07/02/2009 12:00AM

Cutbacks don't apply to fireworks

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LAS VEGAS - There continues to be signs all around of the strain that the economy is putting on our fair city. You might notice less prime rib and seafood being offered at your favorite buffet. There might be a few extra ice cubes watering down your drink. Or you might notice fewer staff members to assist you because hotels have had to lay off workers or reduce their hours.

So, as the Fourth of July weekend was approaching, I was wondering if we would see similar cutbacks in fireworks displays. After all, in tough economic times it hardly seems cost-effective to spend all that money on a free show for customers that lasts about 10 minutes. However, this weekend there are no fewer than 20 fireworks displays being held throughout Las Vegas, including nine at Station Casinos. Those shows will be held simultaneously at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Red Rock Resort, Green Valley Ranch, Sunset Station, Fiesta Henderson, Palace Station, Boulder Station, Aliante Station, Santa Fe Station, and a joint show at the Texas Station/Fiesta Rancho.

The Grucci family, which has produced shows all over the world, including seven consecutive presidential inaugurations and a $2.7 million show in Dubai last November, is putting on the Stations extravaganza and estimates 1,500 man hours are going into the preparation for the nine-minute event.

Besides our nation's birthday, Las Vegas has reason to celebrate because visitor volume has been leveling off after a year of declines. Visitation dropped only 3 percent in April - the last month that data is available from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority - and that's the lowest drop in the past year. Hotels are a little more full each week, even if it's because of reduced room rates.

World Series of Poker shuffles up

And in some parts of town, you wouldn't think that visitation is down at all. If you go to the Rio, where the World Series of Poker has been going on the past month, you would have been fighting to get through crowds in the tournament areas and the hallways. That is only expected to get more crowded this weekend as the Main Event - the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold'em World Championship - was to begin Friday, with "Day 1" being split into four days running through Monday because of the number of entrants. Last year, 6,844 entered and played for a winner's prize of $9.12 million, the second largest in world series history.

After Monday's action, the field will be split in half for "Day 2" on Tuesday and Wednesday. After a day off on Thursday (when the media plays in a $10,000 tourney), the surviving players will finally all be in the same room together next Friday and play will continue daily at noon until the field is whittled down to the final table of nine on Wednesday, July 15. Just like last year, the final table will take nearly four months off and reconvene on Nov. 7-10 to battle it out for millions of dollars in prize money and poker immortality.

Running through Sunday, the world series also has fan-friendly exhibits set up with PokerPalooza (formerly called the Gaming Life Expo) with everything from playing cards and instructional videos to full-sized poker tables. Many of the top pros also stop in for autograph sessions on days they're not playing. PokerPalooza opens at 11 a.m. each day and closes at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Race book notes

The Red Rock Resort, which will host the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship on Jan. 29-30, 2010, is hosting the Firecracker Shootout on Saturday and Sunday with three NHC berths up for grabs. It was previously announced that it was open only to NHC Tour members with a $500 entry fee (meaning non-

members would have to join for an extra $125), but now it's open to everyone.

Just like in the NHC final, players make 15 mythical $2 across-the-board wagers each day with payoffs capped at $42 to win and $22 to place. All entry fees are returned as prize money with the champion taking 30 percent and the top 10 cashing. Five percent of the entry fees will also go to the top scorer each day.

* The storylines with Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra have had a major impact on the future books at Wynn Las Vegas. When Jess Jackson first announced that Rachel Alexandra would not run in the Breeders' Cup because it's being held on a synthetic track, Wynn director of race and sports John Avello didn't change the odds on her to win the Ladies' Classic right away, saying "that's what they said last year about Curlin and he ran." At that time, Avello had Zenyatta at 9-5 in the Ladies' Classic with Rachel Alexandra at 4-1. Both females romped last week and it appears at least a little more like Jackson isn't bluffing, so Avello conceded a bit and raised Rachel Alexandra to 10-1 and lowered Zenyatta to 4-5. Of course, it's interesting to note that Zenyatta is also the co-favorite in the Classic at 10-1 along with Einstein and Well Armed (who, by the way, is Avello's 6-1 favorite in the Dirt Mile). Clearly, it's a case of let the bettor beware when wagering on horses that might be cross-entered in multiple races.

Are you ready for some football?

The Golden Nugget posted lines on 130 college football games last week, up from the 90 it posted last year. That comes to about 10 games per week that are available for wagering at the downtown Las Vegas casino. If you think that's a lot, the M Resort on the south end of town has all 256 NFL games posted.

* The Las Vegas Hilton will start taking entries for the SuperContest, the city's most prestigious annual NFL handicapping contest, on July 31. The entry fee is $1,500 with a limit of two per person. One major change this year is that the weekly deadline to submit plays has been pushed back from 1 p.m. Friday to 11 a.m. Saturday to give players more time to decide on their plays (and get current injury information). The deadline to enter is 11 a.m. Sept. 12, except for those who want to use the opener two days earlier. They must register and submit plays before kickoff. The early-bird deadline to be eligible for the free $10,000 mini-contest over the last three weeks of the season is at 4 p.m. on Sept. 7.