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Rod Smith

Business Returning at Record Levels as War Jitters Subside

22 March 2004

Las Vegas is hot again, and not just temperature-wise.

On the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war to oust Saddam Hussein, tourists and local resort officials agree that business is returning to record-setting levels as Americans begin looking to get away from the TV news and anxieties about new terrorist attacks that kept them close to home the past year.

"I didn't know (it was a year since the war started), but yeah, a year ago we didn't want to go anyplace. Now, we figure we'd better get away while we can," Samantha Terry of Atlanta said Friday.

Tom David from Virginia agreed that when the war started a year ago, all he and his wife wanted to do was watch the news. "Now, all we want to do is get away from the news," he said.

Mack James from New York, however, said he and his wife believe they were hoodwinked by the coverage and their anxieties about possible terror attacks were misplaced.

"None of it made any difference. We were all worked up and didn't want to go anyplace. Now, we just want to travel whenever we can," he said.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said such diverse reactions have made "the American psyche hard to predict over the past year. All those things have happened and are still happening, all at once," he said.

However, Station Casinos spokeswoman Lesley Pittman agreed people certainly aren't sitting home in front of their televisions watching the news channels anymore. Her company at least is seeing a steady improvement in business, she noted.

"The Las Vegas market is on its way past where it was prior to the Gulf War," Caesars Entertainment spokesman Robert Stewart said. As proof, Stewart pointed to his company's first-quarter estimated performance, which Caesars officials adjusted upward just last week.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesman Rob Powers said the postwar cycle is proving to be a replay of the cycle after the Gulf War in 1991.

"There was a period of hesitation, but when things settled down, you saw a lot of pent-up demand," he said.

That explains the just-announced, record-breaking visitor numbers for January and other record-breaking data, he said.

This week the LVCVA announced Las Vegas' tourism industry this year enjoyed its best-ever January, with more than 3 million visitors.

"It was a good way to start 2004, and we're optimistic about the rest of the year," Powers said.

Wall Street analysts point out the entire gaming industry's first quarter is setting new records for visitor volumes and room rates.

Deutsche Bank analyst Marc Falcone said room rates are showing continued strength and he expects Las Vegas gaming operators to post one of their strongest quarters in recent memory.

However, Joe Greff, gaming analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners, an independent Wall Street investment research firm, attributed the increased demand to the economic recovery, which is driving leisure travel and shifting shares of convention business from other cities.