LAS VEGAS -- The cannon at the Flutter Fetti booth near the front of the gambling trade show in Las Vegas last week delivered regular bursts of metallic and crepe paper cutouts, shooting them to the ceiling in big booms and carpeting the floor with shimmering hearts, stars and circles. The glittery mess outshone the slot machines and online poker touchscreens in more ways than one.
A poll conducted this year by the national gambling lobby found that 26 percent of casino-goers now eschew wagering, and the city's growing mega-clubs are threatening to become the most lucrative draw for a town built on betting.
"It's an arms race," said CFO John Stern, eying the laser booth nearby at the Global Gaming Conference's "entertainment pavilion." Lasers flickered in blinding circles on a white screen. Brightness is one of his product's major selling points.
"Clubs want to add an extra element of wow," said Mary Canavan, owner of the laser company YLS Entertainment Inc. "It used to be you were lucky to have two lasers on your show. Now you might have 26."
Sin City now boasts 21 of the country's 100 most profitable nightclubs, according to the trade publication Nightclub & Bar. The town also dominates the top 10 spots, with seven clubs bringing in more than $25 million a year. The other three clubs with earnings in the same range are LIV and Mango's Tropical Cafe in Miami Beach, and LAVO in New York City.
As clubs become increasingly important to casinos' bottom line, programmers are competing ever more fiercely to offer partyers novelties they'd never see at their local dance spot.
"It's the full package these days," said Pauly Freedman, director of operations for Encore Beach Club, Surrender and Andrea's at the Wynn Las Vegas. "The DJs come in and they have their music, but they're also bringing lighting directors in. So it's up to us when we're working alongside them to make sure we have the latest and greatest in our clubs."
Last month, Surrender distributed 3-D glasses at the door so dancers could take in the graphics popping out from behind DJ Morgan Page. Freedman is currently awaiting a new LED wall making its way on a boat from China. He promises it will be the brightest in the city.
At Flutter Fetti, which provides confetti for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the new thing this year is canons that sync automatically to a DJ's music, so that dancers are covered in metallic strips just as the track reaches its climax.
"Casinos need to create a celebration, and our products create the celebration," CEO Ronee Holmes said.
Several clubs are investing in individual confetti canons, cardboard tubes that range from $1 to $6 each. Hakkasan at MGM Grand likes to give a tube to everyone who walks in the door, Holmes said. Ghostbar at the Palms has purchased branded confetti throwers emblazoned with the club's name.
Canavan's laser installations might cost a club $9,000 for the night, but with table service starting at $10,000 at many Las Vegas venues, it's a small investment.
Of course, everyone has a competitor. The laser vendors are worried about clubs embracing CO2 as an alternative stimulus overload. Many clubs have begun periodically spraying bursts of icy air into the faces of sweaty dancers.
For the confetti contingent, the concern is indoor fireworks. Luckily, most casinos still ban those.