The Secret Life of an Iconic Las Vegas Casino Carpet

El Cortez Hotel & Casino bids farewell to its legendary rose carpet but not without fanfare

By Nicole Cormier

Let’s talk about casino carpet. Seriously. Believe it or not, a ton of people are really into the wild flooring that adorns casino floors, as we learned from the rabid outpouring when El Cortez replaced their rose covered carpet last fall.  But what’s the big deal? It’s just a surface that hundreds of thousands of people tread on each day as they make their way to their favorite machine, table game or hotel room. It’s easy to take for granted, but when you take the time to actually look at it, there’s a lot going on there. 

In fact, it was probably best portrayed in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” through the eyes of Hunter S. Thompson as played by Johnny Depp. 

The carpets do almost seem alive, don’t they?

Why are Las Vegas Carpets So Busy?

The legacy of the crazy carpet phenomenon can be loosely dated. David G. Schwartz, professor and the associate vice provost for faculty affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and longtime carpet appreciator, says that the tradition can be traced back to “places such as Reno’s Riverside Hotel Casino in the 1930s.” But why?

It’s not exactly a science. In fact, their actual purpose—outside literally covering the concrete—is shrouded in lore. Maybe you’ve heard that they’re deliberately busy to keep gamblers disoriented, drawing their eyes up to focus on the machines. Or that they’re part of an elaborate scheme to obscure dropped chips to serve as an additional revenue stream for the casino. Turns out, there’s no confirmation of either of these theories, so are they really this crazy on accident? Not exactly. The busy patterns and vibrant colors hide stains, dirt and debris while masking the wear of being trod on by the millions of annual visitors. Also, they’re pretty damn cool. 

Ugly, gaudy, tacky, charming, mesmerizing. Whatever you think about the loud casino carpet is matched with an equally passionate opposing position. 

And as far as we can tell, no one has been as enamored by a carpet as fans of the El Cortez.

The El Cortez’ Rose Carpet

It’s not surprising that the downtown casino and hotel is one of the more beloved institutions in the city. As one of the oldest casinos in town, it embodies the nostalgia people feel for “old Vegas” while also being completely unpretentious. As part of their $25 million renovation of the hotel tower, the El Cortez replaced the rose carpet that was installed in 2007. With the news came an outpouring of support for the floral flooring, which inspired many photo tributes on Instagram and outcries for its preservation. The El Cortez team listened, offering up framed carpet swatches for sale in its gift shop. But why were people so connected to a design element that was installed in the 2000s?

“The carpet design was unique and attractive, but I think it has more to do with the attachment people feel towards El Cortez and our rich history than the actual carpet,” says Adam Wiesberg, general manager of El Cortez Hotel & Casino. “Nostalgia for vintage Vegas is so strong, and El Cortez is where that history is preserved, so anything that represents that is powerful.”

That admiration for Vegas kitsch and the feeling it inspires does seem to be uniquely millennial. 

“Everyone 35 and younger who experienced their first drink or gamble at El Cortez was standing on the rose carpet, so for that demographic, it has an especially strong connection.” Wiesberg points out. 

When the rose carpet hit the gift shop, it went fast—selling out immediately. But even in their eagerness, the patrons kept it classy. 

“We ended up with about 100 pieces, and we received almost that many online requests. I still receive carpet emails every day, and even the people who are told they are too late are respectful and appreciative for the response.” Wiesberg said. “The support and love for El Cortez in this community and beyond is what makes this such a great property to be a part of.” 

They may be undergoing a revamp, but from the top down, they’re paying close attention to the details.

“Everything we do here starts with respecting our history, so ownership worked with designers to come up with a pattern that was inspired by vintage Havana, Cuba in the mob heyday.” Wiesberg explains. “El Cortez was owned by Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, who also had ties to the Havana casinos, so our new vintage hotel hallways have that vintage Havana style, and now the casino carpet does as well. We also replaced the carpet with the same high-quality, woven Brinton’s carpet we used in 2007.”

Gaudy or Gorgeous? You Decide

Those mourning the retirement of the rose carpet can rest easy knowing it won’t go to waste. Most old carpet is recycled and continues its renaissance living below another bright and cheery carpet as padding. 

Although you can’t grab a unique piece of El Cortez’ history, you can still get the next best thing. Battle Born Pins immortalized the now-iconic rose carpet in metallic form, which is available on their website.  

If nothing else, next time you’re in a casino, look down. You may just become a casino carpet-phile yourself. 

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