Thursday, July 16, 1998 | 9:13 a.m.
LAS VEGAS - Never mind the slots and green felt. Which way to the mall?
A new survey says entertainment, shopping and fine dining have replaced gambling as Las Vegas' primary attractions for visitors.
The same survey, commissioned by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the proliferation of casino-style gambling presents new challenges for Las Vegas.
In 1988, only two states - Nevada and New Jersey - had "casino style" gambling. Today, there is some type of "casino-style" gambling - casinos, Indian gaming and riverboat gambling - in 30 states.
For the first time in its history, Las Vegas is perceived by more visitors as an "entertainment" destination (50 percent) than as a "gaming" destination (48 percent), the survey said.
And international tourists, which comprise 19 percent of the city's 30.5 million annual visitors, list shopping as their leading activity in Las Vegas, followed by dining, then gambling.
In a study by Plog Research of Reseda, Calif., 67 percent of leisure travelers surveyed listed shopping as a major activity and 40 percent listed fine dining. Only 18 percent listed gambling.
The survey was conducted over the past eight months by Plog and GLS Research of San Francisco and covered more than 8,000 travelers. It is to be used as a guideline as Las Vegas shapes future marketing plans.
Non-gaming revenue is taking on increased significance in the state's economy, as witnessed by the proliferation of upscale shopping centers. The trend began with The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, an upscale mall of 500,000 square feet that is currently expanding to 740,000 square feet.
Opened in 1992 on land where Caesars Palace once had a grand prix race track, the Forum Shops now draws some 50,000 people daily, with sales topping $1,100 per square foot, more than double that of the average U.S. mall.
The success of the Forum Shops was not lost on resort companies, who once saw the casinos as their cash cow. New megaresorts under construction such as Bellagio, The Venetian, Paris-Las Vegas, Mandalay and the Aladdin will all have major upscale shopping facilities as part of their properties.
"The fact is Las Vegas will change more in the next two years that it ever has," said Manny Cortez, LVCVA president.
A state report issued in February reflected the growth of non-gaming revenues in Nevada.
The state Gaming Control Board's annual Gaming Abstract showed the Nevada casinos grossed $13.29 billion in fiscal 1997. The figure included $7.49 billion from casino games, or 56.4 percent of the total. Hotel rooms accounted for $2.22 billion, or 16.7 percent. Restaurant food accounted for $1.62 billion, or 12.2 percent, and liquor and other bar sales registered $684.9 million, or 5.2 percent.
The survey indicated that 89 percent of those categorized as "more likely to visit" Las Vegas cited the "non-gaming" product as their primary reason.
"We're very excited about the future of Las Vegas and where we're going to be taking our city because the destination is changing so much and the competition is changing," said Rossi Ralenkotter, vice president of marketing for the LVCVA.
Competition is a growing concern and a reason why major players here are expanding their horizons beyond gambling.
The survey said that by the year 2000, some 90 percent of the U.S. population will be within 200 miles of casino-style gambling. It found that 39 percent of visitors to Las Vegas the past year would have visited more often if not for other alternative gaming destinations.