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Lavish parties, uninhibited tourists rule in Vegas

Wednesday - 1/1/2014, 6:54pm  ET

FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 file photo, Carmen Zepeda of Corpus Christi, Texas show off her 2013 New Year's Eve glasses at the Fremont Street Experience Downtown Countdown in Las Vegas. Casinos bosses are hoping for a bright and profitable New Year’s eve as thousands of partiers descend on Sin City to usher in 2014 with big-name concerts, celebrity toasts and a fireworks display billed as the country's largest. Tourism officials expect more than 300,000 visitors to flocked to the desert for Tuesday’s festivities. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jeff Scheid, File)

HANNAH DREIER
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Las Vegas held one its biggest ever New Year's Eve celebrations, with sold-out concerts and an eight-minute long fireworks show that was billed as the largest in the country.

Big-ticket musical acts Bruno Mars, John Legend and Maroon 5 helped lure 335,000 visitors to Las Vegas by nightfall on Tuesday -- 5,000 more than last year, tourism officials said.

Thousands celebrated late Tuesday and early Wednesday along the Las Vegas Strip and across town at the Fremont Street Experience, where Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her husband, former mayor Oscar Goodman, were on hand.

Party-goers cheered in anticipation at 10 minutes before midnight, and then again with five minutes to go, then watched as the fireworks were launched from the rooftops of seven hotel-casinos.

The holiday was seemingly custom-made to align with Sin City's boozy, bad-judgment ethos.

The Minus5 Ice Bar Mandalay Bay started handing out free champagne for hourly toasts at 11 a.m. Tourists were seen toting novelty drinks into casinos by noon.

For Lester Arnold, 50, the desert weather made Las Vegas the obvious place to ring in the New Year. Temperatures dropped from 60 to 40 degrees as the sun set.

"There are people outside here. It's minus twenty in Springfield and there's no party there," the Massachusetts native said, sipping from a red Solo cup full to the brim with champagne as nearly naked showgirls strutted past.

A Gene Simmons impersonator sat in a motorized scooter nearby, wagging his tongue at tourists in novelty hats.

Police shut down traffic on the Las Vegas Strip at 6 p.m. so revelers could spill into the 4-mile stretch of road normally packed with cars.

Randy and Patty Harkin, of Salt Lake City, were dressed in their finest. The couple had just eloped at the Stained Glass Chapel, on the anniversary of their first kiss.

"I called my mom and was like, 'We're married now, and happy New Year," Randy Harkin said.

Law enforcement officers were keeping a close eye on the festivities.

Hotels were dealing a full house, with occupancy approaching 100 percent and $200 rooms going for $600. New Year's Eve is typically the most profitable night of the year for casinos, and their executives worked to persuade visitors to make it a long weekend.

Many casinos offered up special "New Year's Eve Eve" events on Monday and advertised the two days before that as the biggest weekend of the year. DJs were counting down to 2014 as early as Sunday at the Mirage hotel-casino's 1OAK club.

Las Vegas was light this year on hosted nightclub bashes in which guests pay for proximity to a famous person. Original celebutante Paris Hilton was hosting one of the only such parties.

New Year's Eve crowds in the city have doubled since 1990 but still lag other parties in New York City's Times Square and Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.

In seedier downtown Las Vegas at the Fremont Street Experience pedestrian mall, organizers held a block party that featured Blues Traveler and Papa Roach. Some revelers were disappointed to learn that they had to pay $40 to get in.

Grace Champion, 25, had come with her husband from Wasilla, Alaska. The couple bought their own yard-long plastic drink cups for 99 cents and was saving money by getting them refilled inside casinos.

Her hope for the New Year was that it would bring her a job. Her goal for the night: catch a glimpse of Papa Roach.

___

Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier.


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