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LAS VEGAS-The Las Vegas gaming and hospitality markets made some strong gains in the final month of the first quarter, according to February performance data released Tuesday by the Nevada Gaming Commission and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau. Performance is still down from 2008 but is improved from February 2009.

Gaming win, the amount of money gamblers lose, was $786.5 million in March 2009 in Clark County, which encompasses the Strip, Downtown and outlying locals’ markets. That’s 11.6% lower than March 2008 but 10.5% better than February 2009. Year-to-date, gaming win in the county is running 14.7% behind 2008.

Visitor volume was 3.2 million, down 6.5% from March 2008 but 10.2% better than February 2009. Year-to-date, the region has seen 8.7% fewer visitors.

Hotel occupancy averaged 89.7%, down 530 basis points from March 2008 but 200 basis points better than February, though the month-to-month gain appears to have come at the expense of the average room rate, which at $92.46 was 31.6% below March 2008. Year-to-date, occupancy is running 7.8% behind 2008 and the average daily room rate is off by 25.3%.

The year-over-year comparisons are expected to improve throughout the rest of the year, but not because performance will surely improve. Rather, it will be in large part due to the fact that March 2008 was one of the last decent months in Las Vegas before the economy began decimating its visitor base.

Echoing MGM executives who spoke to analysts on Monday, a typically forthright Wynn Resorts chairman Steve Wynn told analysts on Tuesday that April saw his rooms in Vegas are being booked farther out and occupancy is back up in the 90% range, which has allowed it to push the minimum room rate a little in recent weeks. He was “reticent” to declare that revenue was ready to bounce back, saying the economy is “bouncing around,” but did admit to being “cautiously optimistic that maybe we’ve seen the bottom.”

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