Globally, the New Year is rung in with giant parties and fireworks displays. The grandest of those pyrotechnic extravaganzas are broadcast live to the world; as the count-downs progresses across the globe viewers are treated to dazzling light shows from Sydney, Dubai, London, New York and Las Vegas. Wait a minute, Las Vegas? Just how did a tiny little town in the Nevada desert ever get on that list with the biggest, most vibrant cities in the world? Well, in the first place Vegas is no longer the tiny town it once was; today the Las Vegas metro region has 2.3 million people. It is hardly on par with London or New York, but much larger than it was in 1950 when 24,000 people lived there. For most years since 1950, Las Vegas has been the fastest growing city in the country. It has doubled or tripled in size every decade until the Great Recession, but this year it is back on it growth path.
The two million residents are not the reason the world watches the fireworks from the Nevada desert. Las Vegas has a compelling storyline; the Strip is a unique phenomenon, 45 million people a year pass through its airport. The city has more than 150, 000 hotel rooms and nearly every room is occupied during the New Year festivities. The last time New Year’s Eve fell on Saturday, the Strip hotels had a 98.1 percent occupancy rate. This year 320,000 people were expected to be in town to celebrate the advent of 2017. It is estimated that tourists in Las Vegas spend $200-250 million in and around the city during the holiday. The major casinos make certain that the fireworks in Las Vegas are as impressive as those any place. That is what puts Las Vegas on the worldwide celebration list; the party on the Strip is a grand party by any standard.
Nevada, the City of Las Vegas and the casinos are very glad to be focus of the world’s media, but they are happier still that all of those people come to play the games. The holiday revelers spend a few minutes in the street at midnight, cheering, kissing and wishing each a wonderful new year and then go back into the casinos. As you might imagine the tables and slot machines are as crowded as the hotel rooms and the atmosphere is charged with excitement. It is the kind of excitement that drives up the average wager dramatically. The amount of money being wagered on those occasions would stun nearly anyone except seasoned casino veterans. No other place is like Las Vegas during one of those madcap celebrations.
In the early 1980s I heard a tale of New Year’s Eve that while I understood the words, I did not really grasp the concept. Clifford Pearlman, who died in September, was CEO of Caesars and was telling an audience of gaming insiders about one such night at Caesars. He held his audience spellbound; Pearlman said every table was full, every slot machine was being played, millions and millions of dollars being won and lost. But it was all incidental. Somewhere at a baccarat table one man was betting so much money that his winning and losing would determine Caesar’s profit for that day and maybe the month and even the quarter. I heard his words and then mostly forgot them, at least until the last year when I was looking at the monthly gaming win for Nevada.
Now, every month when I am trying to make sense of the gaming revenue numbers from Nevada I hear an echo of Clifford Pearlman. Regardless of the economy, the weather or anything else, the factor that determines whether Nevada’s gaming revenue is up or down is the Las Vegas Strip. And on the Strip, nothing is more important that baccarat. In November baccarat on the Strip was off 22 percent and that pulled the entire state down by 3 percent. In nearly every other jurisdiction and on other games, Nevada was up. But as Pearlman said all of that is incidental; in the end it is that one guy playing baccarat that counts. So, let’s hope Caesars and the other casinos on the Strip had a good run on baccarat on New Year’s Eve. It would be nice to see Nevada finish 2016 up.