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Benjamin Spillman

Las Vegas visitor count up 1.4 percent in March

14 May 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The number of people who visited Las Vegas in March went up 1.4 percent to nearly 3.5 million even though gambling revenue for the month was down in every Clark County market.

The totals are the latest estimate of visitor traffic for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the group that tracks visitation and spending in Southern Nevada.

For the first quarter of 2007, visitation increased slightly less than 1 percent to 9.6 million while gaming revenue was down in each Clark County market, the report shows.

The contrast between gambling revenue and visitor traffic reinforces the notion resorts have reported for years, that people who come to Las Vegas continue to bet but are spending more money on food, entertainment and other amenities.

That's fuel to support the development trend of Las Vegas resorts spending more and more money to enhance nongambling attractions connected to casinos.

"We've known for years now that the nongaming side of our business is growing faster than the gaming side," said Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage, the biggest resort company in Nevada.

Feldman said the divergent direction of tourism and gambling trends in March could just be an anomaly. But even if it is, the amount of revenue from nongaming amenities is approaching 60 percent at resorts like those owned by MGM Mirage.

Gambling revenue at MGM Mirage resorts on the Strip were flat in the first quarter, but the properties still managed to haul in $1.63 billion, compared to $1.57 billion during the same period last year.

"In almost every other category, we had an absolutely stellar quarter," Feldman said.

With gambling available in nearly every jurisdiction in the country and Las Vegas resorts continuing to build ever-grander leisure palaces, Feldman doesn't see the trend changing soon.

About the only way it could change would be if something dramatic were to occur, like the government lifting restrictions on travel from China, which is home to millions of would-be Las Vegas gamblers.

"The profile of that guest is one who gambles much more," Feldman said.

In addition to increasing visitation the monthly update reported a nearly 9 percent increase in the average daily room rate in Las Vegas to $136 for the month.

Occupancy in Las Vegas for the month held steady at 94 percent and for the entire first quarter was 90 percent.

In Laughlin, visitation was down 9 percent in March and nearly 12 percent in the first quarter with 819,000 people visiting the river city from January through March. Room rates there rose 13 percent to $40 and gaming revenue was down 1.5 percent for the quarter.

In Mesquite, visitation increased 7 percent in the first quarter to 421,000 and room rates jumped 71 percent to $89. However, the increases for March, the last month of the quarter, were more modest. For the month visitation was up less than 2 percent and occupancy increased slightly more than 2 percent to 94 percent.