Updated on 09/15/2011 2:07PM

Fallout from attacks rocks Las Vegas


For the last decade or so, Las Vegas has been a boom town with an economy little affected by the changing party of the presidency, the stock market, or the overthrow of world regimens.

That all changed by the time most Las Vegans woke up on Tuesday morning Sept. 11. When terrorists hit the twin towers in New York it was if they had taken those same jumbo jets and slammed them into the famous Las Vegas Strip.

Las Vegas became a ghost town overnight. And, the rippling fallout continues to take a toll on a town that provides gaming, entertainment, and conventions to a world that is now preoccupied with security and salvation.

As a result of airline reservation, room and convention cancellations, Las Vegas mega resorts have felt the first wave of the nation's concerns over the most devastating attack on American soil.

Hotel occupancy rates were 97 percent the weekend before the attacks. That figure dropped to below 50 percent the following weekend. By the second weekend, nearly 75 percent of the 125,000 available rooms were occupied.

Industry leaders quickly reacted by slashing room rates to the city's best resort properties. While room rates were as low as $60 per night at Harrah's on the weekend of Sept. 21-22, rates for this weekend have climbed up an average of 6 percent overall, but still represent a substantial savings over the pre-attack rates. Three hotels have reduced rates further. They include Bally's ($89 to $69), Golden Nugget ($99 to $79), and the Bellagio ($199 to $159).

In addition, special packages that include airline travel are beginning to surface in an effort to rejuvenate the Las Vegas tourism industry. Many industry observers believe that the aggressive pricing will continue through the end of the year.

Although gaming still represents the biggest piece of the revenue pie, room and restaurant earnings have become a substantial part of the bottom line. Strip hotel-casinos generated just over 25 percent of their 2000 revenue from room rentals. That $2.2 billion compared with $1.6 billion from food and beverage almost reached the $4.3 billion won from gamblers last year.

Many hotels have closed off multiple wings and floors of semi-full properties in an effort to save money. Layoffs started almost immediately and have risen to over 10,000 casino workers up and down the Strip.

The cash flow decline has led to delays of several construction projects of major Strip properties. On hold are the 1,000-room tower expansion at The Venetian, Park Place Entertainment's 900-room tower at their Caesars Palace property and the 1.8 million square-foot convention center at the south end of Mandalay Bay. Mandalay Resorts has also halted work on the shopping mall complex between its signature property and its Luxor hotel casino.

Although the $1.2 billion Aladdin hotel casino complex was already in financial trouble, it is now apparent that the property is heading for bankruptcy protection less than one year from its opening.

Two new resorts scheduled to open by year's end, however, are still on target to come on line. The Palms hotel casino, just west of the Strip on Flamingo Avenue, will open one month before originally planned on Nov. 15, while the upscale Green Valley Resort in Henderson, off Highway 215, will be open for business by mid-December.

As across America, Las Vegans have responded by contributing time, money, blood and services to the fallen citizens of New York.

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