A hog-killin' time

For the 27th year, the world's biggest rodeo takes over Las Vegas this week, with the first of 10 go-rounds scheduled for 6:45 this evening.

How welcome is the National Finals Rodeo? December had been a humdrum month for hotels and casinos here until 1985, when the NFR moved here from Oklahoma City.

It's always been a happy match. Rodeo fans seem to love the town, and -- taking some occasional high spirits in stride -- Las Vegans have never viewed the NFR crowd and the on-stage talent they attract as anything but gracious guests.

But now, in these economic times, the thousands of rodeo fans who have flocked to town since Thanksgiving are particularly welcome.

This year's finals at the Thomas & Mack Center will offer $6 million to contestants, with each cowboy and cowgirl guaranteed to make a minimum of about $14,000.

This is a Western town at heart -- even if certain federal agencies have lately taken it on themselves to make cattle ranchers pretty thin on the ground, in these parts. So Las Vegans can be proud to pull on their Justins and their Durangos and roll out the welcome mat, not only for the world's best rodeo livestock, but also for the 119 two-legged athletes who will test the skills against their wiles and brawn this weekend.