New Year's Eve in Times Square, New York, could be a bit of a let-down tonight. (The main attraction, as always, will be the dropping of a giant, sparkling ball at midnight.) In Las Vegas, however, the entrance of 1997 promises to be dynamite, with the implosion of an 11-storey, 900-room hotel on the Strip.
With a little help from the ageing Hacienda Hotel and a firm of demolition experts, the desert city may this year have found the ideal gimmick finally to eclipse the Big Apple. Earmarked for destruction to make way for a new 4,000-room gambling resort, the once-grand but now faded Hacienda will serve initially as the scaffold for a giant fireworks display with a glittering waterfall of light that will run the length of the building. At midnight - Eastern Time - the pyrotechnics will culminate with a loud bang: a fireball will erupt from the hotel roof, after which the entire structure will be reduced to dust in front of an expected 300,000 revellers.
The decision to send the Hacienda to Hotel Heaven at midnight Eastern Time - 9pm in Nevada - is officially explained as a police tactic to minimise the risk of drunken antics on the Strip later in the evening. Clearly, however, the timing is also meant as a direct challenge to New York.
"You can always stand in Times Square and watch the ball drop, but I think we offer a little more diversification in things that are fun," Kara Kelley of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce said yesterday. "Coming to Las Vegas on New Year's Eve is now something that people put on their calendar".
New York is trying to fight back. This year, the Times Square ball will be bigger and brighter than before and a light and laser show is also promised. But already one TV network - Rupert Murdoch's Fox chain - has opted to forsake the familiar Times Square fare for the big kaboom in the Nevada desert.