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Utah's snowbirds fly south.

The Peppermill Golf Course is part of a plan to turn Mesquite from a rest stop into a resort destination.

Daytime motorists unfamiliar with southbound Interstate 15 near the Arizona/Utah border may at first wonder why there is a plush green golf course in the middle of a dry, red-rock desert.

They drive two more minutes to discover that the course on the Arizona side of the border belongs to the Peppermill Resort Hotel/Casino in Mesquite, Nev., and that it is a major aspect of transforming that city from a roadside stop into a traveler's destination.

Peppermill's presence in Mesquite, with a population approaching 3,000, dates back to 1981 when the owners of the Peppermill Restaurant in Reno, Bill Paganetti and Nat Carlasi, purchased a 28-room room truck stop and casino called Western Village.

Eleven years later, the Peppermill boasts eight hotel buildings with 728 rooms, four restaurants, a health club, a gun club, and an authentic western ranch. It also ranks as Mesquite's No.1 employer, with 960 employees. Approximately 40 percent commute from southern Utah.

The change in traveler's attitudes about Mesquite is slow in coming, but it is coming nonetheless, said Peppermill marketing manager Kevin Lewis. The average length of stay of a Peppermill customer is 1.7 nights, not a vacation or a long weekend by most standards, "but it is closer to being two nights than it is to one." Forty percent to 45 percent of Peppermill's guests on any given "1.7 nights" are Utahns, representing the resort's No.1 market in terms of occupancy and revenues.

"Gamblings casinos are still a novelty item to Utahns. Gambling is unique to them; it's exciting; and it's something you can't do in Utah," said Lewis. "But a lot of people prefer to stay in Mesquite rather than Las Vegas because it isn't as foreboding."

The Peppermill has become a popular winter getaway for northern Utahns - affectionately called "snowbirds" - who want to get out from under the weather inversion. That market is equalled by Utahns who enjoy driving 30 minutes or 90 minutes from St. George and Cedar City, and more recently by Las Vegans eager to escape the hustle and bustle of that booming city.

"We don't want Mesquite to be a mini Las Vegas," said Lewis. "We'd rather see it become a mini Palm Springs. Las Vegas is always happening around you. No matter where you look, there are lights, casinos. In Mesquite, we can offer our guests the action of a Las Vegas. But if they want to get away from it, all they have to do is leave the resort and go the six national parks nearby, or go to the ranch or go golfing and enjoy the Utah atmosphere."

Big Enough for Both of Us

It would have been hard to imagine 11 years ago that Mesquite would have been a town big enough for two resorts. But the opening of the Virgin River Hotel/Casino in September 1990 has been another economic shot in the arm for the city.

"The competition doesn't seem to have hurt either casino," said John Van Cleve, president of the Virgin Valley Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We don't view ourselves as competitors to the Peppermill as much as the Peppermill views us as competitors," said Lex Hall, general manager of the Virgin River.

While the Peppermill aims to become a destination, the 379-room Virgin River, on the outskirts of town, is perfectly happy welcoming the weary highway traveler.

Controller Dale Seipp said 60 percent of the hotel/casino's business consists of travelers driving north from southern California or south from the Wasatch Front. In the resort's brief history, Utah has represented 40 percent of its business.

"Las Vegas has been become a traveler because it has become a destination," said Hall. "Being right on the highway has been our major drawing card."

Seipp said the resort, which employs about 230 people, plans to step up its efforts in diverting people travelling to California on I-80 to take the southern route via I-15 to bring in even more business.

The Virgin River, too, likes to attract the "snowbirds," and continues to target a good portion of its marketing at the retirement-age communities of southern Utah, which bring in roughly 10 percent of the resort's yearly revenue.

"St. George swells from the city of 35,000 to a city of 50,000 during the winter months [October through April] with people |flying ' south to get to the nice weather," said Hall. "For most retired people, gambling is a form of entertainment. Lots of these people are LDS and don't drink, but they sure do love those nickel slots."

Marketing director Marlene Buccieri added that Monday nights mean more than just football around the Virgin River. Monday nights also mean a salute to the legendary big band leader Tommy Dorsey as performed by the Vern Byers Orchestra, which attracts an older crowd.

Says Buccieri, "Monday's are busy nights for us, though, it you look around, everybody's hair is blue." UB
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Title Annotation:developers plan to transform Peppermill Resort Hotel/Casino in Mesquite, Nevada to major tourist attraction status, expecting trend in large influx of guests from Utah to continue and increase
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Previous Article:Utahns win in Sin City.
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