Clubbing makes Las Vegas cool for young crowd

Tue Sep 23, 2008 3:16am EDT
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By Dan Whitcomb LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - It's after midnight when celebrity heiress Paris Hilton glides into the PURE nightclub at Caesar's Palace with her sister, Nicky, sending the dance floor throng into a frenzy. That PURE remains one of the hottest nightspots on the Las Vegas Strip four years after it opened is a testament to both the power of celebrity and the continuing lure of the club scene to young, free-spending tourists who would have passed up Las Vegas for hipper destinations in the past. "It helps the casinos tap into a market they don't often tap into, a younger crowd," David Schwartz, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Gaming Research Center, said in an interview. "Twenty years ago nobody in casinos would dream of charging somebody for their drinks. The whole idea was to get them to gamble," Schwartz said. "Now its, 'Well, if you don't want to gamble you can spend your money (at the nightclub).' " Las Vegas casinos, which once relied on slot machines and table games for most of their profit, now get nearly about 60 percent of their revenue from things like restaurants, shows and shopping malls. Major resort casinos along the Las Vegas Strip first opened nightclubs only in the late 1990s, partly in response to competition from Indian casinos in California. "It used to be you came to Vegas to catch Sinatra or Elvis and bask in the glow their fame," Schwartz said. "Now I think people in their twenties want to be the star of the show. And one way of doing that is having the whole nightclub experience. They can take pictures of themselves and upload them to the Web." CELEBRITIES ARE GOLD Beyond attracting a younger demographic, the nightclubs have in the last five years achieved something even more difficult and ephemeral: Transforming the image of Las Vegas from a stodgy old gambling town into a hip party destination, complete with celebrities. A mention in the gossip pages of an international superstar partying at PURE, Tryst or LAX can be gold for the club, drawing young women who in turn lure young men. Though club owners are reluctant to discuss finances, sources close the scene say stars have been paid six figure appearance fees. Noah Tepperberg, partner and co-owner of TAO at the Venetian and LAVO, which recently opened at the Palazzo, said his clubs do not pay celebrities to party there but will use other means to make sure they show up. "We take a different approach -- we usually get people who are looking to promote themselves. We do things like cover flights, rooms and expenses," he said. Despite the weak U.S. economy, TAO, the three-year-old restaurant/nightclub/pool party, is doing better business this summer than a year ago, said Tepperberg said. "No matter what, people still want to go out and drink. They still need to go out and eat," he said. Hilton's appearance at PURE, wearing a pink dress with a sequined cell phone and matching headband, electrified the crowd one recent Friday night. Nearly everyone on a nearby dance floor reached for their cameras as the Hilton sisters waved from a special raised VIP area. The sisters are gone within a couple hours. But at PURE, and across the Las Vegas nightclub scene, the party rages on. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eddie Evans) ʘ