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Rod Smith

Jingle bells! Casinos Swell for Holiday

29 December 2003

LAS VEGAS -- For major Strip operators, Christmas was merry and bright.

Most operators reported they were fully booked for the Christmas holiday without a single room left in their hotels and none listed on Internet travel sites. Though a limited number of local properties on Friday reported some rooms were still available for the weekend, there was little discounting.

The average rate for a room booked on the Strip this weekend was about $135, largely unchanged from last year, Wall Street room rate surveys showed.

Casino operators and industry insiders said the hotels always come up short on guests over the holiday week, but the Strip was packed on Thursday. There were devoted gamblers, foreigners experiencing a new world, bargain hunters out for holiday discounts and families looking for a way to escape cold weather back home.

Lenore Thompson of New York said she and her children have to get away someplace, and there's no place that's more fun, in their view, than Las Vegas. Terrorism, she said, wasn't something her family members thought about, especially when they are getting away from the East Coast, Thompson said.

George McGraw from Chicago said he and his family had to get away from the cold.

"(Terrorist threats) don't matter," he said. "There just has to be someplace warm to go."

Another man, who wouldn't reveal his name, had more pedestrian concerns. Trying to get four young children to pay some attention to him in the Forum Shops at Caesars, he said Christmas was a time to get his wife out of the house and away from their children.

"You want to try to deal with this in the snow?" he asked, hurrying off after a 5-year old who had just spotted the toys at FAO Schwarz.

Christmas spirit, like the sunny skies in the Forum Shops, seemed artificial at Strip casinos.

About as close as anyone came to traditional Christmas displays were the video screens at Caesars Palace, which showed chariots driven by a gladiator in Santa Claus togs being pulled through drifts of snow by four giant Clydesdales.

A few other touches still appeared at some casinos. Eggnog lattes were handed out freely at The Rio amid the slots and the tables, where a Scotch or a beer would typically do.

The waiters and waitresses said the usually grumpy local patrons seemed to be in better moods on Christmas than most other days of the year. Some patrons said they went to casinos and their shopping centers and restaurants because they were the only businesses open for the holiday.

Lines were long at movie theaters and buffets around town, including those at The Orleans, which cater largely to locals.

Although representatives of most casino operators had the extended holiday weekend off and were unavailable for comment, telephone operators and low-level managers on duty Thursday said their properties hotels were busier and operating more smoothly than they had during past Christmas periods.

Gaming Wire reporter Jeff Simpson contributed to this report.