Wild and woolly Chinese New Year in Las Vegas

One thousand hand-cut flowers adorn the children at the Bellagio’s Chinese New Year display.
One thousand hand-cut flowers adorn the children at the Bellagio’s Chinese New Year display. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nobody likes to get fleeced, especially in Las Vegas, where the odds are stacked in favor of a good time and a lighter wallet. So why are the Venetian, the Palazzo, the Bellagio and other resorts filled with images of sheep, goats and rams? Because this is the time when casinos go all out to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Thursday marks the beginning of the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram in the Chinese zodiac. Kind-hearted and clever are traits attributed to people born under this sign. Mark Twain and Thomas Edison are sheep people, as well as Nicole Kidman and Bruce Willis.

If you are in Las Vegas between now and early March, you will notice the bell tower at the entrance to the Venetian hotel and casino draped in “Year of the Goat” banners. On Thursday, the traditional Lion Dance will take place in the hotel lobby and parade through the property. The dance is considered good luck for the new year.

The rotunda between the Palazzo and the Venetian is already decorated with colorful red-and-yellow Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling over a vignette of three mountain goats surrounded by large and small gold coins.

The displays near the waterfall atrium feature sheep covered in white carnations representing their fleece. Giant gold coins are placed among the 1,200 blooming flowers, including hyacinth and orchids. A feng shui master worked with horticulturalists at the resorts to increase the luck at the casino. A plaque notes that the gold coins are there “to attract fortune and wealth to our visitors.” Inscribed in Chinese characters is the message: “May your happiness be according to your wishes,” and on the reverse side, “Live as long as the tortoise and the crane.” Both animals are symbols of longevity for the Chinese.

The resort that really goes all out for the Chinese New Year is the Bellagio. Famous for its dancing fountains, the Bellagio has the most elaborate exhibit in town under its glass conservatory and botanical garden, with 22,000 red-and-gold flowers, bonsai trees, silk lanterns, trees hung with red lanterns, and a 14-foot mountain topped with a family of five mechanical goats. There is also a 21,000-gallon koi pond topped by a 12-foot-tall lantern, figures of Chinese children adorned in costumes made of 5,000 cut flowers and gold good luck I-Ching coins. It took six full days to put up the display, which remains through March 15.

The Bellagio has been doing a Chinese New Year display since it opened in 1998. The Aria hotel and casino will celebrate the Year of the Ram with a 7-foot-tall, gold, LED-lit ram of recycled aluminum. Hanging from the lobby ceiling will be a 229-foot dragon surrounded by 140 red lanterns. It went up Thursday.

The Bellagio, Aria and MGM Grand resorts will celebrate with a good luck Lion Dance as well.

With all that positive energy, this may be the best time of year to visit the strip and roll the dice.


There are direct flights daily from Sacramento International Airport to Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines (

United Express also, flies to Las Vegas with stops in San Francisco.

Lion & Dragon Dances – dynamic and colorful dances at Bellagio, Aria and MGM Grand:

Bellagio: 5 p.m. Thursday at the main porte cochere.

MGM Grand: 1 p.m. Friday inside the main lobby.

Aria: 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the main porte cochere.

At the three hotels, Yau Kung Moon will perform Chinese lion and dragon dances in a traditional southern Shaolin Kung Fu system, a collection of martial arts with more than 1,000 years of history.

Yau Kung Moon is one of the world’s most respected martial arts, dragon and lion dance organizations. Known for its trademark gold uniforms and innovative routines, it was the first U.S. team to compete in the 1990 Invitational World Lion Dance Festival in Malaysia.