12/16/2005 1:00AM

Where real Las Vegans play


Las Vegas is a tale of two cities. First, there is the Las Vegas for tourists, the Strip and its downtown counterpart, the Fremont Street Experience. Then there is the fastest growing city in America, suburban Las Vegas. Here, there are several gaming companies that cater to local residents and the 5,000-plus new arrivals per month.

While the giants of the Strip ponder their next acquisition or billion-dollar mini-city, the new residents keep pouring in. Hey, somebody has to be here to build and operate those Kong-like resorts. And those who call Las Vegas home aren't allergic to the spoils that attract that very tourism, either.

While you may be familiar with the MGM Mirages and Wynn Las Vegases of the world, it is companies like the Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming Corporation that feed the local fare.

Both companies will meet hometown demand with new digs in 2006. Station is in the final phases of completing its Red Rock Station complex for a March opening. Boyd Gaming, by virtue of its 2004 acquisition of Coast Casinos, will launch its newest entry into the Las Vegas market, the South Coast Hotel Casino, on Thursday.

The South Coast is located on Las Vegas Boulevard. It sits just north of the St. Rose Parkway exit off Interstate 15, and will be the first place on the Strip the massive drive-in crowd from Los Angeles will see. The south Strip area is just starting to boom, and a Coast casino is the anchor - for now.

The $600 million South Coast complex has started to expand, and it hasn't even opened. A second tower adding 640 more rooms is under construction and will complement the original 660 room capacity by June of next year. The multi-entertainment complex features a multitude of restaurants, bowling lanes, movie theaters, an 80,000-square foot casino, and a huge equestrian center. In taking a sneak peak at it last week, I noticed what will be music to the ears of race and sports players: An arena-sized race and sports book with unobstructed site-lines to all the action on high-tech, high-definition television screens. And, an equally impressive bar with surrounding booths.

Despite the size of the South Coast, the reality is it could be bigger. According to the Las Vegas research firm of Applied Analysis, the population within a three-mile radius of the South Coast is expected to grow 37 percent from now through 2010, making for a projected population of 100,528 in that area. Population in the area has already grown 76 percent, from 41,609 to 73,329, since 2000.

So, the next time you drive up from Los Angeles, or fly into McCarran International, get a good look at that big gold building south of the Strip corridor. It may be lost among its neighbors in the not-so-distant future.

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