05/09/2003 12:00AM

And they say locals don't bet


Every two years, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority conducts a survey of 1,200 local gamblers, asking about their betting habits. Gaming companies that aim their products at locals will be heartened by the response to the latest survey.

For 2001 and 2002, local players gambled more money than they did in the last period covered by the survey, 1999-2000. The survey was conducted by random telephone interviews in August and November 2001 and February and May of 2002. It found that local gamblers budgeted an estimated $3.3 million on legalized gaming activities within the Las Vegas area, compared to $2.5 million during the previous survey period.

The increase was likely driven by several factors: Growing population, the addition of at least three major local casino properties since the last survey, and more aggressive marketing from Strip casinos aimed at locals after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The study shows 39 percent of local gamblers budget $50 or more per day over the course of a year. The 1999-2000 survey reported that 26 percent budgeted $50 per day. Also in the 2001-2002 study, 16 percent said they budgeted $25-$49 a day for gambling, 17 percent budgeted $15-$24, and 11 percent budgeted $10-$14 a day.

Additionally, 17 percent spent $10 or less per day for gaming compared to only 11 percent in 1999-2000.

Sixty-nine percent of Clark County residents said they gambled at least occasionally, which is identical to the results found in the 1999-2000 study. The survey also shows 36 percent gambled one to two times monthly, compared to 33 percent in 1999-2000, while 20 percent said they gambled less than once a month, the same as in 1999-2000.

Of course, some who do a night on the town or go to a movie in a casino complex and plunk down a double-sawbuck for gaming during their visit may not consider the money gambled. Instead, they may consider it entertainment. To many, there is little distinction made between money spent on gambling and entertainment.

Besides more casinos in which to gamble, locals also have a greater variety of games to play. Popular games such as video poker, slots, and bingo have been repackaged, and that has contributed to the gains.

Generous slot club promotions and new betting machines featuring celebrities and television characters lure bettors. Giant-jackpot progressive bingo games have helped an old standby fill the rooms, and players often cross over to slot games between sessions.

Video poker was the most popular game with locals, according to the survey. The survey shows 39 percent of local residents who gamble play video poker, followed by 29 percent who play slots. The 1999-2000 study showed 41 percent played video poker while 27 percent played slots.

The newest locals' casino

On the heels of this survey comes the opening of another casino aimed at the local market. Casino MonteLago is located five miles east of its closest competitor - The Fiesta Henderson - and nestled in the luxurious master-planned community of Lake Las Vegas.

Casino MonteLago sits on the shoreline of the man-made lake, which is surrounded by sprawling multimillion-dollar homes. The $60 million Italian-winery-themed property is adjacent to the Ritz Carlton hotel resort. As intimidating as the neighborhood may seem, officials at MonteLago insist they will market to the city's local sector.

Persuading local players to pass at least three Station Casinos to venture to Lake Las Vegas and MonteLago will be a key to the property's success. MonteLago bosses think they have the way to do it: loose video poker machines. MonteLago officials say that every one of the casino's 220 video poker machines will feature at least one 100-percent payout game.

Obviously, they have read the survey.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.