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Neon Museum Talk Explores Las Vegas' Family-Friendly Era

Keoni Cabral/Flickr

There was a time, not too long ago, when Las Vegas marketed itself as a family-friendly destination, rather than a place for adults to let loose.

There was the pirate-themed Treasure Island, Wet 'n' Wild on the Strip, and MGM Grand even built a theme park.

Those days seem long gone, but a talk Oct. 18 at the Neon Museum will explore how and why Las Vegas tried to appeal to kids in the 1990s, and how the city became known as an “Adult Disneyland.” 

Geoff Schumacher with the Mob Museum told KNPR's State of Nevada that the effort to draw in more families came when casino companies started building massive resorts in the late '80s and early '90s. 

He said casinos needed to attract more than just couples and adults to fill the 4,000-room resorts being built. 

They started adding arcades, kid-friendly shows and other attractions like the theme park behind the MGM Grand hotel-casino to attract families. 

But then, it ended. 

“I think it backfired," Schumacher said. "Suddenly, guess what? There were all kinds of kids in our casinos. We don’t want any kids in our casinos.”

Financially, some of the kid-friendly attractions, like the MGM's theme park, did not do as well as high-end entertainment, restaurants and retail. 

Schumacher said when casino marketing departments started advertising that they were family friendly, many casino executives pulled back from the idea. 

“And then you saw the advent of the 'What happens here stays here' campaign, which was very much geared toward saying to the world, 'We’re for adults — this is not for kids,'” he said.

However, artist Michael Wardle, who worked on several hotels during the time period, including the Luxor's Nile River ride and King Tut's tomb, said that while casinos don't want it widely known - Las Vegas is still a place to bring the family.

“What they’re doing now is more specialized targeted advertising," he said. "They don’t want to tell the public-at-large that this is a family place, but they are telling the families that this is a family place” 

Geoff Schumacher, director of content, Mob Museum; Michael Wardle, artist

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.