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October 20, 2014

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‘Scariest place on Earth’ fearlessly expanding

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Leila Navidi

Hauntrepreneur Jason Egan stands inside Fright Dome that he designed at Circus Circus in Las Vegas on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013.

Last Christmas, Jason Egan’s mother gave him the book “Ghosts, Gamblers and Gangsters of Las Vegas.”

It’s an apt present. As founder of Fright Dome at Circus Circus, Egan is fascinated by the grotesque, the ghoulish and the nonliving. He is interested in the city’s history, too, having moved here at age 23, just after graduating from the University of Nebraska.

Egan eagerly flipped through the pages to the chapter titled “The Scariest Place On Earth.” His eyes widened at the subject.

“It was all about the Fright Dome,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Mom! Did you see this?’ She had no idea when she bought it that I was in the book at all, but there are pages and pages about what we’ve done at Circus Circus and all the celebrities who have come through over the years — Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, David Copperfield, even Stevie Wonder. It goes on and on.”

And on and on … all the way to Hong Kong.

That is the next frontier for Egan’s frightfully successful project, which he brought to Circus Circus executives in 2003 with the idea it could become a world-famous attraction. Egan has just finalized a partnership with a group of investors based in Hong Kong to build Fright Dome Hong Kong, set to open Sept. 26. That’s one weekend earlier than the six-house fortress of fear Circus Circus will open for this year’s Halloween run.

Egan also is building an attraction in Boston, a smaller-scale complex that will be ready for business Oct. 2.

So Fright Dome now is a bicoastal, international thrill attraction – Disneyland for the macabre, if you will.

The Hong Kong project is particularly adventurous.

Over the years, Egan grew the Fright Dome brand to remarkable heights, partnering with such horror-industry stars as “Saw,” “The Collector,” “The Collection” and “Project Greenlight” producer-director Marcus Dunstan and makeup trailblazer Gary Tunnicliffe (“My Bloody Valentine,” “Scream,” “Blade” and a host of other horror films). The Strip attraction pulls in about 100,000 visitors a year, a number that grows annually. Egan easily sees a profit on his annual $2 million investment in the Circus Circus project, which covers 5 acres, features six houses and employs about 400 actors and staffers for every monthlong run.

“My original investment in 2003 was $500,000, and I made that money go a long way,” Egan said. “Now we’re international. We’re on the Travel Channel every year for the past six years. It’s really incredible to see how far we’ve taken this.”

The Hong Kong investors, led by well-regarded promoter Karen Loh, originally contacted Circus Circus officials to ask about opening a Fright Dome in Hong Kong. They were surprised to learn that the keys to the kingdom were held by a 35-year-old, self-described “horror geek” who still gets carded.

The deal came together quickly. There is a massive tourist population in Hong Kong that is thirsty for the gothic thrills Egan and his team provide.

“I have heard stories about people trying to get into Hong Kong Disney by climbing the fences because it was at capacity,” Egan said. “Whenever I’ve visited there, every bar, every restaurant, every business is busy.”

Egan said Fright Dome Hong Kong will be in one of the region’s most iconic locations. It is expected to cost $4 million, with the attraction taking up less space than at Circus Circus but providing many of the same elements.

“We want to mirror what we’re doing at Circus Circus,” he said. “But Circus Circus, and Las Vegas, will always be our home. There is huge brand recognition with operating out of Las Vegas.”

In the offing, too, is a film partnership with Dunstan’s company, Green Light Productions. Egan is set to be part of the creative team for a top-grade horror film set to begin shooting in August.

Where?

“We’re hoping in Las Vegas, which has amazing tax incentives now for filmmakers,” Egan said. “I’d like to make it happen here.”

Regardless, it will be another effort that will make Mom proud.

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