There's almost always something new and grand to anticipate in Las Vegas, and this year is no exception. In the meetings arena, the lead headlines in 2001 are reserved for the Las Vegas Convention Center. Construction workers have been laboring there since April 2000 on a $150 million expansion project that will add more than 1 million square feet of exhibit and meeting space; completion is scheduled for December.

Las Vegas hotel development is not quite as fast-paced as it was a few years ago, but there's still plenty happening. New hotels are coming online, while others are spending tens of millions of dollars upgrading or expanding their facilities to keep up.

No extravagance is too big, no theme too dramatic, in a city that is continually enhancing its entertainment and attractions package. Just by way of example, when it opened last year, the Aladdin Hotel also debuted Desert Passage, a 500,000-square-foot shopping complex with a North African theme. That's just one among several conspicuous developments in what has come to be known in Las Vegas as "shoppertainment." Among other highlights: The Fashion Show Mall is undertaking a $350 million expansion that will double its size, and the Forum Shops at Caesars, said to be the country's top-grossing mall, has launched its third expansion.

Not everything is about glitter and glitz in Las Vegas. Serious art lovers will note that the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino is building an exhibition space called the Hermitage-Guggenheim Museum. It will showcase masterpieces from collections of the renowned institutions that are its namesakes and collaborators.

Las Vegas doesn't grab all the Nevada headlines. In Reno, an ongoing downtown redevelopment project that has reclaimed the Truckee riverfront is making good headway. The focus now is on creating an events center and retail/entertainment venues. And construction is expected to begin this spring on a $105 million expansion and renovation of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

At nearby Lake Tahoe, the heart of activity is on the South Shore, where a year-round gondola linking Stateline to Heavenly Ski Resort began operations this winter. The gondola is a prominent component of the South Shore's own $750 million revitalization plan, one that seeks to balance development with an increase in open space. On the development side, work is slated to begin in South Lake Tahoe this spring on a 91,000-square-foot meeting facility and 540 hotel rooms.

Las Vegas Hotel News w The 2,600-room Aladdin Hotel opened on the Strip in August 2000. The hotel-casino complex includes 75,000 square feet of meeting space.

w The 470-room Palms Casino Hotel is under construction on Flamingo Road. Slated to open in December, it will feature a 10,000-square-foot banquet and conference center, a 25,000-square-foot special events area, a spa, and a 14-screen movie complex with an IMAX theater.

w In June 2000, the 286-unit Embassy Suites Convention Center-Las Vegas made its debut three blocks from the convention center. The property contains 6,500 square feet of meeting space.

w On the north end of the Strip, the 1,425-room Stratosphere Casino Hotel and Tower is building a 24-story 1,002-room hotel tower; a summer completion is anticipated. The Stratosphere offers 8,000 square feet of meeting space, a retail and entertainment mall, and a 90,000- square-foot casino.

w MGM Grand acquired Mirage Resorts for $6.4 billion and began operating under the name MGM Mirage. The company's holdings in Las Vegas now include: MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Bellagio, The Mirage, Treasure Island, New York-New York Hotel and Casino, the Boardwalk Hotel and Casino, and 50% of Monte Carlo, all located on the Strip; in downtown Las Vegas, the company owns the Golden Nugget.

w In June, the 3,000-room Mirage opened a new meetings complex containing 11 meeting rooms, plus a 10,000-square-foot ballroom that divides into six rooms, and a boardroom with videoconferencing capabilities. An events center containing a 90,000-square-foot ballroom is due to open in April.

w Ritz-Carlton last year announced plans for a 350-room luxury Mediterranean-style hotel within the Lake Las Vegas Resort, though at press time the project appeared stalled. Lake Las Vegas Resort, located 17 miles outside of Las Vegas in Henderson, is home to the year-old 496-room Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas, which offers 40,000 square feet of function space as well as a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, a spa, and a casino.

IMPORTANT INFO Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority % (702) 892-0711; Fax: (702) 892-2824 Hotel Tax: 9% on the Strip, 11% downtown.

