Las Vegas in tourism push amid crackdown - Sunday 12th of June 2005

Las Vegas is looking East, betting rising affluence will make China a big market for tourism and trade shows - despite a gambling crackdown aimed at officials wagering with stolen public funds.China is one of Las Vegas top emerging markets, Cam Usher, director of the citys Convention and Visitors Authority, said Tuesday on a trade visit to Shanghai. ``We expect to work with Chinese as business partners.There is plenty of room for growth.

There are no official figures on the number of mainland visitors to Las Vegas, though Usher said estimates ranged from 12,000 to 20,000 - out of 37.4 million who went there last year.Nevadas Tourism Commission opened an office in Beijing last year, adding to those in Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Australia, South Korea and Mexico.Ushers group plans to attend trade shows in China and to ``have more brochures to help raise the citys profile as a destination for international conventions, entertainment, year-round golf and shopping.It is also lobbying for direct flights from the mainland to Las Vegas - visitors from Asia now must first land on the west coast or elsewhere. Other members of the trade mission said they are seeking a loosening of US visa restrictions that prevent many mainlanders from visiting for business or tourism.It was helpful to see the visa process firsthand, said Karen Chupka, vice-president of the Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors electronics industry exhibitions. ``This is a really big problem.

The association is co-sponsoring an industry show in Qingdao next month - part of an effort both to encourage mainland attendance at US-based exhibitions and to tap the growing market in Asia for such events, she said.Members of the trade mission said they are not pushing Las Vegas as a gambling destination, and perhaps that is just as well. Early this year, Beijing launched a campaign against gambling, targeting overseas gambling, online gambling and illegal lotteries. It has also urged Vietnam, Burma and North Korea to shut down casinos along Chinas borders that thrived on business from high-rolling officials gambling on the public purse.Beijing has banned most gambling since 1949.

But it condones private wagering, state authorized lotteries and the booming casino business in Macau. Industry insiders forecast Macau may soon overtake Las Vegas as the worlds biggest gambling market, with more than US$5 billion (HK$39 billion) in annual gaming revenues.Gambling accounts for only 15 percent of Las Vegas revenues, compared with 60 percent from tourism, noted Karen Chen, China representative for the Nevada Tourism Commission.We dont feel that industry is the most important focus of our promotions, she said. ``Gambling is a very small part of it.

www.thestandard.com.hk

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