Las Vegas Casinos Go Empty During Tough Economic Times

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Las Vegas

(Rueters) - LAS VEGAS: With just days to go until the US presidential election, financial gloom hangs like a pall over visitors to Las Vegas. Wayland Ferguson, a New Mexico resident in town for a conference, said he had no interest in gambling or splashing out during his trip. "People need to get back to the idea of living on less than they make, not more than they make," he said, as he stood with friends outside one of Las Vegas' attractions, a mall modelled after the forum in ancient Rome. "We've become a society that lives on credit. We need to increase our savings."

During the good times, the gaudy neon lights of the famed Las Vegas strip fuel dreams of hitting the jackpot, and even breaking the bank at the casinos. For Justin Pagliarulo, from Georgia, the biggest worry was his retirement fund, which is invested in financial markets through a 401(k) plan. "I'm losing lots of money on my 401(k) right now, so that's a big concern," said Pagliarulo, who still found some money for a flutter in the casinos, and visit an upscale show by Cirque du Soleil.

Las Vegas' spectacular excess lures nearly 40 million visitors a year from across the United States and beyond, who last year spent some $41.6 billion in the city.

Visitor numbers and gaming revenues on the strip are off by 1.5% and 6.7% respectively in the year to August, and hotels and resorts are having to entice visitors with discounted rooms to keep the roulette wheels spinning.

While visitors are clearly feeling the pinch from the downturn, they are divided over whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain is the best pick to get the economy back on track. Jim Kaster, a database manager visiting from Minnesota whose retirement investments lost a fifth of their value in recent weeks, said he favoured Obama, who this week opened up a 12-point lead over his Republican rival. "We need to take the scalpel and look at the budgets, and tighten our belts," he said, as he stood on the sidewalk by the Mirage hotel.

Sitting by a recreation of a Venetian canal, where gondoliers plied the water, financial services specialist Mark Kuchler from Arizona said he favoured McCain's vision. "I like McCain for lower taxes. If you raise taxes, you're stifling the economy," he said. "People will get out and spend if they have more money. Anytime you spend money is stimulates the economy."

But some of the visitors from across America remained doubtful that either candidate could get their arms around the current economic crisis that many economists fear could tip over into a global recession.

"I think whoever gets elected is going to have a real problem," said McConnell. "And it's going to take more than four years to get us out of it."

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