04/16/2004 12:00AM

Blackout victim Bellagio powers up


LAS VEGAS - Any tourist visiting the Bellagio this weekend would surely marvel at the dancing Fountains of Bellagio in front of the hotel, the famed Botanical Gardens, the upscale shopping in Via Bellagio, the fine dining options and, of course, the gaming.

But from Sunday through Wednesday night, the Bellagio was closed due to a power failure that struck Las Vegas's most profitable hotel-casino.

It was reported the Bellagio lost $3 million in revenue a day and profits upward of $1 million a day. Insurance will ease the pain, but the damage could be more psychological than anything else.

When the back-up power supply had to be turned off at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, the first public rumor was of a terrorist act. That was quickly dismissed, but the exact cause of the electrical problems won't be known for sure until a full investigation is completed.

One thing this has done is make all the major casinos in Las Vegas re-examine their emergency plans in case of a catastrophe like this. As Harrah's entertainment spokesman Gary Thompson said, "The same kind of initial outage could happen to anyone."

Nevada Power, which has had more than its share of negative publicity over the past few years, was quick to point out that the problem occurred on the property, and not with the service it provides.

The Bellagio reopened at 5 p.m. Wednesday, and within a short time had re-booked more than 1,000 guests who had been reassigned temporarily to neighboring hotels. Even this activity was anything but normal. The computer system was not up, thus all the guests were registered by hand.

Industry experts surmised that the public's perception was more important to overcome than any short-term financial loss.

What will help control the damage is that Bellagio has a well-earned status as a five-star hotel, and customer service in the past has seldom been an issue. Management will likely have to extend comps to all the high-rollers that were there, plus to much of its core business. Any guests who left town and were not offered comps did not play the game correctly.

If Thursday and Friday foot traffic was an early indicator, Bellagio will weather the storm. Shops and restaurants reported a much higher volume of business than a normal weekday. Much of that was attributed to the round-the-clock media reporting on Bellagio, which created a high interest level for the property.

Finally, in an example of life imitating art, Norm Clarke in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the NBC TV show "Las Vegas" had a premonition of this blackout occurring. The storyline for the Jan. 26 episode featured a power outage in the Las Vegas casino in which actor James Caan is the surveillance chief.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up Radio Show.