Vegas Myths Re-Shattered: The old MGM Grand exploded after a fire


Published on: November 17, 2023 at 08:03 pm.

Last updated on: 17 November 2023 at 04:40 h.

Editor’s note: “Vegas Myths Busted” posts new entries every Monday, with a bonus Flashback Friday release. Today’s post in our ongoing series was originally published on August 26, 2022. The 43rd anniversary of the MGM fire is Tuesday, November 21, 2023.

There is a common myth surrounding the great fire that broke out at MGM on November 21, 1980. But beneath this myth, the truth is more disturbing than the fiction that obscures it.

1980 MGM Grand fire
A tragically avoidable fire at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas on November 21, 1980. Look at the hotel in this photo. Does it look familiar to you? He. She He should, And not because it was once the MGM Grand. (picture: Las Vegas Sun)

When the original MGM Grand opened in 1973 with more than 2,100 hotel rooms, it was known as one of the largest hotels in the world. But after November 21, 1980, the site became known only as the site of one of the world’s worst hotel fires.

The tragedy claimed 87 lives and changed the rules of firefighting across Nevada and the nation.

Only the Winecoff Hotel fire, which killed 119 people on December 7, 1946, in downtown Atlanta, was worse. Fortunately, helicopters from nearby Nellis Air Force Base could pluck more than 1,000 people from the roof of the MGM or else the death toll would break that record.


Many people believe that the MGM Grand was demolished after the devastating fire, either because of extensive fire damage or because the building had too much bad magic. This myth is so widespread that it appeared as fact in a 2009 edition of the magazine Frommer Las Vegas.

The truth is there He was The fire damaged the building, but was contained to the casino and first floor, and did not cause major structural damage. there He was Bad magic too, but it didn’t cause MGM to collapse and rebuild the property.

The original MGM was never demolished. Instead, the fire damage was repaired and the building was sold to Bally’s five years later. Under the sale, Bally’s changed the hotel to the iconic Bally’s Las Vegas. The new MGM Grand Hotel (which you know today with its mirrored windows and famous lion statue) opened in 1993, just south of the original MGM.

The original hotel tower where most of the deaths occurred is still in operation today.

Fireworks details

At 7 a.m. on November 21, 1980, a faulty wiring in a restaurant on the east end of the casino started a small fire. The deli wasn’t open yet; A casino worker noticed the smoke and called security. He frantically searched for a fire extinguisher, but couldn’t find it. At that time, there were no automatic sprinklers in that part of the casino.

The fire began climbing the wall of the restaurant at a speed of 17 feet per second. Four minutes after leaving the restaurant, she crashed into the front doors of the lobby and the glass shattered. Before firefighters could control the matter, they turned all stairs, elevator shafts and air conditioning ducts into chimneys.

More than 60 of the 87 victims on floors 19 to 24 of the hotel tower died, half of them in their rooms, from inhaling thick black smoke and carbon monoxide that flowed through air conditioning ducts and accumulated in a thick cloud. It is likely that many of the victims are still asleep in their beds.

Legacy in smoke

The MGM Grand reopened eight months after the fire with automatic sprinklers and a fire alarm system throughout the property. (Thanks to the fire, these buildings are now legally required.) As part of a $50 million remodel, a second 26-story tower was added later in 1981. But visits declined due to bad publicity of the fire and years of lawsuits that followed.

The investigation into the fire revealed many disturbing details. For example, installing automatic sprinklers recommended by the Las Vegas Fire Marshal, which were not yet required by law, would have added only $200,000 to the $106 million MGM Grand hotel construction cost from 1972 to 1973. However The hotel refused, and the Clark County Department of Buildings took its stand, saying that because the building was staffed 24/7, there was no need for automatic sprinklers throughout the building.

More than 1,350 legal claims resulted from deaths and injuries resulting from the fire, and MGM Grand eventually agreed to pay $223 million to settle them. Las Vegas, at the time, did not have enough law firms to handle all the lawsuits.

Feeling nervous about operating such a massive monument to failure and death, MGM sold the hotel and the MGM Grand Reno to pinball and slot machine maker Bally Manufacturing in April 1986.

Rising from the ashes

Quietly, MGM Grand owner Kirk Kerkorian began acquiring the property to build a new MGM Grand one mile south of the old building. It was opened in 1993 and is still operating today. Meanwhile, Bally’s changed hands several times. Hilton Hotels acquired the property in 1996 and spun off its casino resorts division into Park Place Entertainment, which was renamed Caesars Entertainment and acquired by Harrah’s Entertainment in 2005.

The MGM original (left) was sold to Bally’s after the fire and has since become a horseshoe (center). The new MGM (right) was built nearby. (Photo:

Now, the old MGM Grand has been rebranded once again. Since December 2022, it has been a horseshoe. Caesars renamed it to play its role as the new host of the World Series of Poker.

Binion’s Horseshoe was the original name of Binion’s Gambling Hall in downtown Las Vegas, which launched the WSOP in 1970.

Meanwhile, in a giant session of Strip do-si-do, the Bally’s name is expected to migrate a mile south and land on the Tropicana District, which Bally’s Corporation bought from Gaming and Leisure Properties for $308 million this year — if it doesn’t. The Strip Resort is being blown up to make way for a new baseball stadium for the Oakland A’s.

Busting the exploded MGM Grand myth reveals an uncomfortable truth. In the 42 years since the fire, and which will continue for many more years at the old MGM Grand, hundreds of thousands of guests will have slept in the same upstairs rooms where dozens of poor souls died of suffocation.

Look for “Vegas Legends Busted” every Monday Visit to read pre-busted Vegas legends. Do you have a suggestion for a Vegas legend that needs busting? Email

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