12/21/2002 1:00AM

Recovery continues - but slowly


It has been more than a year now since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And even in this gambling city, which until recently seemed immune to outside happenings, recovery has been slow coming.

There are mixed signals as to whether tourism here is back to pre-9/11 levels, but considering recent events that surely hurt business - such as the closure of Las Vegas-based National Airlines, a sputtering national economy, and the proliferation of Indian gaming - Las Vegas seems to have weathered the storm.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board recently released the numbers for October. Nevada's 340 casinos won $807.4 million from gamblers during that month, up 4.6 percent from the $771.7 million won in October 2001. Las Vegas Strip casinos accounted for $395.3 million during October, up 10.4 percent from a year ago, resulting in a third straight month of increased revenue from 2001. Not so bad.

But those numbers fail to reflect the declines in business last October. A truer measure, perhaps, is to compare this October's business to that of 2000.

The October 2001 numbers were off 5.1 percent from October 2000 when the statewide win was $811.2 million. So, the comparison between 2000 and 2002 figures show a 0.5 percent drop.

As far as visitor head count, October 2002 showed an increase of 4.2 percent statewide compared with the same period last year, but a decline of 4 percent from October 2000. In Las Vegas just more than 3 million visitors rolled through this October, which was up from the

2.9 million in 2001, but, again, down from the 3.1 million that came in October 2000.

The hotel occupancy rate for Las Vegas in October was up 2.8 percent from last October, but down 6.3 percent from October 2000. According to a recent survey by Bear, Stearns, Strip room rates will rise after the New Year's holiday. Average weekday rates will reach $123 per night, up

38 percent compared with last year.

* Californians account for about 35 percent of Nevada's gambling revenues. But lately, more Californians have stayed home and played in the state's Indian-run casinos. California casino operators have seen winnings soar from $1.4 billion a year to more than $4.3 billion since 2000, when the state allowed an expansion of Indian gambling. California's Indian gambling revenue now rates second only to Nevada's $9.3 billion.

* Barrick Gaming Corporation recently announced it has bought four downtown gaming properties - the Plaza, Western, Gold Strike, and Las Vegas Club - from gambling pioneer Jackie Gaughan for $82 million.

* Steve Wynn's $2.4 billion La Reve, the world's most expensive hotel-casino, is scheduled to open in April 2005 where the old Desert Inn once stood.

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