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Betting on Vegas discounts

June 08, 2008|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

Summer in Las Vegas means triple-digit temperatures and torrid travel deals. And this year, the discounts may sizzle.

That's because, reversing the trend over the last several years, Sin City's tourist business is slipping. Through March this year, gaming revenue and hotel rates dipped about 3% from the same period last year. Conventional wisdom blames high oil prices, the mortgage meltdown and a sluggish U.S. economy.

Come summer, "I'm predicting the room rates are going to be the lowest in six or seven years," said Anthony Curtis, the president of, a consumer website for visitors.

It's not that tourists have abandoned the gambling and entertainment mecca. More than 9.6 million arrived in the first quarter, a number virtually unchanged from the same period last year. But in a trend that began in 2007, they spend less while there, said Kris Tibbs, senior research analyst at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Alicia Viramontes of Hawthorne is one such tourist.

"I couldn't resist," she said, explaining why she dropped more than $270 last month on 11th-hour plane tickets to join friends at Harrah's.

"I just had to get away. Vegas is Vegas. Everybody loves it."

Viramontes, who works in tech support for a software company, said she travels to Las Vegas about twice a year and planned to return in July for a concert.

"But I'm on a little more of a budget this time," she said. "My dinners won't be so extravagant. I'll have the chicken instead of the steak."

Sean Burke, a hairstylist from Marina del Rey who said he parties in Vegas two or three times a year, is thinking of visiting less often because his salon business has slowed. He's more mindful of bargains and plans farther ahead, booking his recent $138 round-trip on Southwest Airlines a month out.

But Paul Callera of Westchester, who said he goes to Vegas for meal deals, doesn't bet that his gambling friends will hold back.

"If they want to gamble, they're going to go there," he said.

These days, though, gamblers aren't the mainstay of Vegas, where resorts made 58% of their money from betting in 1990 but only 42% last year, said Bill Lerner, senior gaming and lodging analyst for Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., a top investor in U.S. gaming. The rest came from shows, food, shopping and more.

Unlike Curtis of, Lerner doesn't expect rock-bottom hotel rates this summer in Vegas.

Howard Lefkowitz, president of, which sells Las Vegas travel, also doesn't forecast record-low rates, although he said the average room rate for advance bookings was recently down 5% to 8% compared with last year. is booking more rooms, tours and packages than last year, he added.

Whatever the price picture, "there are always deals to be had," Lefkowitz said. Here are tips from Lefkowitz, Curtis and Lerner:

Live by the calendar: To get the lowest hotel rates, go when business is slow, such as midweek, much of July (except July 4, which is a big party) or just before the Christmas travel season. Avoid weekends, holidays and dates when big conventions are in town. You can find a convention calendar at

Cast a wide net: Bargains show up everywhere, in newspaper ads and on websites of casinos, the tourist authority (, and travel sellers such as, Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline and Hotwire. Curtis said he recently found a 20% off coupon for the Border Grill restaurant in a freebie magazine in Vegas.

Get on a list: Casinos regularly send deal offers by e-mail. Sign up for these for free on their websites.

Look for extras: Don't shop just by room price. Many hotels, reluctant to drop rates, instead offer valuable add-ons. This year, "we see more types of deals," Lefkowitz said. Among ones recently listed on were two-for-one show tickets from the Flamingo and a $25 slots credit at the Venetian.

Go to the fringes: You'll generally find better room rates in downtown Las Vegas and toward the end of the Strip, rather than the heart of the Strip.

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