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Rod Smith
 

Survey Suggests Tourists Still like LV

28 June 2005

Visitors, more than ever, see the cost of visiting Las Vegas going up, but they would rather cut down on amenities than abandon vacationing here, a new survey by MRC Group Research Institute said Monday.

Industry experts said the survey illustrates the trend toward Las Vegas becoming more entertainment-oriented and underscores its strength as a visitor destination.

The survey found that while visitors find Las Vegas increasingly expensive, as they have in surveys over the past two years, they are willing to make trade-offs.

In particular, 30 percent said they would gamble less but keep coming to Las Vegas for vacation.

MRC Chief Executive Officer Jim Medick said the trend emphasizes that Las Vegas' entertainment mix is less dependent on gambling, and that gambling is something people would curb to participate in the city's other offerings.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Senior Vice President for Marketing, Terry Jicinsky, said the MRC findings track with his agency's.

"The logic is that the destination offers more amenities above and beyond gambling. They provide Las Vegas with a competitive advantage, particularly over Indian casinos and riverboats," he said.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson, who specializes in gaming studies, said the shift in attitude is part of an understandable reorientation of the destination.

"It's easy for visitors to downsize gambling budgets. They can play $10 instead of $100 on blackjack, or play a quarter instead of $5 on slots," he said.

"Gambling is very easy to downsize and still spend the same amount. Even though the thrill is with more gambling, most visitors don't expect to win. They budget what they play," Thompson said.

Deutsche Bank analyst Andrew Zarnett also said consumer attitudes do not necessarily translate into reality.

"People may plan to spend less on gambling, but when they get to Las Vegas, spending pretty much remains constant over time," he said.

However, as the destination has diversified, visitors are spending more on other amenities and spending less on gambling as a proportion of their vacation budgets, Zarnett said.

Susquehanna Financial Group gaming analyst Eric Hausler said the shifting consumer priorities do no damage to Las Vegas as a destination or to casino companies as long as visitors aren't cutting their vacation budgets.

"(The survey) demonstrates the strength of the destination. It also demonstrates since Las Vegas has been offering all these other amenities, visitors are paying for them. It's not like a lot of other destinations (such as Atlantic City). It shows the destination itself has diversified and matured," he said.

After all, consumers can gamble anywhere, with 700,000 slot machines across the United States, Hausler said.

"But to remain the No. 1 destination in the United States, Las Vegas is going to have to offer a different type of package. It means casinos have to offer other types of amenities," he said.

MRC senior research analyst Neil Rich said the change in attitudes represents a major shift from five or 10 years ago when visitors came to gamble and casino operators got more than half of their revenues from gambling.

The new MRC survey also found almost half (44 percent) of the tourists here find the current one-way and one-day monorail fares a "poor" or "very poor" value. The survey found that the number of respondents who expect to use it while here has dropped to 50 percent from 54 percent in January.

Rich said visitors who use the monorail said the facilities are not desirable, it's a long walk to get on or off and it's easier just to walk if you're only going one or two hotels away.

Thompson said it's cheaper, and less confusing, for three visitors to take a taxi instead of the monorail.

Finally, Las Vegas visitors told MRC they are optimistic the megamergers between MGM Mirage and Mandalay Resort Group and between Harrah's Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment will improve Las Vegas as a destination.

Thompson said just as gamblers hunt for casinos that are crowded, excited and have an air of success, visitors like going to destinations that are packed, expanding and vibrant.

"Visitors may see mergers as more investment, but essentially they also see them as a sign of a healthy city. Things are being built, it's exciting and visitors want to be part of the success," he said.

Rich said Las Vegas is far from saturation and visitors are smart enough to realize the mergers have not sucked up all the rooms.

The June survey polled 412 respondents visiting MRC Group's Las Vegas Preview Studios at The Venetian, located in the Grand Canal Shoppes, and had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.8 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence.