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July 29, 2014

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Rodeo followers help casinos during slow time

At Binion's Horseshoe Club, whose founder Benny Binion helped Las Vegas land the rodeo in 1985, business is up 20 percent to 30 percent for the 10-day run.

It's a far cry from when the rodeo first moved here, when Binion had to buy back tickets because sponsors and clients didn't think it was a great event.

The NFR, a sellout with 170,000 tickets for the 10-day event, brings cowboys from across the United States and Canada at a traditionally slow time of the year.

Benny Binion knew cowboys, Faiss said, especially that they like to gamble. A lot of them stay downtown.

"The people that come to the rodeo are usually people who have expendable income," said Bob Sheldon, president of the Golden Nugget. "They're coming to a world championship. They have the wherewithal to do that."

Gordon Crowchild and his wife, Maria, came to the rodeo from Calgary, Alberta, with a gambling bankroll of about $2,000 to $3,000. He plays slots and blackjack.

"I work like hell for 12 months and save for this trip," said Crowchild, who is staying at Caesars Palace but was gambling at the Las Vegas Club. "This is my holiday."

The former bulldogger and holder of a Pro Rodeo Canada gold card said he always seems to find tickets somewhere. He entered a drawing at the Las Vegas Club, which gives away five sets of tickets each night of the rodeo. Each $50 jackpot qualifies gamblers for entry forms into the drawing.

"It's a good place to have a rodeo, with the gambling and all the entertainment that goes on here," Crowchild said. "People say, 'I've seen a rodeo before,' but it's not the same."

The party continues to rage downtown as the Fremont Street Experience joins with Binion's Horseshoe and other casinos for the first Downtown Rodeo Stampede for the duration of the rodeo.

Nightly live entertainment includes such country acts as David Jones & the Kern River Band, Joanie Keller and Tony Marques & Sweet Justice.

Fremont Street Experience member properties will serve a variety of food and drinks, including a Texas deep-pit barbecue by Binion's each night on the street.

"We look forward to this every year," Faiss said. "The rodeo really helps the downtown. A lot of people have been here four or five days. If we didn't have this here the first part of the month, December would be disastrous."

Sheldon of the Golden Nugget acknowledged that December is probably the worst month of the year for gaming revenue, and that the rodeo picks up the slack.

"We don't necessarily see any increases in the handle," Sheldon said. "But we're able to maintain our level of casino play that's commensurate with the busiest times of the year."

Daily attendance at the Fremont Street Experience, with its $17 million hourly light and sound show, has averaged nearly 25,000, said Kim Daskas, public relations director for the attraction. The hoedown drew about 40,000, and the ensuing Stampede will probably bring in 35,000 a night, Daskas figures.

"What happens on an event night is we get that crowd and more all at once," she said. "The turnout (for the hoedown) was really good. There was a lot of beer drinking going on."

Dutch Fowler of California was among the rodeo revelers with some of his friends. It's his 11th year coming to the NFR in Las Vegas, and he said he's stayed downtown every year except once when all the rooms were full and he had to check into a Strip hotel. He's rooming at the Fremont this year.

"The hoedown's always great," Fowler said as he paid for a beer at Binion's, counting quarters from a roll. "Another reason I stay downtown is because the drinks are cheaper than on the Strip."

The nongaming economic impact of the rodeo on Las Vegas is nearly $25 million, according to Kevin Bagger, senior research analyst for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

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