03/31/2006 12:00AM

Gambling isn't the only game in town


Las Vegas may have been built on gambling and round-the-clock flowing booze, but a recent survey suggests that those things no longer dominate visitors' activities.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority released its 2005 visitors profile last week, and the extensive annual report shows that visitors to Las Vegas are spending more per trip. Nevertheless, the 90-page survey shows that although the categories of gaming and food and drink are both up from the previous year's account, the diversified Las Vegas of today demands that those well-heeled tourists spread their Vegas budget on a wider variety of options than in years past.

An average gambling budget for visitors last year was $625.50 per trip, which represented a 15 percent increase from the $544.93 of 2004. Of the 38.6 million visitors, 86 percent said they gambled on their visit. That, of course, was reflected in the state's record $11.6 billion gaming win last year, which was a healthy jump of 10.3 percent. Food and drink also increased, by 19 percent, from $238.32 per trip in 2004 to $248.40 last year.

But, the Las Vegas gaming and business community concentrated on adding non-gaming offerings. And that has paid off. Many industry observers believe that those efforts have brought a better gaming customer to the city as well.

The show budget was bumped to $49.43 per visit from the previous year's $47.21, sightseeing ticked up from $8.01 to $8.21, and those fancy Strip hotel malls helped shopping to climb 10 percent, from $124.39 per person in 2004 to $136.60 last year.

Las Vegas remains one of the hottest convention destinations, with conventioneers accounting for 12 percent of the city's 2005 guests. But vacations still provided the big bulk of visitors to Las Vegas: 61 percent last year. McCarran International Airport remained a vital portal to this desert oasis, handling the same percent of visitors as in past years, 47.

While Las Vegas is becoming the hip place to go for younger people, who follow the celebrities who come here to play and see and be seen, 41 percent of our visitors still fall in the 40- to 59-year-old age group.

Of course, the average visitor's income range has scaled upward as well. Twenty-four percent of visitors have household earnings of $60,000 to $79,999 annually, while those who generated an income of more than $100,000 per year increased 13 percent over 2004's totals.

By the way, the state reported double-digit increases in its January 2006 taxable sales, in which liquor tax revenue jumped 26.6 percent, feeding those old-fashioned notions of drinking and gambling after all.

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