02/17/2006 12:00AM

Convention business continues to boom

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Only in Las Vegas can a business be mandated to finance its competition.

For those of you who bother to peruse the bill when checking out from a stay in Las Vegas, you might notice a "room tax" fee. That tax is tagged onto the bill for each and every night someone stays in a hotel in Las Vegas. That tax, which is compulsory, is used to finance the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Created in the late 1950's to drive convention business to Las Vegas, the LVCVA is now a powerhouse entity in the convention game worldwide, and it operates the Las Vegas Convention Center. But, almost all of the new mega-resorts now have their own convention facilities as well. So, while they fund the coffers of the LVCVA, they compete with it for convention business.

Of course, the LVCVA is more than just the operator of the Las Vegas Convention Center, located adjacent to the Las Vegas Hilton along Paradise Road. It is also responsible for many aspects of publicizing Las Vegas worldwide, including its renowned advertising campaigns.

Following on the heels of the popular "What happens here, stays here" goodie is a new campaign that allows you to be whomever you want when you come to Las Vegas.

There is no doubt that the LVCVA has been and continues to be a vital part of the Las Vegas success story. That is why the LVCVA received almost three-quarters of a billion dollars this year to continue competing with the hands that feed it.

While old hotel casinos are being imploded here, the Las Vegas Convention Center is about to get a serious face-lift. The LVCVA board approved a $737 million upgrade and expansion to the 47-year-old center. The work will be done over the next five to six years and promises to keep the convention center leading the pack in convention business - important to keep the town's 120,000-room inventory filled during weekdays.

And, supply must keep up with the growing demand.

According to LVCVA figures, the city hosted more than 38.5 million visitors last year, representing a 3.2 percent increase from a record 2004. This year, the LVCVA predicts there will be as many as 39.1 million visitors. Convention attendance grew by 7.7 percent in 2005 compared with the previous year, and the local convention business drew more than 6 million, hitting that threshold for the first time.

And although Las Vegas is no longer just a gambling town, Nevada regulators reported that the state's casinos won a record $11.65 billion in 2005. That figure is up more than 10 percent from the previous year. And, of course, the Las Vegas Strip casinos led the way with $6 billion, up more than 13 percent from 2004.

Horse racing was not left out of the increase in business here, either. With a boost from what amounts to racing's conventions - the popular horse race tournaments led by the Coast Casinos' Horseplayer World Series and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association/ Daily Racing Form National Handicapping Championship - Nevada race books won more than $99 million last year, representing a 9 percent increase over 2004.

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