Population in Las Vegas will grow by 1.2 percent, employment will grow by less than 1 percent, and visitor count will top 40 million this year, business executives said at Preview Las Vegas 2013.

Downtown Las Vegas will emerge as a technology startup hub, and the Las Vegas Convention Center will take its next step toward becoming a world trade center, the speakers said.

Las Vegas is No. 1 in convention and trade shows, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, holding more conventions than New York and Chicago combined, said Rossi Ralenkotter, chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

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“We’ve had the No. 1 ranking for 18 years, and we will make sure we maintain that position,” Ralenkotter told about 2,200 people attending Preview Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center Cox Pavilion.

To that end, Ralenkotter will propose an expansion of the convention center at the authority’s February board meeting. It will raise awareness of Las Vegas as an international business destination, he said.

The authority is looking at integrating the exhibit halls for better flow, connecting with the South Hall, adding meeting rooms and ballrooms, and improving access to the convention center from Joe W. Brown Drive. A new exhibit hall is part of the authority’s 25-year vision, Ralenkotter said.

“This is a great opportunity to make a bold statement going forward to market the destination,” the tourism executive said. “We need to move forward with an integrated transportation system, a combination of taxis and limos to move people out of the airport faster and how to connect the monorail from Mandalay Bay to the convention center. We should look at light rail from the M Resort to downtown. These are bold ideas, but now’s the time to move forward with that.”

More than $1.5 billion is being invested on the Strip in renovation projects at MGM Grand, Bellagio and SLS Las Vegas (formerly the Sahara), as well as new projects, such as the Linq at Harrah’s, said Jeremy Aguero, principal of research firm Applied Analysis.

Drugs and hookers

The Nevada Gaming Commission signed off on a $1 million fine against the Palms to settle a complaint issued by the state’s Gaming Control Board resulting from an investigation that discovered rampant drug sales and prostitution at clubs on the property.

The violations contained in the 17-count complaint made public Jan. 11 were gathered during five undercover operations last year by board investigators and Las Vegas police.

Among the charges in the complaint was that on March 16 about 11:15 p.m., an undercover officer on his way to the Moon nightclub contacted a host manager, asking whether he could “supply some girls for their party, because they wanted to get laid and didn’t care how much it would cost.”

The host manager said it would not be a problem. About 12:50 a.m., the host manager brought two women to the undercover officer’s table at Moon. According to the complaint, they went to the club’s outdoor deck, where the host manager asked whether he “was happy with the girls because (host manager) could provide different girls if (the undercover officer) wanted.”

Commissioner Dr. Tony Alamo noted the commission approved a $650,000 fine against the Hard Rock Hotel to settle similar charges in January 2011.

Ferris-wheel liens

The Skyvue giant Ferris wheel project gained breathing room on Thursday as three contractors released their liens for unpaid bills with the promise that others will follow suit.

However, a statement by developer Skyvue Las Vegas LLC noted that it could still take several months to line up the loans to finish building the 500-foot-tall wheel and the retail center at the base. Little or no work has happened on the site, across the Strip from Mandalay Bay, for six months. Skyvue has attributed that at least partly to having to wait while components of the wheel are manufactured by companies in Belgium, Germany and Arizona.

Boyd layoffs include VPs

Boyd Gaming Corp. laid off an undisclosed number of workers Wednesday, including three corporate vice presidents.

The casino operator said the layoffs were less than 1 percent of the company’s workforce.

Boyd Gaming spokesman David Strow said the layoffs came in several of the company’s markets across the country. He said the company evaluated staffing levels and current business volumes.

“As we all know, revenue is unpredictable,” Strow said.

IGT proxy fight looms

Slot-machine maker Inter-national Game Technology said Wednesday it would hold the company’s annual shareholder meeting March 5 in Las Vegas while continuing to encourage shareholders to reject a looming proxy fight.

IGT filed its definitive proxy statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, telling shareholders they should re-elect the company’s eight-person board of directors.

Former IGT Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles Mathewson and former analyst-turned-investor Jason Ader head a group that filed a competing proxy statement with the SEC to win three seats on the company’s board of directors.

In the filing, the group said it wants to change some of the directions taken by the Las Vegas-based slot machine manufacturer.

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