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Strip ushers in year's second New Year's celebration

28 January 2009

Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Strip has long been swept clean of confetti and empty bottles, and Las Vegas visitors have made their way home from the traditional New Year's celebration.

Now, almost four weeks later, Strip resorts once again are in the midst of a celebration ushering in a new year.

The ancient tradition of Chinese New Year, which started Monday, will last until the beginning of February and will bring millions of dollars into the Las Vegas economy. The Chinese New Year ranks among the busiest times on the Strip.

Red and gold lanterns hang from casino ceilings and Chinese greetings scroll across resort marquees as they prepare to welcome guests celebrating the Year of the Ox.

"Chinese New Year is more from a gambling perspective. It's one of the biggest weeks of the year," said Rob Oseland, chief operating officer at Encore.

Both Wynn and Encore feature 70-foot bejeweled dragons greeting visitors as they enter the resorts, as well as other traditional decorations throughout the properties.

Encore already has hints of Asian décor, with bold colors, butterflies and lush gardens, which Oseland said attracts Asian customers.

"As a result of Encore coming in and it being of interest to people of the Far East, we're seeing growth there. We expect Wynn and Encore to both be as equally busy, if not busier, than previous years," Oseland said.

Oseland said the bulk of their customers for Chinese New Year celebrations will come from Asia, but many will come from the United States.

"I think they are celebrating in Macao and in China, but Las Vegas offers an alternative, and has for years, that's consistent with local Chinese celebrations," Oseland said. "Due to the time people have off from work and school, it makes it reasonable for people to travel to Las Vegas."

Traditional dragon dances will make their way through the casinos and celebrations will culminate with a Chinese New Year gala on Friday.

Al Faccinto, president of international market at MGM Mirage, and his team of more than 100 prepare for these two weeks year-round.

"When people come to Las Vegas, they expect the ultimate and they should have the ultimate experience," he said. "They're our high-end customers and our friends. We're all just very excited for them to be here. We have to be on top of our game and we will be."

MGM Grand ushered in the new year Monday with two ceremonial lion dances. They were meant to evict the evil spirits of the Year of the Rat and bring good luck for the Year of the Ox. The always-ornate Bellagio Conservatory is covered in bamboo and Chinese symbols and features a statue of Cai Shen, the Chinese god of prosperity.

The resort will host a gala for 2,500 invited guests Tuesday evening.

Chinese New Year celebrations have been part of the Venetian and Palazzo since the resorts opened, said vice president of communications Ron Reese.

"It's specifically important for Asian travelers to take the time off to come to Las Vegas and certainly we go out of our way to provide a festive atmosphere for guests to celebrate," Reese said.

The resorts hosted a traditional dragon and lion dance for guests on Saturday and again Monday. The resorts, like many others on the Strip, featured red and gold lanterns and banners reading "Gong Hei Fatt Choy," translating to "Wishing you great happiness and prosperity."

The Las Vegas Sands resorts feature a 12-foot golden ox.

"It's certainly one of the biggest times of the year. It falls in with our New Year and Super Bowl weekend and other special event weekends." Reese said. "It qualifies as one of those unique times at our resorts."

This year, Chinese New Year will coincide with Super Bowl festivities, bringing different types of crowds to Strip resorts.

"We're used to dealing with big crowds and Las Vegas does a great job of being able to handle all of its different constituencies. From our standpoint, we're happy to have people in house celebrating Chinese New Year and later this week we'll be happy to have people in to watch the big game," Reese said.

Oseland said both events are expected to provide a financial shot in the arm.

"Both are equally important to Las Vegas from a gambling perspective as well as non-gambling revenue profits," Oseland said. "With Chinese New Year, there is a particularly high demand for suite products and when that gets co-mingled with the Super Bowl, you're having to kind of juggle the two periods to optimize the experience for the guests.

"It really sets itself up for a strong week and weekend of both gaming and non gaming."

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