Sunday, April 27, 2003

Competition hurting Las Vegas Strip: strippers - er, 'clubs'

By Adam Goldman
The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS - At his bachelor party at the Sapphire Gentlemen's Club, Brad Boeye and his buddies tossed $20 bills like confetti at topless women. By the time they left, they'd gone through $800.

The men would have been happy to spend their money at the MGM Grand hotel-casino, where they were staying, but this wasn't the kind of entertainment casinos offer.

"They need to have this," said Boeye, 30, a computer networker from the San Francisco Bay area. "They are losing out. ... We've got lots of money to spend."

Casinos are facing growing competition from strip clubs, or so-called gentlemen's clubs, that are increasingly sophisticated, well-financed ventures. There are 31 strip clubs in Clark County and Las Vegas, compared with about 40 major casinos on the Strip.

While strip clubs have always dotted the Las Vegas landscape, they've never been built on such a large and expensive scale. The magnitude of these businesses is catching the attention of casino owners.

"I imagine this is a phenomenon that's indicative of some trend," said Elaine Wynn, who along with her husband, Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts, is building the Strip's newest casino, Le Reve. "Young people who are affluent don't find gambling to be entertainment."

The $30 million, 71,000-square-foot Sapphire sits on 7 acres and boasts marble floors and plasma televisions. About 40,000 feet of the club has been approved for topless dancing, co-owner Peter Feinstein said.

The Sapphire is the biggest of the strip clubs, including the 25,000-square-foot Jaguars Gentleman's Club and a 24,000-square-foot club scheduled to open this year. It has 10 sky boxes that allow customers a sweeping view of the hundreds of topless dancers flitting about, jumping from lounge chair to lounge chair, customer to customer.

Feinstein said he expects a 25 percent return on his investment, making the supersize strip club business more profitable than many major companies.

On a Saturday night, 2,000 to 3,000 men pour through the establishment. Taxis line up outside, one after another ferrying the men and their money to and from their hotels.

Las Vegas visitors are the reason the clubs are successful.

"They fall in love and spend all their money," said 21-year-old Piper, a dancer who migrated to Las Vegas from Los Angeles and has been stripping for a few months.

Mike Beezley, Jaguars' director of marketing, said casinos are feeling the pressure from the strip clubs.

"We raised the bar," he said. "We've made the casinos compete. Sex always sells."

The hotel-casinos are responding by making nightspots sexier or rolling out new ones to attract men.

Casinos are now selling sex, or at least the hint of it, on billboards around the city. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority airs commercials with the not-so-subtle message that anything is possible in Las Vegas.

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