pools with people in front of a large screen showing sports
All of this, plus Usher. | Courtesy of Circa Resort & Casino
All of this, plus Usher. | Courtesy of Circa Resort & Casino

This Super Bowl, Place Your Bets Poolside at Las Vegas’s Splashiest Sports Resort

Circa Resort & Casino goes all in on the future of downtown Vegas, while preserving its rhinestone past.

With a year of unparalleled activity and worldwide attention ahead, Las Vegas is in the midst of a major transformation. This week, all bets are off as we head to the desert to explore this exciting moment and what it means for the future of Sin City. Read more here.

It emerges like a pixelated oasis in the Nevada desert, one that could easily be a mirage. A towering 143-foot screen, showing any game your heart desires, and at its feet six—count ‘em, six!—heated rectangular pools. They’re spaced in pairs, gently tiered upward, all the better to allow year-round swimsuit-clad revelers unobstructed views of the rippling, sunlit projection. If you get bored of the televised action, there are two swim-up bars, another if you feel like walking, hot tubs, Blackjack at the outdoor casino, and mountains in the distance to distract your gaze. Go ahead and stretch out on a cabana, a daybed, or a chaise lounge—there are over 300 to choose from.

This is Stadium Swim, a main attraction of Las Vegas’s sporty and thriving Circa Resort & Casino. The first downtown casino built from the ground up since 1980, the bigger-is-better property opened in October 2020 on the former site of the freshly razed sports-themed Las Vegas Club, which also served as the Circa's inspiration. And just as Vegas owes its existence to the natural springs that once flowed underground in this very area (Las Vegas translates to “the meadows,” thanks to Spanish colonizers who noticed the spring-fed grass), downtown's long awaited revival could very well hinge on these multiple turquoise lagoons.

a tall shiny hotel with an outdoor pool setup
She's a looker. | Courtesy of Circa Resort & Casino

Just don’t call them pools—well, not just pools. “We didn’t build [Stadium Swim] to be the best pool in Las Vegas, we built it to be the best outdoor aquatheater in the country,” says owner Derek Stevens, himself a larger than life mogul with a keen interest in the revitalization of downtown Vegas. Along with his brother, Greg, he also owns the historic Golden Gate Hotel & Casino—a former haunt of the Rat Pack and home to both famous shrimp cocktails and the first telephone in the city—and The D, short for both downtown and Detroit, the brothers’ home state. The pair also constructed the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, an endeavor that came in handy when testing the waters for Stadium Swim, so to speak.

“We were doing a lot of trial and error in the Center for years,” explains Stevens. “We actually went out and bought a 200-foot above-ground pool and put it out there during events and concerts.” The goal was to see how people would react, and the experiment proved fruitful. “It was pretty amazing,” says Stevens. “During a concert, people would jump into the pool.” That led to putting a bar next to the pool, which also went, ahem, swimmingly. “It really added to a vibe and element that we wanted to incorporate into Stadium Swim.”

sports fans cheering in a casino stadium bar
It's the world's largest sportsbook, they say. We'll be the judge of that. | Circa Las Vegas

On any given Sunday, Stadium Swim is a go-to for sports viewing revelry, so you can imagine that February 11’s Super Bowl LVIII screening will be nothing short of epic. (There’s even talk of pyrotechnics.) Tickets are on sale now for Stadium Swim’s Big Game Bash, which, like any self-respecting Super Bowl party, obviously includes a fully stocked buffet.

But should you not be into stuffing your face in swimwear, the party at Circa luckily isn’t confined to the outdoors. The hotel and casino also houses the World’s Largest Sportsbook: a massive, immersive three-story affair that’s almost like being there. They’ll be throwing a less slippery version of the Big Game Bash, but if you forget to reserve a spot, just grab a seat at Circa’s MegaBar—at 165 feet, it’s the longest indoor bar in Nevada. Here, the entertainment extends well beyond big screens—the bartenders also do flair.

“There’s no better place on earth to watch the Super Bowl than Las Vegas,” says Stevens. “You can quote me on that.”

a vintage photo of downtown las vegas with neon signs
Vegas Vickie in her younger years. | Thomas Janisch/MomentMobile/Getty Images

From the future to the neon past

Like a shiny new friend that insists that there’s more to them than meets the eye, Circa isn’t merely a sports fanatic. It’s also invested in its neighborhood’s history—but, for the record, not its more explicit aspects.

“I never owned a strip club, by the way,” says Stevens. “It’s probably important that you know that.” Nothing against strip clubs, it’s just logistics. When the Stevens brothers purchased Mermaids Casino and the Girls of Glitter Gulch strip club—the only establishment of its type in downtown Vegas—they bought them purely for the land. “They closed those businesses down one day at 11:59 pm, and we bought the physical assets at midnight,” he says. “I never had a business license for Mermaids or Glitter Gulch.”

