Las Vegas looking forward to big crowds, big money for Chinese New Year

Audrey Dempsey

2012 Chinese New Year at the Palazzo.

Las Vegans can expect to see an influx of foreign tourists, dragons and tangerines over the next two weeks as the Chinese New Year kicks off Monday.

Traditionally a time to gather and celebrate with family, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, is associated with good luck. This year — the Year of the Dragon — the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is expecting a strong crowd in the city.

"We'll definitely see additional visitors from China," said Michael Goldsmith, the LVCVA's vice president of international sales. "All of our data shows that international visitors stay longer and spend more, so there's terrific value in this holiday from all the money they'll spend and the experiences they'll take back and share with their family and friends. Hopefully, it leads to return visits in the future."

Most Strip casinos display decorations for the holiday, and traditional symbols include plum blossom and water narcissus flowers, dragons, red envelopes and tangerines and oranges — fruit that represent luck and wealth.

Tina Lee, events coordinator with the Las Vegas Chinese American Chamber of Commerce, said the Chinese New Year is a time when families sweep away the previous year's bad luck in hopes of making room for good luck in the coming months.

Many Chinese choose to test the new year's luck in Las Vegas, Lee said.

"You get to start over. It's a new day of a new year, and they want to see if it's going to be a lucky one," she said.

Festivities celebrating the Chinese New Year will be spread out over the next several days, both on and off the Strip.

One of the major celebrations is scheduled for Jan. 29 at the Chinatown Plaza, 4255 Spring Mountain Rd., where attractions include traditional lion dances and dragon dances, plus arts and crafts, calligraphy booths and Chinese fortune tellers.

A variety of Asian food vendors, representing cuisines from China to Vietnam to Japan, will also be on hand. The event begins at 10 a.m., with ticket prices at $3 for adults and $1 for children ages 6 to 12.

New on the Las Vegas event calendar this year will be a five-day festival centered on the Fremont Street Experience, which will feature performances, vendors selling Asian food and arts and crafts and a virtual dragon dance on the overhead screen. The downtown festivities start at 6 p.m. each Tuesday through Saturday.

Lee said that although the events are geared to Chinese Americans and Chinese tourists, everyone, regardless of culture, is invited to come celebrate.

"We welcome everybody, locals and tourists," she said. "We want to share our culture with others."

Around town, casinos are adding new items to their menus and planning special performances to celebrate the new year. Among the festivities and attractions:

• Traditional lion dances will take place over several days at multiple MGM Resorts properties, including the Aria, Crystals mall, The Mirage, MGM Grand and the Bellagio.

At Crystals, a dragon 43 feet long and 12 feet tall stands as the centerpiece of a display that includes more than 4,000 flowers. Kung fu artists and Chinese performers will perform a traditional dragon dance at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 24.

The Bellagio has transformed its Conservatory and Botanical Gardens into a shrine celebrating the holiday, complete with six different dragons arranged in a Feng Shui style meant to create harmony and balance in the exhibit. Authentic folk and pop Chinese music performances will take place daily at the conservatory's south garden starting at 5 p.m.

Several Asian-themed restaurants across MGM's properties will also be adding new items and offerings.

• At the Palazzo's Waterfall and Atrium Gardens, a 128-foot fire-breathing dragon serves as the centerpiece of decorations that spread across the entire resort and the neighboring Venetian.

At 1 p.m. Monday, there will be a dragon dance and eye painting ceremony featuring a parade of dancers and musicians who will start at the Venetian's porte cochere and weave their way through the resort.

New cocktail creations, including a vodka, ginger liqueur, lime and lemongrass syrup dubbed the Dragon Cocktail, will be available at bars throughout the Venetian and the Palazzo.

• The M Resort in Henderson is offering poker players a chance to get lucky by offering an $888 prize for anyone who flops four eights from Jan. 23 to Jan. 30. The property will also have its own Dragon Dance performed by the Lohan School of Shaolin at 6 p.m. Monday, and welcome banners, lanterns and tangerine trees will provide decoration throughout the resort.

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