National Finals Rodeo kicks off Thursday in Las Vegas

Updated December 6, 2017 - 6:41 pm

Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, five men sporting cowboy hats, boots and denim jeans trotted into Gilley’s Saloon inside the TI to join the crowd of some 200 people drinking beer and dancing the night away.

The Western-style saloon, featuring waitresses in black bikinis and cowboy hats, was doing crisp business on what is normally one of the slowest days in the week at one of the slowest times of the year for Las Vegas.

It was one of several signs around Las Vegas that the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo — the equivalent of baseball’s World Series — had finally galloped into town.

The 10-day sporting event, which kicks off Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center, is expected to bring more than 170,000 people to the city, generating a frenzy among hotels to lasso in the lucrative crowd.

The rodeo and concurrent events like the Cowboy Christmas trade show have a $100 million economic impact on the city, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Steak and beers

Casinos are aiming to corral guests by offering rodeo packages that include meals and tickets, hosting top country singers and sporting events. Many of the visitors for rodeo week come from California, Texas, Montana, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Colorado.

The South Point will host the 8-day World Series of Team Roping starting Saturday, in addition to a bucking horse and bull sale. A Western gift show will coincide with both events.

The casino, which focuses on equestrian events, will have 4,000 stalls around its premises through the rodeo period.

“It is by far the best 10 days for us during the year,’’ said Ryan Growney, general manager of the South Point. “We are sold out 51 weeks in advance.’’

The South Point is removing a few slot machines to add 14 table games to meet the high demand for poker and blackjack among the rodeo crowd, Growney said.

The hotel is also placing buckets filled with Coors Light and ice at various locations around the casino floor to ease the crowds at the bars.

Don Vito’s Italian restaurant will turn into an extension of Silverado’s Steak House to ensure there is enough red meat and potatoes, said Growney. The casino serves more meals during this period than any other during the year, he said.

Chute-Out

Boyd Gaming will get in on the action by hosting a three-day Chute-Out rodeo event at Orleans Arena. Boyd expects to sell out the arena each day.

“This has become one of the busiest weeks of the year for us,’’ said Boyd spokesman David Strow. “The rodeo fans really take over the town. You will see a cowboy hat in every hotel.’’

Gilley’s Saloon at TI will have live band performances and live video of the Wrangler NFR all 10 days. The festivities there culminate Dec. 17 with a bikini bull riding competition. Most casinos on the Strip and downtown will offer live video coverage of the Wrangler NFR.

More than two dozen country singers will perform locally over the next two weeks, including George Strait at T-Mobile Arena, Cody Johnson at the South Point and Dwight Yoakam at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Cowboy shopping

Las Vegas businesses are taking advantage of the Christmas season by organizing gift shows aimed at rodeo attendees.

The Las Vegas Convention Center will host the Cowboy Christmas trade show from Thursday through Dec. 16. The show will feature more than 300 exhibitors as well as live entertainment and autograph sessions. More than 200,000 people are expected to visit the show.

The Sands Expo and Convention Center and Mandalay Bay will also hold cowboy trade shows. About 15,000 people will visit each of those shows on their busiest days, according to Chris Woodruff of event organizer Group W Productions.

Putting on the Wrangler NFR is no small feat. Workers have to move thousands of tons of dirt into the Thomas & Mack Center in just a few days.

Overall, the event requires hundreds of people laboring more than 12 hours per day for two straight weeks, according to Justin Shaw, a rodeo spokesman.

Contact Todd Prince at tprince@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0386. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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