Las Vegas hosting ‘Big Game’ events

An estimated 295,000 people are expected to pour into Las Vegas this Super Bowl weekend — about 1 percent fewer than in 2008.

Still, it’s about 20,000 more people than are in Las Vegas for a typical weekend and suggests the Super Bowl remains a powerful draw.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority tracks visitation and says the lower number combined with more room inventory than last year means the region’s hotels won’t reach the 94.5 percent occupancy mark of 2008.

Visitors will leave behind about $109 million, in addition to gambling losses. That would be about 6.7 percent less than the nongambling spending during the 2008 Super Bowl weekend.

“The fourth quarter always means something in Vegas,” said Paul Mello, a sports bettor and customer service manager for the Web site Vegas.com, describing the ongoing appeal of Las Vegas as a football destination. “They may not be concerned about the score, they are concerned about whether their team is going to cover.”

Low room rates are evidence of softer demand than usual for the football weekend in Las Vegas.

Late Friday rooms were available at the Sahara for $37 and Tropicana for $44.

“It is unheard of,” said Michael Zaletel, of the hotel-booking site I4Vegas.com. “It is great for the consumer; it is not great for the hotel industry in Las Vegas.”

The National Football League’s crackdown against casinos using the “Super Bowl” name to promote parties has also changed the way Las Vegas experiences the event.

Since restrictions began in recent years, casinos often promote “big game” events with no cover charges or downplay the game altogether.

“It is like a speakeasy. They are all having these parties but they are not telling people when they are and where they are,” said Chuck Monster, who blogs at the site VegasTripping.com. “We get tons of people asking questions about this stuff.”

Monster doesn’t use his birth name publicly to preserve anonymity for reviews of hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, Reno, Macau and other destinations.

A longtime Las Vegas visitor, he says the NFL crackdown has changed the way the city celebrates the Super Bowl.

The most striking example is that it can be challenging for Las Vegas visitors to plan their Super bowl weekend because fewer properties are willing to advertise Super Bowl-specific parties. Instead, they’ll devise “big game” events and with free seating or admission but charges for food or drinks.

Many of the parties most obviously connected to the Super Bowl are occurring off-Strip at sports and video poker bars, he said.

For example, he said the chain Steiner’s has flooded his site with promotional information. It might be helpful to locals but is unlikely to appeal to many tourists expecting to watch in an atmosphere only the Strip can provide.

“If you’re a tourist, I don’t necessarily know if you want to go hitchhiking out to Steiner’s,” he said.

Even in the tourist corridors there are plenty of football-related promotions, even without the phrase Super Bowl.

The Hawaiian Tropic Zone in Planet Hollywood is promoting a “Big Game” event with VIP tables for $125 per person with a “minimum food and beverage spend.”

Downtown, owners of the Gold Spike were putting finishing touches on a renovation project that will open Sunday.

“I love it,” said Michael Crandall, director of business affairs for The Siegel Group, which owns the hotel-casino, of the rush of opening on Super Bowl weekend. “It would be boring to open on a regular day.”

Night clubs are also getting into the act.

There are football events at Blush in Wynn Las Vegas and Caramel at Bellagio.

Clubs are taking an interesting tack to avoid infringing on the NFL’s protected rights that restrict charging admission to watch televised games.

They promote the event as free to the general public, but allow patrons to upgrade to VIP seating.

“All of the properties had to figure out different ways to accommodate people,” said Bryan Allison, an expert at Vegas.com. “They have open admission, then they have a VIP table or some kind of a VIP offering.”

The Rock House at Imperial Palace is promoting $100 for all-you-can-drink and $125 for all-you-can-eat-and-drink.

Allison, who lives in Las Vegas but attended the Super Bowl last season in Phoenix, says Southern Nevada remains a draw because the combination of Strip crowds and rampant betting creates an electricity that is unmatched.

“For many people, it as close as you can get to the game experience without actually being there, plus you can get money out of it,” he said.

People who don’t want to shell out cash for a special event but want to experience the excitement can always just head down to a sports book for the game. But they’d better leave early.

On Super Bowl Sunday, seats in the sports books start filling early in the morning with people staking out a position for the evening game.

“You have got to make a day of it if you want a good seat,” Mello said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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