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NEVADA BETS ON GROWTH, BUT WINNINGS LEAVE IT WITH AMBIVALENCE - AND LOSSES

Nevada, which has welcomed growth with open arms, finds itself radically transformed after a decadelong growth spurt boosting the state's population by 50 percent.

The growth, fed by a casino boom in Las Vegas and a wave of California migration, has altered the state's composition and shifted the balance of political power to the population-heavy south.Even those who promote growth are left wondering what it has done to a state where one of every three residents has moved here in the last 10 years.

"It's almost frightening at times to make you think you don't know what Nevada is anymore," said Jim Spoo, former mayor of Sparks and now the head of the state's Economic Development Commission.

In a state where the economy is heavily dependent on casinos, the recent construction or announced construction of several mega-resorts in Las Vegas brought thousands of job-seekers to the area.

The city's new reputation as a haven for senior citizens added to the influx, as did Californians seeking a more affordable and less crowded lifestyle.

At one point, forecasters estimated 6,000 people a month were moving into Las Vegas, though that rate is now about half that estimate.

"The growth rate has gone from amazing to just brisk," said state demographer Maud Naroll.

While Las Vegas is booming, the state's other major population area, Reno, has lagged behind.

In contrast to the glittering new resorts going up on the Las Vegas Strip, Reno's main gaming area is littered with closed casinos and abandoned buildings.

"It's no secret to anyone that the north has been more skeptical of growth. Some people would say far too skeptical," Spoo said.

The Las Vegas area now accounts for two-thirds of the state's 1.3 million residents, and the southern part of the state has turned around the balance of political power that once rested in Reno. Southern legislators recently flexed their newfound muscle by passing a bill that redistributes more state tax revenues to the Las Vegas area.

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(Chart)

The American West

The West is the nation's fastest-growing region, with a 22 percent population jump in the 1980s, more than twice the national rate.

Population growth rate, by state

State 1980 1990 Percent

change

Montana 786,690 799,065 +1.6

Idaho 943,935 1,006,749 +6.7

Wyoming 469,557 453,588 -3.4

Colorado 2,889,964 3,294,394 +14.0

New Mexico 1,302,894 1,515,069 +16.3

Arizona 2,718,215 3,665,228 +34.8

Utah 1,461,037 1,722,850 +17.9

Nevada 800,493 1,201,833 +50.1

Washington 4,132,156 4,866,692 +17.8

Oregon 2,633,105 2,842,321 +7.9

California 23,667,902 29,760,021 +25.7

Alaska 401,851 550,043 +36.9

Hawaii 964,691 1,108,229 +14.9

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West 43,172,490 52,786,082 +22.3

U.S. 226,545,805 248,709,873 +9.8

Trends in population growth, by region

Though its growth rate is slowing, the West is expected to remain the nation's fastest- growing region through 2010 and beyond.

(percent change from preceding decade)

Source: U.S. Census; Westrends Office of the Council of State Governments.

Note: Refer to microfilm for complete chart.