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November 23, 2017

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Scenes and notes from an eventful day in Las Vegas

Mayweather, Cinco de Mayo, Kentucky Derby, Hawaiian dancing and drag make Vegas the place to be


Sam Morris

Patrons of the MGM Grand sports book, including Paul Apted, background, react while watching the Kentucky Derby Saturday, May 5, 2012.

Busy Weekend in Vegas

Lilian Iwamoto dances at the annual Lei Day Polynesian Festival Saturday, May 5, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Wrapped in Mexican flags and wearing sombreros the size of patio tables, Beto Terrazas and three of his friends turned Saturday into a two-for-one party in Las Vegas.

As part of a long — really long — Vegas weekend, Terrazas and his buddies road-tripped from their homes in Tracy, Calif., to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and catch Saturday’s WBA Super Welterweight title fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto. As the four made their way through the MGM Grand to the Grand Garden Arena, they stopped frequently to raise their drinks to the crowd at the casino and have photos taken with passersby.

“We left Thursday morning, and we’ve had three hours of sleep since then,” Terrazas said.

It was that kind of Saturday in Las Vegas. Between the fight, Cinco de Mayo, betting on the Kentucky Derby and other activities, there wasn’t much time to rest.

While Terrazas and his friends were rolling through the casino, Paul Apted was coming out of his seat as he watched the Kentucky Derby at MGM’s sports book. As the horses made the final turn, Apted started making a swatting motion with his right hand — call it air jockeying — while pumping his left fist.

When I’ll Have Another crossed the finish line, Apted shook both fists and cheered.

“That was my horse,” he said. “I saw him in an earlier race, and I liked him. But I also just liked his name. That’s what a lot of people go on — a name and a hunch.”

Apted got to the book two hours before post time to get a seat. He managed to find one in a back row on a day when the overflow crowd stretched at least 40 feet outside the seating area.

Although the MGM Grand was ground zero for Saturday’s swirl of activity, there were things to do all over town. Downtown, in the parking lot north of the California Hotel, hundreds gathered for the 15th annual Lei Day Polynesian Festival. At Sam Boyd Stadium, motocross riders churned up the dirt course in an American Motorcycle Association-sponsored race. Back downtown, operators of Drink & Drag staged the grand opening of the establishment, which features bowling alleys, video games and a staff dressed in drag.

The mix of the fight, the horse race, Cinco de Mayo and other attractions unleashed a massive flood of cash, no doubt.

But just how much money flowed into Las Vegas on Saturday was anybody’s guess.

Jeremy Handel, senior manager of public affairs for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said Friday that the LVCVA could estimate spending for only one of Saturday’s attractions — the fight.

That’s because the LVCVA’s economic impact formula is based on a per-visitor spending figure and therefore is geared for events in which attendance can be estimated through such means as ticket sales.

LVCVA data from previous fights staged in Las Vegas show that Mayweather bouts have pumped as much as $12.5 million in non-gaming revenue into the economy. But even that figure is incomplete because it’s an estimate of the spending only by the spectators at the fight and does not include money dropped by individuals drawn to off-site viewing parties, sports books or other attractions outside the arena.

“Some people just want to experience the atmosphere of Las Vegas on a big fight night,” Handel said.

So quantifying the spending is out. But suffice it to say it was expected to be a very healthy weekend for the Las Vegas economy.

“We’ve seen in the past that when there’s a convergence of multiple events like this, including Cinco de Mayo, (spending is) similar to a three-day weekend in Las Vegas,” Handel said. “Any other city in the world would love to have just one of these events. In Las Vegas, we’ve got all of them happening at one time. “

True, the events were happening on the same date in the same city, but at Lei Day, the hype and build-up of the Mayweather-Cotto fight seemed far away. Instead, parents pushed infants in strollers and visitors meandered between merchandise booths offering such products as tie-dyed T-shirts and surfboard-shaped clocks.

On a showcase stage, dancers ranging from elementary school students to retirees swayed to island-themed music.

One of the performers, Lillian Iwamoto, danced while growing up on the island of Hawaii but stopped when she moved to Las Vegas about 30 years ago to find work. After learning that a hula instructor had started giving classes at her neighborhood senior center, she started anew.

“It was so much fun,” she said. “When you’re away from it for a long time and you get back into it, you realize how much you miss it. That’s the same for a lot of things about Hawaii.”

Hours later at the MGM Grand, a big-fight atmosphere was building before the fight: bikini-clad women and bare-chested men strolling into the MGM Grand from the resort’s Wet Republic pool party, visitors stopping to pose for photos at a boxing ring set up in the lobby and gamblers putting down money on the bout.

Terrazas said he’d placed $1,000 on Mayweather, a heavy favorite.

“Money Team all day,” Terrazas said, making a reference to Mayweather’s nickname. “MGM — Mayweather Gets Money.”

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