As the National Finals Rodeo opens in Vegas today, expect the Strip to be full of cowboy hats and boots. The premier rodeo event of the year celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and will provide a welcome boost in tourist dollars. Expect the Strip to return the favor, modifying shows to reflect cowboy tastes. Lounges will be filled with country music, restaurants will beef up their beef and comedians will fill their repertoire with jokes that include boots and the stuff that sticks to them.
The seven events attract 175,000 visitors over 10 nights. 120 bullriders, calf ropers, bronco busters and steer wranglers compete for $5.625 million in prize money. Make no mistake, however. This is one of the most dangerous sports. In 2007 the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund helped injured cowboys and their families to a tune of $4.6 million. (100 percent of contributions goes to eligible applicants.)
Tickets sell out months in advance, but each year unused tickets are available for resale at the ticket booth at the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center (and at exorbitant rates through scalpers). While you are there, browse the hundreds of booths selling cowboy regalia at a premium. Those in the know head over to Boot City, where cowboy equipment, clothing and stuff is sold year round.