Almost Leaving Las Vegas

Luxe resorts far off the Strip offer a different kind of Vegas vibe.

At the main entrance of Las Vegas' newest pleasure palace, guests are greeted by a reflecting pool decorated with palm trees, a waterfall, and torches that shoot flames three feet into the air. Inside hang dozens of crystal chandeliers -- nine miles' worth of glass if their pendants were laid end to end -- that fill the lobby and centermost bar like a low-hanging electrical storm. In the garage, a half-dozen maroon limousines sit waiting to be dispatched for high rollers.

Everything is in place for the Apr. 18 opening of the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa. Just don't expect to find the $925 million property along the city's famous Strip. Red Rock is located 12 miles west, in Summerlin, a vast expanse of tract housing that calls itself "Las Vegas' premier master planned community."

What? Go to Sin City and stay in the 'burbs? Frank and Dino would have dropped their martinis at the idea. But Red Rock is just the latest in a string of luxury hotels that have opened up far from the Vegas action. The 400-room resort was developed by Las Vegas-based (STN ) Station Casinos. It is targeting what Chief Executive Frank Fertitta III calls "tourists in the know."

Not long ago the formula for off-the-Strip properties was simple: cheap food and better odds. But that's no longer the case. In 2001, Station opened the $500 million Green Valley Ranch, a 490-room Strip-worthy casino hotel about 10 miles southeast of the Bellagio and its ilk.

Red Rock, too, is looking for guests who want to be pampered. It's designed in a "desert modern" style that Fertitta and his brother, Lorenzo, Station's president, say harks back to the glory days of Vegas resorts such as the Sands and the Desert Inn in the 1950s and '60s. Its name and ample quantities of sandstone and rock play off the austere beauty of nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Red Rock is dedicated to creature comforts, including suites with flat-panel TVs in the bathrooms. A basic suite for Memorial Day weekend costs $220 per night, vs. $380 for a comparable room at THEHotel at Mandalay Bay on the Strip.

Another developer who shares the Fertittas' vision is Ronald Boeddeker. In the mid-1980s he began acquiring land in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, 19 miles east of the Strip. After failing to get the big casino operators interested, he developed the resort himself, taking seven years to build a dam across a municipal water shed and fill a 320-acre body of water he called Lake Las Vegas. Boeddeker's first hotel, a Hyatt, opened in 1999. A 349-room Mediterranean-themed Ritz-Carlton followed four years later.

Lake Las Vegas visitors can fish and sail, play golf on two hillside courses, or stroll through a replica of an Italian village. Construction trucks still rumble through on a regular basis, building what Boeddeker says will ultimately be 9,000 high-end homes.

For those who want to see Vegas without hordes of tourists and conventioneers, the off-the-Strip hotels are an alternative. On a recent Thursday morning the little casino at Lake Las Vegas' Hyatt was practically empty. "This is where they'll teach you how to play," Boeddeker says. They'll teach you on the Strip, too. But you may have to elbow your way to a table.

By Christopher PalmerI

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