12/28/2001 1:00AM

Major partying, but a little less gambling


The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is calling this weekend "America's Party: Las Vegas New Year 2002." More than 282,000 guests are expected in town to ring in the New Year.

The climax Monday at midnight will again be a major fireworks display from the top of 15 casinos along the Strip and up to the Fremont Street Experience. Fireworks By Grucci is back to try and top last year's incredible pyrotechnics. The seven-minute show will cost approximately $500,000.

The casinos have had to work harder this year to fill their 126,725 hotel rooms. The economy has gone soft since Sept. 11, so generous discounts are available for astute travelers. Industry experts predict that room occupancy will again approach last year's 99.4 percent capacity, but there will be fewer high rollers. Thus they expect gaming revenue to drop slightly.

Two things have helped Las Vegas tourism rebound from September. There was an aggressive new advertising campaign that targeted regional clientele, and the national release of the movie remake "Ocean's Eleven," which has done well at the box office. Both versions of "Ocean's Eleven" are based on a Las Vegas casino heist, with George Clooney and his gang updating the role of Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack.

The timing of these two events has brought top-of-the-mind awareness to Las Vegas when it needed it most.

There also are more headline shows on New Year's Eve than usual. These shows are apart from the dozens of parties that are available to revelers.

Here is a sampling of some of the headliners and where they are playing on New Year's Eve: Frankie Avalon, The Orleans; Tony Bennett, Paris Las Vegas; David Copperfield, MGM Grand; Chick Corea, Blue Note Jazz Club at the Aladdin; Neil Diamond, MGM Grand Garden Arena; Doobie Brothers, MGM Grand; The Four Tops and the Village People, Broadway Theatre at New York-New York; Guns N' Roses, Hard Rock Cafe; Billy Idol, House of Blues at Mandalay Bay; Gladys Knight, Bally's Event Center; Patti LaBelle, Caesars Palace Pavilion; Huey Lewis and the News, Las Vegas Hilton; Dennis Quaid and the Sharks, Aladdin; The Spencer Davis Group, Flamingo Las Vegas; Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, Riviera.

Race and sports books figure to be packed to the gills this long weekend. The return of Santa Anita always provides an uptick in race handle. College bowl games are in full swing and the National Football League is finishing up its regular season.

Bottom line, Las Vegas should be as busy as ever this New Year's, but the visitors may not be leaving as much of their money.

Richard Eng is turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap-Up Show.