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Benjamin Spillman

New Year's eve: Ready to celebrate

29 December 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- At Strip Liquor, New Year's Eve is the time when the familiar clinking of liquor bottles in paper bags is replaced with the thud of plastic beer containers on the counter.

And that's music to the ears of manager Margarita Chavez and anyone else receiving a piece of the $198 million Las Vegas visitors are expected to leave behind this weekend.

Workers at the liquor store, and virtually every other tourist stop in the Las Vegas Valley, are preparing for one of Southern Nevada's biggest holidays.

"We are making preparations already," said Chavez, who said a "no glass" ordinance in effect Sunday on the Strip means replacing traditional booze bottles with spirits and beer in plastic containers.

Her only regret?

She doesn't have champagne in plastic bottles.

"That is the one thing we don't get, is champagne," Chavez said. "We are trying to get people to buy it before (the ordinance kicks in)."

About 300,000 people are expected to pour into the Las Vegas area for the holiday weekend, which would project to a sellout for the destination and bring visitation for the year to about 38.7 million, a slight increase over 2005.

"A lot of folks in our operation department look forward to this, because they thrive on the pressure," said Gordon Absher, vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage. "You are essentially trying to throw a better party than you did last year."

The list of holiday events at the company's 10 Strip properties is 11 pages long.

The variety is important because New Year's Eve is the night when there are more high-value guests in Las Vegas than any other, Absher said.

In addition to meeting their expectations, the casino hotels also want to impress everyone else who passes through.

It requires accommodating virtually every taste imaginable.

The MGM Grand alone expects to serve 20,000 bottles of beer, 2,000 bottles of wine and champagne and 26,000 mixed drinks.

About 10,000 cocktails will be with vodka and 4,500 with bourbon.

"You may have 300,000 people out on the Strip with 300,000 different agendas," Absher said.

Bruce and Lorraine James-Newman will be among them.

The couple moved to Las Vegas in 2005 in part to experience events like New Year's Eve.

"We love to gamble, love to party," said Bruce James-Newman.

He said the couple will stay at a hotel this year, because trying to get home from the Strip after the 2005 party was "a logistical nightmare.

"It took us two and a half hours to get out of the parking garage," he said.

This year, they intend to concentrate less on traffic and more on experiencing the sights and sounds of the biggest night of the year at one of the world's biggest party venues.

"We moved here because of what Las Vegas is. We intend to take advantage of the entertainment and the gambling," he said.

It will be tough to match the 2005 celebration when New Year's Eve fell on a Saturday.

Last year, an estimated 303,000 people, nearly equivalent to the entire population of Cincinnati, visited Las Vegas.

On a typical weekend Las Vegas welcomes about 275,000 people, roughly as many as live in St. Paul, Minn.

"It is a holiday and everything, but you just don't have that typical Friday and Saturday night craze," said Michael Zaletel, CEO of the hotel-booking Web site "For it to be sold out on a Sunday night would be pretty amazing."

Zaletel, whose site books about 500 to 1,000 room nights daily, said major hotels are lowering prices and dropping minimum stay requirements to sell remaining room inventory.

He said rooms at Mandalay Bay, which sold out by this time last year, are available for $379. Tropicana was available at $238, and downtown Fitzgerald's was available for $147 on the site.

"If people want to go to Vegas for New Year's Eve, this would be the year to do it, because they are going to get the best deal," Zaletel said.

Anthony Curtis, president of, said Strip and downtown casinos will seek to make impressions that stick with customers all year.

"I think it is more important on a (public relations) basis in Vegas," Curtis said of the holiday. "It is all about traffic and they are going to have a lot of it."

The people carrying the heaviest burden will be front line workers who greet customers face-to-face, he said.

They are the ones responsible for the lasting impressions Las Vegas casino hotels will make on their visitors.

"It is the best advertising they will get," Curtis said.