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Best of Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

Aiming to Rule the Rooster

9 February 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Casino leaders are hoping the Strip's gambling tables will crow with excitement this week.

As celebration of Chinese New Year starts today, many Strip properties are pulling out all stops to welcome Far East visitors with large bankrolls looking to welcome the Year of the Rooster.

"As far as the big events for properties go, Chinese New Year has become just as important as New Year's Eve, Super Bowl weekend and March Madness," said Eric Hausler, gaming analyst for Susquehanna Financial Group. "For the casinos with high-end play, Chinese New Year is a very important time. It's much more of a focus for casino volume rather than an overall business volume."

Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Marc Falcone said gaming companies that have the bulk of high-end business -- MGM Mirage and Caesars Entertainment -- are telling industry observers they were encouraged by early interest. With operators -- notably Las Vegas Sands Corp. -- venturing into the Chinese gaming enclave of Macau, inroads have been made with customers from mainland China.

"The strength of the Asian economy and the success Las Vegas Sands has had in Macau is helping to drive customers to Las Vegas for the celebration," Falcone said. "It's an important week for the city."

Neither the Gaming Control Board nor the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority track Chinese New Year's statistics from a historical perspective. A control board analyst said sharp swings either up or down in baccarat play during the 15-day Chinese New Year's celebration can give a glimpse into the event's profitability.

Traditionally, the Chinese New Year starts with the new moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade.

Las Vegas casinos have plunged full-on into the celebration, decorating properties with traditional good luck symbols, such as floral displays that symbolize rebirth and new growth. Flowers are believed to be symbolic of wealth and high positions in one's career. Lanterns and other traditional Chinese decorations will also be prevalent. The appearance of tangerine trees throughout casinos are a symbol of good luck.

In the Bellagio conservatory, a decorated, 10-foot tall animatronic rooster wishes visitors a "Happy Chinese New Year" in Mandarin Chinese. At The Venetian, the Campanile Tower has been wrapped in red banners wishing Strip visitors "wealth, good health, good fortune, and that all wishes come true."

Several resorts have added special dim sum menus and other traditional cuisine to their Asian restaurants, and traditional dragon dances, complete with fireworks and Chinese music, are being planned for such properties as The Venetian, The Mirage, MGM Grand, Bellagio, Caesars and Mandalay Bay at various times during the week. Many resorts have planned private parties for their invited customers on the weekend.

Chinese New Year comes on the heels of Super Bowl Sunday. Therefore, gaming analysts said quarterly earnings reports for the period ending March 30 will reflect the success of the casinos or luck of gamblers from the early February events.

Caesars Palace President Mark Juliano said he's just thankful Super Bowl Sunday and the Chinese New Year didn't fall on the same weekend.

He said Chinese New Year might be more popular this year because the weakening U.S. dollar gives foreign visitors increased purchase power.

"Because of Macau and the access of travel from mainland China, we're seeing a good influx of visitors for this year's celebration." Juliano said. "Las Vegas is more popular than ever as a destination for foreign travelers."