Competing with America’s Party

Billed as “America’s Party,” the 2010 New Year’s Eve celebrations centering on the Las Vegas Strip brought about 320,000 revelers to town. With an eight-minute, $500,000 fireworks extravaganza spanning seven sites and involving 49,375 effects lining the Boulevard and VIP parties going on inside, it’s easy to see why the Strip draws a national television audience and plenty of partying.

For many partiers, a celebrity-hosted blowout bash is the sine qua non of the Las Vegas New Year’s experience. With tickets as high as $200 (and VIP packages that fall securely in the “if you’ve got to ask, you can’t afford it” category), there’s no doubt that these celebrations generated their share of excitement—and plenty business for Las Vegas.

Kevin Bagger at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates that New Year’s Eve produced more than $177 million in nongaming spending. When added to the gambling drop that visitors leave behind—which was considerable—that’s not bad for a weekend’s work (or play).

The lion’s share of that haul goes to the big Strip resorts, which host most of the events that make the news. But what about casinos outside the tourist corridor? How do they compete with champagne toasts with the stars and fireworks by Grucci?

The Fremont Street Experience’s TributePalooza is one way to go: If you can’t get marquee names for your party, get sound-alikes. So instead of offering a shindig hosted by Nelly or Rihanna, the Experience rolled out sets by bands such as Fan Halen, the Red Not Chili Peppers and Led Zepagain, as well as less-obvious tributaries, such as Bonfire (AC/DC) and Rocking the Paradise (Styx).

Some might question the wisdom of offering visitors ersatz “Mr. Roboto” when there are so many real celebrities popping corks just miles away, but TributePalooza’s in its third year and shows no signs of slowing down, which proves you don’t need to pay headliner prices to put on a party that people will flock to.

Casinos beyond downtown and the Strip proved you didn’t need fake or real celebrities to ring in the New Year. Miles from the fireworks, the M Resort offered free entertainment throughout the property—no cover, no admission charge, period—to thank locals for “a great year” and reach out to new customers.

“With our location, it’s natural to appeal to California visitors, so we’re using New Year’s to continue to showcase the property to them, but at the same time we’re not alienating locals,” says Jody Lake, senior vice president and general manager of the M.

With the M’s hotel filled and restaurant reservations at their max, even before the holiday it was clear that the casino is “the most booked it’s been since we opened,” Lake says.

She believes the resort made more in bar and casino action without a cover, and chose to focus the holiday on showcasing the casino instead of giving patrons the feeling they’d been “price gouged.”

At the other end of Las Vegas Boulevard, Jerry’s Nugget in North Las Vegas took a similar approach, hosting a dance party with DJ John D spinning requests—everything from oldies to Top 40—in its Royal Street Theater. With no admission charge, free noisemakers and a free champagne toast at midnight, this isn’t an exclusive event for only high-rolling VIPs.

And that suits Jerry’s Nugget—and its patrons—just fine.

Cindy Ferris, director of marketing and advertising for the longtime locals joint, says that, with “a lot of dancing and partying” going on, the dance party’s always popular with locals, particularly those from the casino’s neighborhood.

“This is a locals casino, first and foremost,” she explains. “There’s no hassle of getting on the Strip and getting locked in for hours because they’ve closed roads. There’s easy access and great values. You might not see celebrities, but you’ll see your friends and neighbors. We put on a great party to attract our locals who want to come here for the biggest party of the year.”

“We don’t have million-dollar fireworks outside, but if you’re here you’re indoors drinking and gambling anyway—not out on the street. And you’re out of the weather,” reminding us that for locals, the Strip alone isn’t enough of a novelty to make hours in the December cold a viable party plan.

So while the outside party gets all of the notoriety, places like the M and Jerry’s Nugget are a reminder that, in Nevada at least, the real action’s usually indoors.

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