LAS VEGAS—The National Finals Rodeo has been celebrating its 35th consecutive year in Las Vegas this week. It’s one big spectacle that the locals take very seriously.
Rodeo’s equivalent of the Super Bowl was moved to Las Vegas in 1985 after a 20-year run in Oklahoma City. Early December was very slow economically in Las Vegas before the world renowned entertainment community acquired the National Finals.
“I’ve always said that December was just a dead month—they would close the town down—change the carpet, paint the walls, the show rooms were closed—it was a disaster,” said Michael Gaughan, owner of the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas. “Even though a lot of hotels don’t get involved in [the NFR], it still benefits them. People keep coming.”
Gaughan grew up in Las Vegas and was raised in a family of hotel owners. He’s a staunch supporter of the National Finals, missing only seven NFR performances since 1985.
Throughout the NFR, Gaughan’s hotel hosts the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s annual convention, handles the PRCA’s Awards Banquet (which drew 1,200 last week), features an awards presentation after the nightly NFR performances, and conducts numerous other NFR related activities.
The 2019 Wrangler National Finals began Thursday, Dec. 5, and runs through Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus. The NFR has been conducted at the Thomas & Center every year since 1985.
Steve Rempelos, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s chief marketing officer, said the NFR has made a big difference to Las Vegas and to the PRCA.
“When we first came here in 1985, the taxi cabs were starving, all the show rooms had shut down,” Rempelos said. “Now, we’ve revitalized this town during the first two weeks of December. We’re one of the biggest events that come to Las Vegas and they treat us so well. People come from all over the country. They do their Christmas shopping, they take in their entertainment, they meet friends, they do business, they have their own conventions. Las Vegas Events has done a terrific job at building up that in partnership with the PRCA.”
George Taylor, the PRCA’s chief executive officer, said he’s impressed with the remarkable collaboration that occurs throughout the National Finals
“I’ve been in business for five years and I’ve had a lot of partnerships, a lot of collaboration, a lot of joint ventures during that time, but I’ve never seen anything work the way that this works,” Taylor said. “When you see this town get transformed and you see the level of collaboration—with the hotels, the stock contractors, the cowboys—this is what it means to come together and to be united. We’re really excited about that relationship and excited about how we’re pulling together toward the same true north.”
When the NFR was conducted in 1984, its last year in Oklahoma City, the prize money for competitors was $901,550. The purse jumped to $1,790,000 in 1985 when pro rodeo’s championships moved to Las Vegas. Over the years, the purse has grown to $10 million.
Shane Hanchey, the 2013 PRCA world champion tie-down roper, said the National Finals is one awesome event.
“Every person you talk to who is a local just loves the cowboys in town and loves everything being here,” Hanchey said. “There’s nothing that compares to it [for competitors]. It’s Vegas or bust. This is what kids dream about. This is by far the coolest rodeo, the coolest experience that you’ll ever go to.”
Jeff Askey competing
Jeff Askey, who lives in the Athens area, has been competing in the 2019 National Finals in bull riding. But the veteran cowboy has struggled. Askey was bucked off of the first three bulls that he faced. But the three-time NFR qualifier finished in the money in Round 4 on Sunday night when he turned in a score of 86 and earned $4,231.
Cutting horse update
Tarin Rice of Poolville and a horse named CR Gotcha Covered clinched the National Cutting Horse Association 2019 open division title. Rice and CR Gotcha Covered earned $13,759 at the NCHA World Finals in Fort Worth. The horse earned $84,273 throughout the year.
In the non-pro division, Ali Good of Ringling, Okla., clinched the world title with $97,044 in annual earnings. She rode a horse named Cat Atat Tat at the World Finals. The duo earned $16,415 throughout the 2019 World Finals.
The 2019 World Finals concluded its four-performance, four-round run on Saturday, Dec. 6 at Fort Worth's W.R. Watt Arena. The World Finals was held in conjunction with the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity, which concludes, Sunday, Dec. 15, at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.