Posted on: October 7, 2022, 09:05h.
Last updated on: October 7, 2022, 09:45h.
According to a pervasive Las Vegas myth, the mouth of the old MGM Grand lion served as the casino hotel’s entrance. Even the Pulitzer Prize-winning Las Vegas Sun described the original MGM Grand entrance in March 2001 as “A huge lion head with its wide-open mouth serving as the doorway.” As you can see from the photo below, this just wasn’t true.
The lion’s mouth myth is more explainable than most this series has busted. That’s because it was actually circulated by the hotel’s corporate owners, then repeated over the ensuing decades by journalists who didn’t bother fact-checking. MGM Grand CEO Terry Lanni – who took over when the casino hotel was two years old in 1995 – frequently cited the lion’s-mouth entrance as a prime example of the failure of corporations to give proper consideration to cultural sensitivities.
It has been widely reported that many Chinese gamblers believe that traveling anywhere through a representation of a lion’s mouth invites bad luck – not nearly as much bad luck as traveling through an actual lion’s mouth, presumably. But enough.
It wasn’t literally true (that they entered through the lion’s mouth),” former MGM Mirage executive spokesperson Alan Feldman told Casino.org. “But many customers believed it to have the same negative vibes, and refused to use that entrance.”
In 2014, Casino.org’s own Scott Roeben published a “Vital Vegas” blog listing eight fascinating Chinese gambling superstitions that Las Vegas casinos heed to try to please their high-rollers from China. These superstitions explain why, for instance, both the Rio and Encore casino hotels are entirely missing floors 40-49. The number 4 is considered unlucky because it sounds like the Chinese word for death.
Lion in Wait
Lanni replaced the lion with the current one in 1998. It was sculpted by Snellen Maurice Johnson, a convicted con man who changed the course of his life by becoming an artist. Reportedly the second-largest bronze statue in the world – after a Hong Kong Buddha that stands 90 feet – Johnson’s gold bronze-polished lion stands 45 feet, weighs 50 tons, and sits atop a 25-foot pedestal.
Oh, and its name is not Leo. Leo was the name of the original MGM Grand lion, after the one who roars at the start of all MGM films. (Actually, there were 11 different movie Leos, and the original one was named Slats. But let’s stick to busting one lion myth at a time.)
Today’s MGM Grand lion is called, simply, Grand Lion.
In addition to switching lions, Lanni ditched the MGM Grand’s original Wizard of Oz-themed area and ill-conceived amusement park, replaced several restaurants, and built the Mansion, a group of 29 individually designed Mediterranean-themed residences.
Feldman did state another reason the original MGM Grand lion had to go, by the way – one based on a more indisputable fact.
“It was also ugly,” he said.
Look for “Vegas Myths Busted” every Friday on Casino.org. Click here to read previously busted Vegas myths.
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