Finally, some positive economic signs

Some good news!

Las Vegas visitor counts, hotel occupancy and nightly room rates all rose in May compared to a year ago, helping explain why Nevada gaming revenues grew in May by more than 16 percent, the largest single-month increase since 2006.

Even that healthy number was depressed a bit by sub-par results in Laughlin, where casinos reported a 10.6 percent decline in gaming activity in May, and in Washoe County, where gaming tax collections dropped 6.6 percent.

The state Gaming Control Board reported Monday that statewide gaming revenues totaled $984 million, up from $847.1 million the year before.

The statewide gaming revenue figure was the largest single-month total since September 2008 -- and the percentage increase was the largest since December 2006.

Strip casinos collected $580.5 million from gamblers in May, up 28.9 percent from $450.2 million a year ago.

The statewide gaming numbers were helped by methods state casino regulators use to count slot revenues. April ended on a weekend, and revenues generated by slot machine wagering often fall into the following month's reporting figures.

That "weekend shift" may have accounted for the fact that in April, gaming revenues fell by less than 1 percent statewide, and by 2 percent on the Strip.

But May revenues were up more than twice as much as could be explained by a shift of the final April weekend results.

The fact is, while convention business apparently will take longer to recover, tourism is up, with the overall hotel occupancy rate up 3.5 points to 86.1. The average nightly room rate went up 9.7 percent $108.47, also reflecting increased demand.

But while tourists enjoy the packed crowds on the Strip and downtown, they're less likely to drive by closed businesses and car dealerships a few miles away.

It's still early to sing "Happy Days Are Here Again." The national economy has changed and is still changing in ways that may present new opportunities, but which nonetheless still have Americans keeping a closer watch on their wallets.

That means the average visitor will probably continue to spend less for some time to come -- though that's no reason not to start campaigning to bring back the "front of the plane" passengers from Europe and Asia.

In the end, the national economic "fix" lies outside the direct power of Nevadans -- except our five representatives in Washington, of course, who are welcome to slash government spending and borrowing, thus freeing more capital for private-sector use.

Locally, there may still be more bumps in the road to recovery. Federal interventions have only delayed -- not done away with the need for -- shakeouts of mal-invested resources, especially in real estate.

But Monday's numbers are real. Las Vegas has its head above water, and the shore is in sight.