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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Ready for July 4th

2 July 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Though this weekend's planned celebration comes largely at their nation's expense, British travelers Chris and Beryl Kington said they're still looking forward to being in Las Vegas for Sunday's 228th anniversary of the United States' declared independence from English rule.

"We've been here several times and have always enjoyed it," Chris Kington said Thursday, minutes after he and his wife stepped off a Virgin Atlantic Airways flight from London's Gatwick Airport. "We knew about the holiday but the (added crowds) don't worry us. We're interested to see what might be going on, fireworks and that kind of thing."

The Kingtons' decision to spend the July Fourth holiday in Las Vegas is expected to be duplicated by 277,000 others each day this weekend, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reports.

That average would represent a less than 1 percent gain from a year ago, when 275,000 daily visitors were reported over a three-day weekend that offered a Friday day off rather than this year's Monday holiday observance.

"Last year was a three-day weekend as well and it turned out to be a very strong weekend," said John Piet, senior research analyst for the convention authority, who called this year's projections "a conservative estimate."

The convention authority estimates local hotel occupancy rates will be at 94.7 percent this weekend, up slightly from last year's 93.6 percent estimate. Visitors' nongaming economic impact should increase slightly to $166.6 million from $165.7 million last year.

Local hotel-casinos will have to share those guests with a number of other leisure activities set to occur this weekend, including fireworks shows. Boulder City, Clark County and the city of Henderson are among the many businesses and organizations with plans to stage fireworks displays around the valley, while do-it-yourself pyromaniacs have been busy snapping up bottle rockets and flaming fountains.

Nance Stephens, whose TNT Fireworks company supplies approximately 200 fireworks booths operated by nonprofit groups around the valley, said preholiday sales have been solid.

"Normally the booths don't do a lot of sales over the first two or three days they're open ... but this year the majority of our stands have said sales are up," Stephens said. "Hopefully it will hold through the season, but the public is pretty fickle."

Local theater operators are also hoping for explosive sales following Wednesday's debut of "Spider-Man 2," the highly anticipated sequel to 2002's film version of the popular comic book adventure.

The first "Spider-Man" film movie brought in $114.8 million in its initial weekend in May 2002, and Reel Source President Robert Bucksbaum has predicted the sequel could generate as much as $160 million by Sunday, Bloomberg reported.

While some locals might temporarily escape reality this weekend in a movie theater, others will seek a different escape altogether. AAA Nevada projects approximately 304,000 residents will travel this weekend, up 2.6 percent from last year's estimate.

More than 260,000 of those Nevada sojourners are expected to travel by car, while 54,000 said they plan to fly.

Those traveling by plane could encounter heavy crowds at McCarran International Airport, where spaces in its long-term parking garage are expected to be at a premium. Travelers are urged to arrive early to allow time for unexpected delays -- and leave the fireworks at home.

Those caught with fireworks at the airport could face fines of up to $30,000 per violation and up to five years in prison for carrying banned explosives.