Reno Hotel News w The 1,070-room Peppermill Hotel Casino added a 10,000-square-foot convention and entertainment center, a new casino, and two restaurants. Phase two of the $300 million plan, expected to begin later this year, will include an 85,000-square-foot convention center. The Peppermill currently has 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

w The former Holiday Hotel and Casino is being remodeled and is due to re-open in July as the Siena Hotel Casino & Spa. The 230-room hotel will offer 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

IMPORTANT INFO Reno Convention & Visitors Association % (775) 827-7662; (800) 443-1482 Fax: (775) 827-7646 Hotel Tax: 12% in Reno, 11% in Sparks

Lake Tahoe Hotel News w The 450-room Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort & Casino has completed a $47 million renovation designed to re-establish a 1920s-era mountain lodge feel. The property offers 23,000 square feet of meeting space, including Lakeside Lodge, with a 5,800-square-foot ballroom.

w Construction is slated to begin this summer on the 197-unit Grand Summit Resort in South Lake Tahoe. The property, a time-share including both hotel and residence-style units, will be accompanied by a retail shopping area, multiplex theater, outdoor cafes, and ice skating rink.

IMPORTANT INFO Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (South Lake Tahoe) % (530) 544-5050; (800) AT-TAHOE Fax: (530) 544-2386 North Lake Tahoe Resort Association % (530) 583-3494; (800) TAHOE4U Fax: (530) 581-4081 Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors & Convention Bureau % (775) 832-1606; (800) GoTahoe Fax: (775) 832-1605 Hotel Tax: 9% to 13%

Thanks to a rush of golf course construction in the `90s, the Las Vegas region has been transformed from a so-so golf destination into one that competes with the best. Today, Las Vegas is home to 26 public or semi-private layouts and 11 private courses, and there are eight more golf facilities in surrounding southern Nevada. A few to consider:

The Badlands Golf Club - 27 holes of unrivaled desert golf. (702) 242-4653; (800) 468-7918

The Lakes and the Desert - 36 holes at the Primm Valley Golf Club designed by Tom Fazio; the Lakes course features waterfalls and wide fairways. (702) 386-7867; (800) 386-7867

Las Vegas National - past host of LPGA Tour and PGA Tour competitions, site of Tiger Woods' first professional victory, and centrally located in Las Vegas. (702) 382-4653; (800) 468-7918

Legacy Golf Club - designed by Arthur Hills, with tee boxes on the 10th hole in the shape of the four suits in a deck of cards. (702) 897-2187; (888) 446-5358

Reflection Bay Golf Club - part of the Lake Las Vegas Resort; designed by Jack Nicklaus, with five holes that skirt the lake's shoreline. (702) 740-4653; (877) 698-4653

Rio Secco Golf Club - at the Rio Suites Hotel Casino in Henderson, this course winds through canyons and ravines; Rio guests may take lessons at the Harmon School of Golf, operated by Tiger Woods' coach. (702) 889-2400; (888) 867-3226

Snow Mountain and Sun Mountain - two noted Pete Dye designs at Las Vegas Paiute Resort. (702) 658-1400; (888) 921-2833

Meeting Executives Kim Thomas, one of the many meeting executives who have brought groups to the Reno-Tahoe area, cites affordability as an advantage. But this manager of manufacturer services for Genco Distribution System in Pittsburgh says it was the region's overall appeal that prompted the firm to hold its Product Life Cycle Management Conference on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe in September 2000.

"We like to have the conference at resort locations that are a draw, because these folks like to go to nice places," Thomas says. So compelling is the Tahoe area that her group returned there for the third time last year, having met two years earlier at Harveys Resort Hotel & Casino in Stateline, Nev., and two years prior to that at the Cal-Neva Resort on the North Shore.

Thomas has nothing but positive comments about Lake Tahoe's beauty, its top facilities, and its ample recreation choices. She notes that there are plenty of quality resources in the area to help stage conferences, special events, and activities. Among the activities that Thomas organized for her group was an in-hotel demonstration by a local culinary school, a swing dance theme dinner with demonstrations and instructions by a local performing arts and dance school, a golf scramble, and, for those opting out of golf, a luncheon cruise on Lake Tahoe.

As for price, Thomas calls the Tahoe area "a little more cost-effective" than other locations she has used.

For Home Depot Inc., price was a big factor in the choice to hold a recent business meeting in Reno. "Being a second-tier city, it's a very cost-effective destination," comments Kevin Herron, manager travel services, in Atlanta.

Herron says his only hesitation was access. "Everybody probably would have liked to have had a little more flexibility or flights to choose from, but at the end of the day, it worked out fine."

Groups meeting in Reno for the first time should be aware that in gaming towns, nonsmoking laws are minimal or nonexistent, Herron notes. "They exist in some buildings - the convention center is one - but when you're in the lobby of hotels and going through casinos, smoking is prevalent. Anyone who has any sensitivity to that needs to be aware of it up front."