Treasure Island celebrates 30 years of operation on the Las Vegas Strip

The Treasure Island resort on the Las Vegas Strip celebrated 30 years of history last week. At the time of the opening, Mirage Resorts developer Steve Wynn wanted to capture the imaginative spirit of Las Vegas through Treasure Island, which features a pirate theme inspired by the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Gamblers were first welcomed to the property on October 26th, and on October 27th the resort had a grand opening ceremony, followed by a one-week celebration. The resort opened in 1993, part of the boom at the Strip at the time, as operators tried to visitors through their latest novelties. 

Speaking to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Alan Feldman, former vice president of public relations for Mirage Resorts when Treasure Island opened, said that the property was originally viewed as a family-friendly option on the Strip, but was not meant to be just that.

Feldman said: “The story kind of got away from us a bit. That was really when we first started seeing all of this, ‘Vegas is for families.’ I’m doing interviews practically every day in the month leading up to and just after the opening saying, ‘No, no, no. Vegas isn’t for kids. It’s for the kids in all of us – adults. Not for children.’ But it was one of those stories that was just too good to tell.”

The inspiration for Treasure Island was inspired by a child-like fascination with a pirate adventure. According to Feldman, Wynn and Mirage Resorts project designers were encouraged by a concept presented by set designer John Napier. After working on a pirate-themed show, he sketched out a little pirate village and sent it to the Mirage team.

The pirate village featured a free entertainment show known as ‘Battle of Buccaneer Bay.’ Its climax was an intense battle between a pirate crew and a British ship on the property’s designed lagoon. The 11-minute show, which took place several times each evening, featured cannons, fireworks, and stunt work.

Apart from the free entertainment, Treasure Island also featured Cirque du Soleil, which opened ‘Mystère’ in December 1993, the longest-running Cirque show on the Strip.

Ownership of Treasure Island through the years

Mirage Resorts was purchased by MGM Resorts International, then known as MGM Grand Inc., in 2000, and renovations to the facility began shortly thereafter. The new operators wanted to attract a young adult crowd to compete with the Hard Rock Hotel and Palms.

The new firm, known at the time as MGM Mirage, did away with the skull-and-cross swords sign for the newly branded ‘T.I.’ marquee. Then, in 2003, ‘Sirens of TI,’ a new pirate fight with female cast members, directed by Kenny Ortega, eliminated the Disney-esque pirate performances in favor of sex appeal.

We’re trying to tell everybody, ‘Look, you can bring your kids to TI; you’re more than welcome. But you can also come by yourself.’ We are an adult destination,” then-Treasure Island President Scott Sibella told the Review-Journal that year. The new show ran for another 10 years.

During the Great Recession, businessman Phil Ruffin purchased the site from MGM. Ruffin made renovations to the property after the $775 million transaction was completed in March 2009. While new neighboring resorts like Las Vegas Sands’ Palazzo and Wynn Resorts’ Encore went upscale, he positioned the property as a midlevel resort.

Ruffin’s team traded out a high-end Italian restaurant for Gilley’s Saloon, a Western-style dance hall that existed at his last Strip property, the New Frontier. He also added a Señor Frogs, a popular Mexican-themed bar-restaurant brand in vacation spots.

Over the years, the changes continued with the addition of thousands of square feet of retail space, bringing the two decades of free pirate-themed shows for passersby to an end on the Strip in 2013. As per the report, Ruffin kept the pirate ships, and wedding packages were also offered inside.

In 2015, the resort also added The Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. attraction, which provided theme park-like interactivity to visitors. Each of the alterations was designed to attract pirate ship gawkers and to increase their spending on the site.

Ruffin continues to be the property’s owner and has subsequently increased his footprint in Las Vegas with the acquisition of Circus Circus in 2019. He has continued to hold onto it throughout the pandemic. According to Dawn Wolf, the resort’s vice president of brand marketing, the facility was one of the first on the Strip to reopen after state-mandated closures were lifted in June 2020.

In June 2021, Ruffin pushed for Mystere to reopen alongside Cirque’s “O”, and remains a “top seller” to date, Wolf said. The resort is 95 percent back to pre-pandemic operations.

Management intends to expand the property further

Resort management intends to reinvest further as other resorts evolve and new neighbors join the north Strip, including The Mirage’s shift to the Hard Rock, to maintain its position as the “best value” for its Strip location.

Neighboring a blossoming array of new gaming, entertainment, and hospitality options on the north Strip, TI has likewise invested significantly over its lifetime to maintain its stature as a top-visited hotel and casino,” Wolf told Review-Journal.

This includes The Cove, a bar and arcade with more than 50 video and other interactive games, near the property’s pool. The roughly 8,000-square-foot venue is expected to open in the first quarter of 2024.

There are a lot of dynamics currently evolving in the Las Vegas hospitality and entertainment market,” Wolf said in an email statement to the above-mentioned media. “We will continue to uphold the highest of guest expectations and offer the best accommodations, dining, and entertainment.”