Vegas Strip gambling revenue plunges in October in aftermath of mass shooting

The mass shooting in Las Vegas by a gunman perched high above concert grounds left 58 people dead, hundreds wounded and thousands scarred by the trauma of that night.

Now the Las Vegas Strip is seeing the economic effects of what unfolded Oct. 1.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board reported Thursday that in October the Las Vegas Strip saw a decline in revenue of more than 6% compared with October 2016. Then, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority released its data showing visitation to the city was down 4.2% to 3.6 million visitors in October compared with the same month in 2016.

Kevin Bagger, executive director of the visitors authority’s research center, said the shooting was to blame for the dip in visitor volume. He said the cancellations came primarily from “drive traffic,” not visitors arriving by plane.

He said that in surveys, people who canceled their trips didn’t feel it was appropriate to go to Las Vegas so soon after the shooting rampage.

“They knew people were suffering and said they’d hold off for now while people get through this,” Bagger said. “That, along with the concern that the atmosphere of Vegas wouldn’t be what it normally is — fun and exciting. It might be more muted.”

Evidence of what the shooting wrought in Las Vegas isn’t hard to miss around the city.

Several casinos still have the hashtag “Vegas Strong” on marquees. Mandalay Bay, where the gunman released his fusillade from the 32nd floor, has the words plastered atop its hotel.

At a recent ceremonial groundbreaking for the stadium for the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders, 58 lights were in the backdrop to represent the victims. There have been several hearings at the Clark County Commission, which is wrestling with the details of how to distribute funds raised to help victims. Crosses, candles and cards left at the iconic “Fabulous Las Vegas” sign have been moved to a museum, but signatures from well-wishers remain on a rock near the landmark.

Clark County also initiated the installation of bollards in mid-November — with plans to have 800 of them at several locations along the Las Vegas Strip between Tropicana Avenue and Spring Mountain Road in front of the Bellagio, Paris, Caesars, Harrah’s, the Venetian and New York-New York.

Beginning next year, the county plans to install 7,500 more along the Strip.

In surveys, Bagger said worries about safety weren’t mentioned often when people responded about why they had canceled a trip to Vegas.

Las Vegas was hit hard by last decade’s recession, particularly the housing market, and the tourism industry was showing strong signs of recovery only in recent years.

Michael Green, assistant professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the city had largely been on an upward trajectory for visitors and it was unclear whether the shooting would have a long-term effect.

He said travelers coming into town arrive to escape the vagaries of the world. Seeing evidence of the tragedy throughout the city and on the Strip might take them out of that mind-set.

“Of course, it depends on the person, but generally people don’t come to Las Vegas to ponder the universe,” Green said.

But many come to gamble, and the Strip’s revenue for most games showed a steep decline in October.

The casino win for October was $528.68 million — down from $562.73 million in October 2016.

Michael Lawton, senior research analyst at the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said the Strip was going to have difficulty beating October 2016 numbers. That month, revenue was up 14%.

Lawton also said this past October suffered from being down one weekend day compared with October 2016. He added that the Strip featured two highly anticipated boxing matches in August and September while October had none.

“Of course, this is in addition to the events which occurred on Oct. 1,” he said in an email.

Representatives from MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment — which own the bulk of the Strip properties — did not return requests for comment. Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian and Palazzo, referred inquiries to the visitors authority.

Despite the setback in October, revenue for the Strip is up 1.8% when compared with the same fiscal year period — July through October — of 2016, according to the Gaming Control Board.

The city also had some good news as downtown gaming revenue shot up 9% to $63.57 million compared with $57.81 million in October. 2016. And McCarran International Airport saw its busiest single month in its history with 4.3 million passengers coming through in October.

Bagger said those numbers tracked with convention attendance being up 35% compared with last year.

The shooting, he said, scared the city but Las Vegas is resilient, and that surveys the group has taken show people who canceled trips in October said they would come back. The visitors authority, in fact, built its marketing campaign on that idea in the wake of the shooting — using social media posts made by visitors who said they still planned to come to Las Vegas in spite of the shooting.

That campaign replaced the popular “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” marketing theme.

Bagger said, however, the social media campaign featuring the sentiments of visitors is already in transition and officials were working to “bridge” the old and new campaigns.

david.montero@latimes.com

Twitter: @davemontero

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