of Zeus saved the earth.

Capture of the Sabine Women Another depiction of this scene, a white marble bas-relief wall, appears near the Bacchanal Buffet. Representations of this incident intrigued Sarno. Artists often relished the challenge to present this complex tension-filled scene.

         Cleopatra’s Barge replicates an ornate craft that reputedly transported Egyptian royalty on the Nile River. The gilded, well-endowed figurehead of the queen of the Nile juts from the prow of the barge into the guest passageway and attracts the male gaze. The barge rests on an arroyo and during the infrequent rains in Las Vegas it actually floats. This craft holds a classic nightclub featuring live music where customers can literally rock the boat. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall made this bar their own private clubhouse. Cleopatra marks the heart of the man’s world in Caesars. The barge is located across from an exclusive steak house and an expensive cigar bar that features straight shots of premium bourbon. The nearby Payard Patisserie provides an excellent place for a latte, a pastry, and a moment’s rest from an atmosphere redolent with machismo.

A second and more impressive David than the one located at the main entrance to Caesars stands in the atrium of the Appian Way shops. It measures eighteen-feet high and weighs more than nine tons. Art historian Mel McCombie (2001) noted that, due to the architectural design of the building, the startling first view of this famous statue is “from the waist down” (58). This often startles busy shoppers who view it after turning a corner. Those who hesitate often become unwitting victims for zealous sales people selling skin care products.

Joe Louis – The statue of the “Brown Bomber” stands at floor level at the entrance to the sports book. People love walking up to it and having their picture taken with the “champ.” This statue stands seven and a half feet tall and weighs four thousand, five hundred pounds. Louis, portrayed in a boxer’s crouch, was the world heavyweight-boxing champion from 1937-1949. Louis won fifty-two of his fights by knockout. He fought in twenty-seven championship fights. He joined the Army during World War II, tirelessly entertaining his fellow soldiers with exhibition boxing matches.

This casino has a special relationship with Louis. The IRS hounded Louis for back taxes and he experienced financial difficulties in the 1970s. Ash Resnick, the vice-president of Caesars and an Army friend, gave the popular boxer a job as a greeter (McKenzie 1). In 1981, Louis died of a heart attack at age sixty-six. Jesse Jackson and Frank Sinatra delivered eulogies in the sports book (“Services Friday” 1). Congress passed legislation to bury Louis in Arlington National Cemetery.

Poker Room – Serious card-players gravitate to the hushed confines of the poker room located in front of the Colosseum near the race and sports book. Sarno’s underlying message of catering to well-heeled gamblers permeates this bastion of male privilege. Pictures of modern day gladiators and women as objects decorate the walls. LeRoy Nieman’s (1921-2012) energetic paintings include the series Girls of Caesars Palace, featuring a wine server, a lifeguard, a roulette attendant, and a dealer. Neil Leifer’s famous Sports Illustrated photograph of the knockout in the Ali-Liston 1964 championship fight is prominently displayed.

The Colosseum – Management replaced the Circus Maximus showroom with a one hundred-million-dollar Colosseum in 2003 to house the Celine Dion musical performance. Some aspects of the contemporary architecture reflect the lines of the Roman Colosseum. The name of that ancient structure is the Latin word for gigantic. One difference between the two structures is that the one in Rome was a stadium for 50,000 citizens and the one in Las Vegas is a theater seating 4,298 people.

The Busts of Three Emperors -Three unidentified busts of possibly Tacitus, Hadrian, and Augustus sit in a small alcove near the Beijing Noodle #9 Chinese restaurant.

Fortuna – A 25-foot statue of the Roman goddess of luck and the dawn marks the entrance to the Forum shops. She holds a cornucopia containing the riches she gives to her followers. In ancient Rome, she oversaw the distribution of grain to the poor, thus her reputation for justice and fairness. She often appears blindfolded in front of courthouses across the United States. The Greeks called her Tyche. They considered her luck capricious, while the Romans thought luck came to those whom the gods favored. At her feet lies an excellent interactive map to guide shoppers through the cobblestone streets of the Forum.

Diana, the goddess of the hunt and wild animals, brought fertility to her worshipers. The original of the life-size marble statue resides in the Louvre Museum. It is a 1st or 2nd century copy of a lost Greek bronze original attributed to Leochares (c. 325). Like so many other statues, someone “discovered” it. A bronze copy of the statue (1813) stands in the gardens of Fontainebleau.

This posh, upscale Xanadu forms the glittering heart of the city of lights. It is an adult male playground. However, its constant expansion with the addition of new luxury hotel towers created a sprawling and confusing layout. Guests trek a long winding way from the check-in desk to the original Forum towers. Given time, a man can find everything he desires: sports book, poker room, steak house, cigar bar, top entertainment, and of course, all types of gambling from slots to Pai Gow. Replica art enhances the Palace, fleshing out the theme of Roman grandeur. Anonymous busts lend dignity to countless niches and alcoves. Statues of Caesar, Cleopatra, and Joe Louis perpetuate good luck rituals and motivate gamblers to take a chance. Alpha males find Caesars synonymous with luxury, enticement, and privilege.

 

A Consumer’s Dream

When in Vegas Shop as the Romans Do.

(When in Vegas, Ad)

There is no question that Caesars markets to aggressive, risk-taking, testosterone-fueled men. With this obvious emphasis on capturing male patrons, one might inquire, “is there anything that appeals to women or to both men and women?” Fifty years of management elicited a simple response, “Yes, welcome to the Forum!” A Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Bureau survey (2017) indicated that only 5% of visitors come to the largest city in Nevada to gamble, that is fourth on the list of why people visit Las Vegas. It ranks after vacations (48%), visiting friends and relatives (14%), and attending a convention (10%). The survey also indicated that once visitors arrived, 74% spent money shopping (Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority 15). Management eventually saw that the future of business in Las Vegas lay in shopping, and in 1992 opened the stores at the Forum.

