01/26/2007 12:00AM

In a couple years you won't recognize the place


This column is for the thousands of visitors coming to Las Vegas this time of year for major horse racing and sports events. Because these are held annually, some folks may come to Las Vegas only once a year, at this time.

The three events, on consecutive weekends, are the Coast Casinos' Horseplayer World Series, the National Handicapping Championship at Bally's and, next week, the Super Bowl.

If visitors left their Strip hotel to sightsee for a couple hours, they would need to buy a scorecard to note all of the changes over the past 12 months. Some casinos are closed, even imploded. Many have new owners or are brand new, rising faster than a kid having a growth spurt.

For a quick tour, here's a short rundown of changes over the past year.

Boyd Gaming closed the legendary Stardust this winter. Boyd plans on building the $4 billion Echelon Place in its stead. You should take a final look at the Stardust before the building is imploded, probably sooner than later in 2007.

Harrah's did a land swap with Boyd Gaming to obtain the Barbary Coast on the northeast corner of Flamingo and the Strip. You should visit the Barbary because the future of this famous casino is on borrowed time.

Pinnacle Entertainment bought the Aztar Corp., including its most valuable Las Vegas asset, the Tropicana, on the southeast corner of Tropicana and the Strip. Peek at the Tropicana now before a $2 billion renovation of the property starts soon.

Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson are playing a multi-billion game of chicken between two properties that face each other, Wynn Las Vegas and the Venetian, respectively. Wynn is expanding his with the Encore resort. Adelson is moving forward with the Palazzo. The Palazzo structure, in particular, is much further along and very impressive to look at. It will be a while, though, before the two new properties are open to the public.

Three casinos have been leveled since a year ago, the Castaways, Westward Ho and the Boardwalk.

I suggest looking at the site of the old Boardwalk, which is between the Monte Carlo and the Bellagio on the west side of the Strip. You'll see steel skeletons rising from a gigantic dig that will become the $7 billion CityCenter. I find it's the most remarkable hole in the ground this side of the Grand Canyon.

The Aladdin is morphing right before our eyes into Planet Hollywood. It's another must-see. The billion-dollar Red Rock Resort opened last April on West Charleston in Summerlin. Finally, there is the Hooters Casino and the fabulous orange-clad Hooters girls. They will have new owners less than a year after opening on Tropicana east of the Strip.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that $33 billion of new casino construction is ongoing with another $12.8 billion on the drawing board. Before you go, take a few snapshots of these Las Vegas landmarks because in another year you may not recognize the place.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."