The former casino and strip club were then razed, in addition to the Las Vegas Club, which the brothers had already purchased, but one very important piece of history was salvaged from the wreckage. For almost three decades, a 20-foot-tall neon blonde buxom cowgirl named Vegas Vickie kicked her leg up over the Glitter Gulch. Designed by Charles F. Bradley of Ad Art and unveiled in 1980, she would be a companion to the less flashy Vegas Vic, an amiable flannel-shirted cowboy erected atop the Pioneer Club in 1951 that still welcomes folks on Fremont Street to this day (though his once-waving arm is sadly now static and he no longer greets visitors with “Howdy, pardner!”). In 1994, Vic and Vickie even got “married” to commemorate the canopied pedestrian zone, the Fremont Street Experience, which now hosts regular light shows and its very own zip line.

a neon sign of a cowgirl kicking up her leg
Vegas Vickie all dolled up in her new incarnation. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images Entertainment

These days, however, Vic stands alone, a stiff, silent, lonely bachelor. In 2017, Vickie was dismantled as part of the demolition to make way for Circa. But like the shining star she is, she wasn’t in her dark crates for long.

“I’ve always thought that when you own casinos, in some ways we’re a private company, but there’s a little bit of an element where there’s a public asset—I feel a responsibility to the community that we need to preserve, protect, and carry on some legacy,” says Stevens, recognizing Vickie’s nostalgic allure, not to mention advertising potential. “We thought that was something pretty cool that would make people want to come inside our casino.”

Vickie was refurbished by the legendary Young Electric Sign Company or YESCO, who sanded her down, gave her a pop of paint, fixed up her lights, and also put in a new motor for her kicking leg. It was a surgery that would cost in the tens of thousands, but it was worth it. Vickie would not just be resurrected at Circa, she would become integral to the resort’s design.

Today, you can visit her in all her fringed glory in the lobby, where she adorns her very own glitzy cocktail bar. Try a Leg Kick, loaded with Jameson, Cynar, strawberry, mint, and grapefruit, or a Moulin Rouge, named after the first racially integrated casino in the US. Whatever you do, it’s probably best not to bring up ol’ stiff-armed Vic, left outside in the (relative) cold.

A name to end all names

Which brings us to the name: What does Circa mean, exactly? According to Stevens, it encompasses both the city’s history and future—circa whenever, if you will. Situated right on the very street where Las Vegas was born, the resort’s website spells it out for those left questioning: “Circa is the conduit between the Las Vegas of yesterday and the Las Vegas of tomorrow.”

Pick a decade, any decade, and you’ll probably see some representation: Art Deco motifs are sprinkled throughout the property’s 512 rooms, the upscale Barry’s Steakhouse is a vintage throwback, and Vegas Vickie comes to us straight from the bombastic, neon-lit ‘80s. And as for the multi-level Stadium Swim and the World’s Largest Sportsbook, they’re the future.

A skyline view from the rooftop bar and club at Circa
The terrace of the Legacy Club. | Circa Las Vegas

But to get a real feel for the city’s dazzling heyday in the context of today, head to the 60th floor, where the indoor-outdoor Legacy Club rooftop bar showcases views that stretch all the way to the Strip. At the entrance, you’re introduced to a slate of black and white photographs and 11 bronze busts of the city’s so-called “founding fathers”—characters ranging from Jackie Gaughan of the El Cortez to Howard Hughes to the ubiquitous Steve Wynn. And then there’s the one and only Benny Binion. A gambler and racketeering maniac, Binion’s Horseshoe is credited with pumping tourist blood into the Glitter Gulch thanks to all the $2 steaks and the then-novel free drinks it routinely dished out to those who played.

Perpetually stylish with gold coins for buttons, Binion was also quite adept at inspiring his patrons to part with their money. Legendary was Binion’s Million, a display of a million dollars in denominations of $10,000 bills dangling from a six-foot horseshoe. People would come from far and wide to stare longingly at the icon and snap a free photo-op with the cash. An estimated 5,000,000 Polaroids were taken at the site until the whole wad was eventually sold in 2000.

gold bars stacked
This could all be yours... in a picture. | Courtesy of Circa Resort & Casino

But now, thanks to Circa, downtown Vegas promises a new opportunity to pose with a wealth definitely not your own. In a nod to Binion, the Legacy Club showcases 500 gold bars stacked tall in a glass case display. Above it hovers a ticker, denoting the load’s current net worth according to the precious metal’s daily value. Visitors are encouraged to stand in front and pose for a photo-op, and even make a drinking game out of it: As the value fluctuates, see who can take a photo with the highest number. And this time there’s no need for Polaroids. It’s 2024—that’s what smartphones are for.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She should probably go visit those gold bars.