Downturn or not, Las Vegas opens new attractions

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Despite rising gasoline and airline prices that are keeping gamblers away and the shelving of some big projects, Las Vegas resorts are still spending money on new attractions and testing the bounds of luxury and taste.

The Stardust Resort & Casino is imploded in Las Vegas, March 13, 2007. REUTERS/David Allio

The Mirage plans a $25 million redesign of the resort’s signature volcano that will include fireball-throwing devices synchronized to a new score composed by former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.

The Palazzo’s Canyon Ranch has opened a unisex spa, New York-New York has added the Rok nightclub with wraparound video screen. A few blocks away, a “premier” poker lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino offers massages.

“Whatever gets people going is what these casinos are up for,” said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Las Vegas resorts have to keep investing in new attractions to stay ahead of other would-be gambling centers in the United States and around the world, said David Schwartz, head of the gaming studies research center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Twelve U.S. states now allow commercial casinos and Indian tribes operate gambling resorts in 28 states.

“If you can drive a half hour and play a slot machine, why would you fly for four hours just to gamble?” Schwartz said.

Canyon Ranch, which already operated the spa at the Venetian, earlier this month unveiled adjacent facilities at the Palazzo, including VIP lockers that can accommodate full-length gowns, “experiential” showers that mimic a rain forest storm and an igloo space for cooling off.

“There’s a lot of competition on the Strip. We’re not your typical hotel spa/fitness center,” said Nikki Pishotti, the facility’s marketing manager.

The Sahara’s “Raw Talent Live” is also aiming to offer a new experience featuring interactive live performances, music and high-tech video illusions.

Meanwhile, the Hard Rock, which opened in 1995, is undergoing an expansion aimed at capitalizing on its brand, said marketing vice president Philip Shalala.

“We started out as the resort for the young partyer -- six guys jammed in a room,” he said. “Now, those same guys have money in their pocket and want more of a high-end product.”

The new resorts being built on the Strip are aiming for customers currently served by high-end resorts like the Bellagio or Wynn Las Vegas, said Matthew Jacob, an analyst at Majestic Research.

“It’s not necessarily that the client base is high-end. It’s a mid-range client base with higher aspirations,” he said.

Bill Caughman, a property appraiser from Tulsa, Oklahoma, said he comes to Las Vegas once or twice a year, spending about $2,000 on sports bets during each trip.

Although he lives within driving distance of several tribal casinos and as well as gambling resorts in Tunica, Mississippi, “they are just not the same,” Caughman said.

“Las Vegas changes all the time. Once I run out of gambling money here, I can just sit back and people-watch,” he said.

Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Eddie Evans