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Chris Jones

Less Money Coming to Vegas

10 February 2004

LAS VEGAS -- What happens here, may stay here.

But unfortunately for many local businesses, it seems a growing number of visitors' dollars didn't even make the trip this past year.

According to a new survey released Monday by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, local visitors in fiscal 2003 budgeted far less money for gambling and spent less on shopping and entertainment than they did in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2002.

Research Director Kevin Bagger attributed much of the reported downturn to the sluggish U.S. economy, but he would not rule out the possibility that other factors may have taken a toll on local tourism.

Exactly how much spending was reduced remains uncertain until the convention authority releases its full-year economic figures for the past calendar year, which is expected to come sometime this month. Still, the recent surveys indicate visitors played it close to the vest while in Las Vegas this past year.

Out-of-town gamblers polled said their 2003 average gambling budget was slightly less than $480 per trip, easily the lowest figure in the past five years. In 2000, for example, visitors budgeted about $665 per trip for casino play; in 2002, that average was about $503.

"We're looking mainly at the economy. ... (But) it's possible Indian gaming could be having an effect," Bagger said. "It's really too early to say, but these numbers have given us pause."

Visitors also paused before opening their wallets at local stores and box offices last year, when per trip food and drink averages fell to $182.59, down more than 14 percent from 2001's peak of $213.17 per trip. Those who spent money on entertainment dropped an average of $89.74 last year, down from 2001's peak of $101.77.

A summary presentation on the report is scheduled to be presented today before the convention authority's 13-member board at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Data from the report are based on information the convention authority and San Francisco-based data firm GLS Research obtained through approximately 3,300 personal interviews with out-of-town residents 21 and up. Interviews were conducted in or near Las Vegas hotel-casinos and motels from July 1, 2002, through June 30, 2003.

Respondents' answers were compiled monthly but were presented in an annual summary to better illustrate visitor trends over time, the report said. Data in many categories was compared with visitors' responses from 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Seven in 10 visitors surveyed said the widespread proliferation of gaming would have no impact on their plans to visit Las Vegas.

Some industry experts believe the addition of new gaming options around the nation will whet gamblers' appetites to see Las Vegas, but only 23 percent of those polled said the addition of casinos outside Nevada has fueled their desire to visit Las Vegas; in 2002, that figure was 45 percent.

Overall, the report said 99 percent of those surveyed said they were very satisfied with their visit here.

Among the report's other findings:

. Southern California remained the area's top market after it supplied more than 32 percent of the city's total visitors last year. That figure was up 3 percentage points compared with 2002.

Overall, 91 percent of visitors polled came from the United States, up 4 percentage points from 2000.

. About 80 percent of those polled said they were white. Blacks made up only 6 percent of the market (down from 10 percent the previous year), while the Hispanic sector improved to 8 percent of the local market share, or double its total in 2000.

Nearly 73 percent of local visitors said they were married, with the percentage of women (51) only slightly higher than that of male visitors. Overall, the average local visitor's age last year was 50.

. New resorts coincide with new visitors. About 18 percent of last year's visitors came to Las Vegas for the first time. That percentage is comparable with the previous three years but was well below the 26 percent first-time visitor total reported in 1999, when attractions such as Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and The Venetian were each in their first months of operation.

. Only 21 percent of visitors used a travel agent to book their trip last year, down from 31 percent in 2000. By contrast, 26 percent said they used the Internet to plan their trips last year, up from 21 percent in 2000.

. Slot machines rule. About 64 percent of those surveyed said slot machines were their favorite casino game, up dramatically from the previous year's 56 percent total. Blackjack ranked second at 16 percent, while video poker ranked third (9 percent) despite a significant drop from 2002, when 17 percent of visitors listed it as their casino game of choice.

. Forget about Celine or Cirque du Soleil. When it comes to entertainment, an overwhelming number of tourists said lounge acts were their way to sway.

About 83 percent of last year's visitors who took in some form of entertainment here said they caught a lounge act. Regularly scheduled production shows drew only 47 percent of those surveyed, down from 75 percent as recently as 1999. In addition, only 3 percent said they saw a big-name entertainer last year, down from 15 percent in 2002.

. Downtown is in trouble, but not dead. About 46 percent of local visitors went downtown last year, up 2 percentage points from 2002 but still well below the 60 percent figure reported in 1999. The Fremont Street Experience was easily the area's top draw, followed by lodging and gambling.

Only 3 percent of those who visited downtown last year said they did so to shop, a total that does not bode well for Neonopolis, whose first year of business largely coincided with the survey period. In 2002, about 7 percent of downtown visitors went to the area to shop.

. The kids aren't coming. Last year, 89 percent of visitors said their groups included no one under age 21.

. An estimated 87 percent of local visitors said they gambled during their stay in town, down 2 percentage points from the previous year but on par with recent survey results. On average, gamblers said they spent 3.9 hours per day playing in casinos, up from the 3.7 hour daily average reported the previous year.

. Nearly half of last year's visitors said they visited six or more casinos while in town, the lowest average in the past five years. About 84 percent of those who gambled played on the Strip, while 39 percent said they also gambled somewhere downtown.