Toronto

Las Vegas bets on Canadians and wins big

Las Vegas used to be known primarily as a mecca for gamblers. But the city has made huge strides as a world-class destination for entertainment, food and pro sports, and Canadian tourists have taken notice.

Torontonians make up largest group of foreign visitors, beating out Mexico City and Vancouver

Las Vegas hotels attract more than 1.5 million Canadian visitors every year. (Lisa Naccarato/CBC)

Gabriella Di Paolo waited a long time for this trip. 

Several years ago, the Toronto mom decided to mark her 50th birthday with her first visit to Las Vegas, making her just one of a growing number of Canadians choosing the famous Nevada gambling mecca for quick getaways.

But Di Paolo is no high roller.  

"I'm not really a gambler, but I love great restaurants and really good entertainment and Vegas has so much to offer, it seemed like a perfect fit," she said as she checked into her hotel, Planet Hollywood, in the centre of the famous Las Vegas strip.

In fact, Canadian visitors have been the most important international tourist group in Vegas for the past 10 years.

In 2018, almost 1.6 million Canadians visited Las Vegas, more than any other country outside the United States. Of those, tourists from Toronto are the top visitors to Las Vegas, beating out Mexico City and Vancouver. In 2018, almost 250,000 passengers flew from Toronto's Pearson International Airport to Las Vegas.

Canadians have held the title of the most foreign visitors to Las Vegas since 2009 and just last year, the number of Canadian guests increased by 8 percent over 2017, but it's not the casino floor that's attracting the crowds.

"I'm so excited about the food here.  I find celebrity chef restaurants really intriguing. I just had the best meal at Wolfgang Puck's Spago. Tomorrow I'm going to Gordon Ramsay's Burger and then off to Roy Choi's Best Friend," said Di Paolo.

"I'm in heaven!"

Gabriella Di Paolo enjoys lunch at Wolfgang Puck's Spago Restaurant at the Bellagio Hotel. (Lisa Naccarato/CBC)

While casino gambling put Las Vegas on the map, the city has spent decades expanding its reach with dining and world-class entertainment, including Canadian content.    

"We know one major draw for Canadians visiting Las Vegas is our shows, so keeping our programming packed with top-quality, diverse entertainment is a high priority," said Jason Gastwirth, president of entertainment at Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

Canadian 'entertainment icons' a big draw

"Canada has produced so many entertainment icons, and fortunately, we've had the privilege of partnering with some of them, such as Celine Dion and Shania Twain, who's here right now," Gastwirth said.

"When we're booking entertainment, our goal is to land the best talent, but it's certainly a bonus in offering our Canadian guests an opportunity to support their fellow countrymen or women."

Artists perform during "Michael Jackson ONE" by Cirque du Soleil at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil has also made a huge mark on the city.  The contemporary circus company has seven different productions playing in Las Vegas including, The Beatles LOVE and Michael Jackson: ONE.      

When all shows are playing, Cirque du Soleil can host over 20,000 guests per day.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says the city works hard to stay current and provide guests with unique experiences, whether it's ziplining over shops and promenades or taking in the views on the world's largest Ferris wheel, The High Roller.

The High Roller, a 550-foot tall Ferris wheel on the Las Vegas Strip, provides panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains. (Lisa Naccarato/CBC)

"Las Vegas is an easy warm-weather getaway for Canadians across the country. Canadian travellers are attracted to Las Vegas for a number of reasons including unrivaled lineup of entertainment options such as Lady Gaga, Shania Twain, Aerosmith and many more," said H. Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing for the  Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.  

NHL, NFL betting on Las Vegas 

Brunelle also pointed to what he describes at "world-class dining" from celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay, Roy Choi  as well as "the growing roster of sports offerings," including the National Hockey League's Vegas Golden Knights, and Ultimate Fighting Championship. 

Mark Stone, left, of the Golden Knights celebrates a goal with teammates during a win over the Vancouver Canucks last month. (John Locher/Associated Press)

And he mentioned the National Football League's Oakland Raiders are moving to Las Vegas in 2020.

It's that wide variety of entertainment options outside of gambling that has Canadians taking notice.  

"Las Vegas is increasingly earning most of their revenue, likely 80 per cent, not from gaming but from entertainment and food and beverage, shopping, other experiences like that," said Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association.

Burns says that's what consumers are looking for and the gaming industry in Canada is continually working to expand its offerings in an effort to keep and attract some of those tourism dollars. 

He says with the Ontario governments decision to bring in private sector operators has brought in millions of dollars of new capital investment and a refreshed gaming experience. 

"The new casino-hotel construction and expansion of the Woodbine Casino in Toronto, it will have entertainment, food and beverage and shopping, but Las Vegas has a lot to offer and obviously, beautiful weather doesn't hurt either," said Burns.

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