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Ready or not, Venetian opens

$1.5 bil mega-resort still adding finishing touches

LAS VEGAS — The gala opening of the Venetian here, which threatened to be a public relations disaster, was pulled off, but not without several hitches.

The Strip’s latest upscale, European-flavored mega-resort, built at a cost of $1.5 billion, opened its doors to a restless public at 1 a.m. Tuesday, two hours past schedule and weeks after its original April 21 opening date. Clark County Building inspectors withheld their occupancy permit until the 11th hour, and even then they only certified the casino, the second floor mezzanine, two gift shops and one restaurant in the 32-story structure.

Finishing touches

At the VIP party inside the hotel, hard hats moved among the formally attired guests and hotel employees dressed in elaborate period costumes; the builders scrambled to work out the kinks as the festivities were occasionally interrupted by fire system warnings and flashing lights.

Approximately 300 journalists, who arrived a day earlier expecting to sample the hotel’s accommodations, were put up at Mandalay Bay and Luxor, while local media focused on picketing culinary union members and reports of three workers who died in January during the building’s construction.

Still, the Venetian’s opulent design — replete with facsimiles of Venice’s Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Square and a frescoed grand foyer that would not look out of place in the Vatican — impressed the VIPs in attendance, a mixture of celebs, Hollywood power players, gaming tycoons and politicos.

Loren launch

Sophia Loren, who earlier in the day christened the resort by smashing a bottle of champagne against the bow of a gondola, received the most attention by far at an event that at times played like a coronation for hotel developer Sheldon Adelson, looking to join the ranks of Steve Wynn.

Adelson played down any controversy by focusing on his master achievement: “Combine the excellence, luxury and romance of Venice and we’ll succeed.”

Despite the upscale appointments, the Venetian is decidedly inclusive, with $5 blackjack tables in ample supply for plebes who feel priced out at such high-end, Euro-styled competitors as the Bellagio and Monte Carlo. A full-scale opening pends completion of major construction work and is scheduled for mid-June.