Updated on 09/16/2011 6:41AM

It's difficult to predict which direction Las Vegas is headed


Las Vegas, which was one of the cities to feel an immediate impact from Sept. 11, continues in its recovery to pre-attack levels.

True to its reputation, Las Vegas remains as resilient as ever although mixed economic indicators remain the norm.

The first big handicapping tournament of the year at the Suncoast Hotel Casino drew a near-record record number of participants for the $300,000 in prize money. Past tournament winners Joe Hinson, Dave Snyder, Sol Feingold, Tim and Bob Downs, and the most recent winner, Tommy Castillo, flew in while some past champions such as Tim Hailey needed only to cross town. Other regulars such as Eddie Louis, Carlos Camacho, Joseph Kwasnick, and Jerry Carmody joined the Matties and Jelinsky crews for the competition.

But the Las Vegas economy and the city's reaction has been unpredictable. The Southern Nevada Index of Leading Economic Indicators was decidedly below the yearly peak, according to the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV, but it rose in December.

Visitor volume dropped 6.5 percent to 2.9 million from 3.1 million a year ago. Gaming revenue dropped 6 percent in October. More people used ground transportation to visit Las Vegas as the passenger count at McCarran International Airport dropped 18 percent to 2.5 million.

The uneven Las Vegas economy has been felt by the tourist and local gaming companies alike.

On Monday, Moody's Investors Service rated the debt of two Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino giants to junk status, a move that affected $13 billion in debt. MGM Mirage, with $5.2 billion in debt holdings, and Park Place Entertainment, with $7.8 billion, were downgraded because of concerns about the continuing slowdown.

Harrah's Entertainment and Stations Casinos, however, reported better than expected performances with each company experiencing a rise in stock prices last week. Las Vegas-based Harrah's shares rose 76 cents to $39.99 when 2.1 million shares were traded as activity was three times the three-month average. Investors continue to show confidence in Las Vegas as Wednesday bidding on Stations Casinos stock jumped $2.12 per share to close at $13.72, up 18 percent.

Housing sales posted a record year in Las Vegas and the 350-room Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas resort and spa topped off for a scheduled opening in November.

In addition to the newly opened Palms Hotel Casino and the Green Valley Ranch Stations Casinos resort and spa, developer Steve Wynn stays on schedule for his $1.63 billion "Le Reve" mega resort on the site where the Desert Inn once stood.

Construction on that new strip complex is set to start this spring and open in mid-2004.

So, while the players slowly return to the gaming capital of the world, Las Vegas, as usual, continues to confound even the best pundits in the business.

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