There's a sight in Las Vegas not seen in a long time.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reports there are $9 billion in projects either in the planning stages or underway. New money is coming in to take over what Union Gaming analyst Bill Lerner calls "the boneyard" of abandoned projects up and down the Strip.
"We're projecting over 40 million visitors for 2014," said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA. That would mark the third record year in a row.
Even so, overall spending is still only 77 percent of what it was pre-recession. "Even when parts of the economy seem to be doing better, gaming revenues continue to falter," said Deutsche Bank analyst Andrew Zarnett.
The Las Vegas strip.Stuart Dee | Getty Images
The latest figures through November show $5.8 billion in gambling revenue coming into Las Vegas Strip casinos for the year, a 4 percent jump, but they remain down in the rest of Nevada.
Non-gaming revenue, however, is way up. Las Vegas room rates are rising, averaging $120 a night, and no new rooms are being added in the short term.
"What we have less of these days, relative to the economic trough, are folks who are looking for a cheap visit, jamming lots of bodies into a single room, and not spending money on property," said Union Gaming's Lerner.
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A trickle of new rooms will be coming on line over the next few years. A private group is building the SLS Hotel on the old Sahara site. A Malaysian gaming company, Genting, is awaiting approval to operate in Nevada, with plans to spend billions to take over the abandoned Echelon property from Boyd Gaming. Other spending includes LINQ by Caesars Entertainment, a shopping complex which will include the "High Roller," a Ferris wheel bigger than the London Eye. And MGM Resorts plans to build an arena in a joint venture with AEG which could eventually host an NBA or NHL franchise.
"The fact that people are willing to invest again in Las Vegas I think is an affirmation that people see this recovery," said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, the largest operator in town. He said 2013 was "a good but not great year" when it came to spending by Americans.
"Internationally, it was another great year," he said. Murren expects slow and steady improvements in 2014, with a strong first quarter.
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"We're a profitable company in 2014," he said. "The question will be, can we keep that momentum for the balance of the year? No one knows the answer to that, because booking windows are still pretty tight."