How Derek Stevens’ Circa dream came true

It’s bold. It’s cool. It’s sexy. It’s impressive.

It’s Circa.

Derek Stevens’ baby is being welcomed to the world on Oct. 28. But it’s a baby that has already grown up. In fact, the 777-room resort in Downtown Las Vegas was built with adults in mind. The Circa Resort & Casino will be the only 21-and-over exclusive property in the city.

“I wanted to get some of the old Vegas vibe back when it was an adult playground,” said Stevens, who is Circa’s CEO. “We think we’ve done that with Circa.

“We’re coming in with a gambler’s perspective. When you come to Circa, you’re going to feel special.”

Stevens has the distinction of owning Downtown Las Vegas’ oldest casino — the Golden Gate — and its newest with Circa. He also owns the D Las Vegas, located at Fremont and 3rd Streets. He is truly the “Dean of Downtown.”

“And they’re right across the street from each other,” he said of Circa and the Golden Gate, which opened in 1906 and are located at the intersection of Fremont and Main Streets.

So how did this all come to be?

“Growing up (in Michigan), I never dreamed of owning a casino,” Stevens said. 

“My first dream was to be a baseball player or a fireman or a garbageman. But my athletic career ended in high school.

“I remember my first visit to Vegas and it was so much fun. I’ve kept coming back and that’s what was the inspiration for building Circa. I wanted a place where people can come and enjoy themselves.”

Stevens didn’t restrict his imagination when it came to the Circa concept. Unlike his two other casinos, he had a blank canvas from which to create a masterpiece and see his vision come to fruition.

An avid sports bettor, he built the world’s biggest sportsbook, three stories high with huge screens, comfortable seats and a studio for the Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSiN) to broadcast from.

He didn’t build one nice pool. He built six in a stadium-like setting complete with swim-up bars and gigantic video screens to watch games. It is aptly dubbed Stadium Swim and it will be open year-round.

“I’ve been to all the pools in Vegas and the thing that frustrated me the most was I’d go to the pool but couldn’t find a TV to watch the game,” Stevens said. “We won’t have that problem here (with Stadium Swim).”

The casino will have the latest in games, 120 of which are debuting with the property’s opening. And when visitors are hungry, there’s a wide variety of dining options, from a deli and food truck to an upscale steakhouse run by noted chef Barry Dakake.

And when the property’s rooms open on Dec. 28, guests will sleep on king-sized beds with top-quality linens. Each room is appointed with multiple outlets for guests to use their technological toys.

“Every bed is a King,” he said. “These rooms are built for today’s people and today’s needs.”

Stevens appears to have thought of everything. But while human babies take nine months to produce, Circa took considerably longer.

“This has really been a five-year project,” Stevens said. “We needed an entire city block to do it the way we wanted. So after we acquired the Las Vegas Club, we had to get the Glitter Gulch and Little Mermaids properties. Once we had those, we were able to move forward.”

Even the unfortunate timing of a health crisis didn’t stop the process.

“The big challenge was the changing rules for construction,” Stevens said of the coronavirus pandemic altering normal life in mid-March with the shutting down of all non-essential businesses, which included casinos. “Fortunately, the Governor (Steve Sisolak) was willing to make construction an exception and we were able to dedicate our work to the first two floors.”

The dream was able to continue.

“I’m optimistic by nature,” he said. “I always believed we would get it done and on time.”

Stevens also had the good fortune to have his staff in place during the duration of Circa’s construction. They are loyal and knowledgeable and the emphasis on customer service that exists at Stevens’ other properties will be on full display at Circa.

“We want people to feel like our property is their home,” he said. “I love when people come to visit us.”

He has kept the vision for Circa in the family. His brother Greg is his partner in the project and he also happens to be a civil engineer. Greg Stevens worked with the project’s engineers on an air filtration system that will have fresh air circulating from the floor up rather than the ceiling down. It should help the air quality in the casino and make for a healthier environment.

Stevens has always believed in Downtown Las Vegas and he is convinced Circa will raise the area’s profile significantly.

“I think the location was the right one,” he said. “The concept is right and the timing is right. Visitation is picking up and I have no doubt we’ll be back to the way it was.”

Thanks to Stevens’ vision, it’s already back. And as he embarks upon his new journey, he does so with great anticipation.

“It’s a combination of excitement and a little nervous adrenaline,” he said.