Named after the shops at the center of ancient Rome, the Forum is a 636,000-square foot shopping mall built as an extension wing of the main complex. It is known as one of the shopping wonders of the world. “Its lavish Romanesque architecture and décor welcome you to luxury shopping, dining, and entertainment unlike anywhere else” (Vegas Magazine). This is not an ordinary shopping mall, “The statues talk. The sky does tricks” (Emperors Guide 1). The spiral escalator is one of 103 in the world. Ceiling lights simulate a complete cycle of night and day every hour. Computer controlled laser projectors replicate the starry skies at night. Small replicas of Greek and Roman statues occupy the niches above the shops.

This area contains 270 specialty stores and restaurants. The directory of the Forum Shops indicates there are twice as many women’s apparel shops as those for men. Armani, Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Cartier, and Versace appeal to women. There are numerous specialty stores for men including Fossil, Rolex, Tag Heuer, Montblanc, Brietling, and Harley Davidson. In marketing, status comes from the brand, how much you paid for it, and where you bought it.

The Forum at Caesars Palace is highly effective in marketing a post-modern demonstration of the logic of consumer capitalism (McCombie 53). It is the highest grossing mall in the United States with annual sales of $1,610 per square foot. Michael Schulman, author and Las Vegas expert, observed people come to Vega predisposed to spend money. Even if it is a store they have at home, people are more likely to splurge because, psychologically, the strings on the purse are loose (1). The authors witnessed a couple encumbered with four large shopping bags filled with Sketchers, a popular type of inexpensive tennis shoe, they could easily purchase at a neighborhood Wal-Mart store.

There are several large fountains in the Forum. The Bernini fountain at the entrance of the shops is a copy of the one located in the Piazza Navona in Rome. A copy of the Roman Trevi fountain stands mid-way through the Forum shops. The Fountain of the Gods features a large statue of Artemis. Caesars donates the coins visitors toss into these fountains to Vegas Strong.

The Fall of Atlantis Fountain provides a dramatic rendering of a myth. Located near the very end of the mall near the Apple Store, Nike outlet, and Cheese Cake Factory, this fountain features fire, water, smoke, and storytelling. Eerie nine-foot animated figures elicit an “uncanny valley” effect. The more human animatronic figures appear, the more repellent they become. The fire, water, smoke effects, as well as the teeth-rattling narration makes introverts cringe. However, it is free and crowds thrill to this story of the myth of Atlantis, every hour on the hour.

The fifty-thousand-gallon Salt Water Aquarium located behind the Atlantis Fountain features over five hundred large tropical fish including sharks and stingrays. This, the most popular attraction in the entire Forum, absolutely enthralls children. Indeed, all ages delight in this spectacular display of aquatic creatures.

Sociologists George Ritzer and Todd Stillman argued that Caesars Palace and the Forum shops established a new paradigm for the means of consumption (83). This complex attracts large numbers of customers using art and architecture to entice them. An aura of opulence makes it possible for men and women to spend without regret, often purchasing more than is prudent. Caesars implodes the boundary between touring and consuming. “Although tourism has always involved the consumption of goods and services, in Las Vegas consumption has become the main point of touring” (Ritzer & Stillman 92). Most people go to the entertainment capital of the World with the intention of spending time and money, whether gambling in the casinos, trying out the rides in the amusement parks, or shopping at the malls. Customers designate new values for commodities based not on their intrinsic worth, but on what items purchased at the prestigious Caesars Palace say about the buyer.

 

Conclusion

Phantasmagorias are not mere illusions.

(Khatib 4)

Caesars meant business the day of the grand opening on 5 August 1966. Jay Sarno dreamed of building a casino-hotel that afforded the consumer the best of everything. This Las Vegas landmark still does just that. The themes created by the replica statues remain much the same, as does the attention to the desires of male high stakes gamblers. However, the directors of Caesars Entertainment Corporation realized the market had changed. When gambling declined to fourth on the list of why people visit Las Vegas, management focused on improving amenities like five star restaurants, entertainment, and shopping.

A number of scholars contributed fresh meanings to an understanding of Sarno’s dream. Storey’s notion of high and low culture made clear how replications brought the art of museums to new purpose and audience. In so doing, the Palace became a dynamic part of popular culture. Ironically, the Palace, like ancient Rome, contains artifacts from around the world. Postmodernists Baudrillard, Jameson, and Venturi provided a basis for a close examination of the simulacrum, pastiche, and theme of this iconic landmark.

An additional study investigated various economic aspects of this modern hotel-casino. Stillman and Ritzer explained the implications of the tremendous monetary engine of this complex, which they described as a “Cathedral of Consumption.” They elucidated the phenomenon of advanced capitalism, in that the value of goods may depend on the brand name or where the consumers bought them.

An examination of the replica art found in the gardens, casino, and Forum utilized the philosophy of Barthes in understanding the connotations of a work of art: what we don’t see is as important as what we do see. Benjamin’s thoughts shed light on the flexibility, decorativeness, and accessibility of replica art. These copies of famous art created a phantasmagoria of light and sound, a dream that was more than an illusion. This reality based on fantasy enabled the directors of the corporation to build a profitable empire appealing to the full range of consumer’s appetites. Caesars means business. It always has, but it also exhibits the way post-modern corporations seduce customers by providing them with an imaginary world where money can satisfy their needs and wants. Certainly, this is fitting for the legacy of a dissolute man named Jay Sarno who believed Gaius Julius Caesar’s maxim, “Creating is the essence of life” (“Julius Caesar Quotes”).

 

 

 

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