Rodeo Roundup

The National Finals Rodeo has been one of the biggest annual events in Las Vegas since 1985.

Each December, the top 15 contestants in bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding qualify to compete at the NFR.

This year’s NFR runs Dec. 6 – 15 at Thomas & Mack Center. If you’re staying at one of the host hotels, they’ll provide shuttle service for you to the rodeo. Didn’t get tickets? Many of the major hotels on the Strip will also broadcast live satellite feeds of the rodeo.

And even if you don’t get to catch all of the live rodeo action, there are dozens of parties and special events around town that will help you get your rodeo fix:

26th Annual Downtown Hoedown

Fremont Street Experience is calling all cowboys and country music fans to grab their boots  and cowboy hats and head on over to the 26th annual Downtown Hoedown Dec. 5. The event begins at 4:30 p.m. and showcases popular country music entertainment with free live concerts on three stages.  This year’s lineup includes Dustin Lynch, Uncle Kracker, Jana Kramer and Clay Walker.

Downtown Throwdown Barbecue Championships

Fremont Street Experience in conjunction with the Nevada Barbecue Association will host the first Downtown Throwdown Barbecue Championships.  On Friday, Dec. 7 starting at 6 p.m. cooks will compete in the Chili Cook-Off and on Saturday, Dec. 8 starting at noon the competition will feature a Barbecue Cook-Off. The public is invited to enjoy samples of chili, ribs, chicken, brisket and pork during the two-day event as guests will be able to purchase the food.
Guests will have the power to determine the “People’s Choice” winner by purchasing two-ounce sampling cups for $1 each.  Every 10 samples purchased earns one ticket to vote. Additional private judging will be held to award first, second and third place in various categories. The awards ceremony will take place on Saturday, at 5 p.m. on the 3rd Street Stage with Crown Royal rodeo riders Wes Silcox (bull rider) and Tildon Hooper (bareback rider) handing out the winning trophies. They will also be signing autographs and taking photos with fans from 4 – 6 p.m. 

Cowboy Christmas Gift Show

The Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, the longest running gift show of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, returns to Las Vegas Dec. 6 – 15. The show is located in the North Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, at Paradise and Desert Inn roads. It features more than 300,000 square feet of show floor hosting 400 vendors from across the United States and Canada. Products include customized jewelry, Western wear, boots and spurs, furniture, original art, handmade crafts and pottery, as well as official Wrangler NFR and PRCA merchandise. There is free shuttle service from the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show directly to the Thomas & Mack Center for each night’s rodeo performance. The gift show is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.

Cowboy Fanfest

This fan experience will be held Dec. 6 – 15 adjacent to the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show. The event offers 100,000 square feet of music, entertainment, specialty food and drinks, interactive booths and rodeo exhibits.

National Finals Tonight
Head to “Where all the Cowboys go after the Rodeo” at the award-winning National Finals Tonight Show, held at the Gold Coast after the conclusion of each nightly event. Admission is free and fans will be treated to highlights and interviews with some of the most recognizable names in the world of professional rodeo.

The wrap-up of each day’s WNFR events will be hosted by eight-time World Champion and Hall of Fame Cowboy Don Gay; World Champion Tie-Down Roper and All-Around Cowboy Joe Beaver and TV host Dan Miller.  They will be talking all things rodeo, featuring interviews with pro rodeo contestants and a variety of celebrities who enjoy and appreciate the Western lifestyle.

Additionally, special prizes will be given away nightly, including autographed Fender guitars by country legends such as George Strait. The show runs nightly from 10:30 -11:30 p.m.

Gary Leffew’s Legendary Buck’N Ball
Live country music, two-step dancing and drink specials highlight the “Buck’N Ball” held nightly from December 6 -15, following the conclusion of each day’s NFR events, in the Arizona Ballroom at the Gold Coast.

Special performances by The Texas Jamm Band — featuring members of George Strait’s Ace in the Hole Band — and country-rock sensation Scotty Alexander will thrill fans on the dance floor. There is no cover charge and all rodeo fans are welcome to join the nightly celebration.

Buck’N Ball attendees will also have the chance to saddle up and play the new Top Hand Rodeo Tour, the first authentic interactive rodeo experience available exclusively for Kinect for Xbox 360. Featuring the voices of rodeo legends and NFR announcers Bob Tallman and Boyd Polhamus, Top Hand Rodeo Tour lets players hop in the saddle and compete in the most exciting rodeo events like bull riding, tie down roping, mounted shooting, team roping, and barrel racing. The action starts at 9 p.m. each night.

Bob Tallman WNFR Charity Bowling Tournament
Bowling, celebrities, food and fun will be signatures of the 2012 WNFR Charity Bowling Tournament on December 8.  Held at the Gold Coast Bowling Center, the tournament will benefit the Las Vegas chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities and the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. Festivities will include a silent auction, celebrity bowling team members and an awards ceremony.

Roxy’s Buckin’ Bull Honky Tonk
Bring out your inner cowboy and cowgirl at the second annual Buckin’ Bull mechanical bull riding contest, featuring PRCA rodeo announcer Jody Carper, at Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall, December 7 – 15.  There will be two riding sessions nightly, at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. PRCA Bull Fighter Cory Wall, PRCA rider Colin McTaggert and PRCA member and Helldorado Days champion bull rider Shawn Stephens will judge the mechanical bull riding championship.

The Mirage presents Rodeo Vegas 2012

Enjoy live music from Chris Cagle, Craig Morgan and more Dec. 6 – 15 at The Mirage sports book. Entertainment runs from 6:30 p.m. – 4 a.m. Admission is free.

Gilley’s Saloon, Dance Hall & Bar-B-Que
Belly up to the bar for Gilley’s newest drink, the Dusty Boot. It features Treasure Island Executive Chef Craig Taylor’s Spiced Bourbon – cinnamon, vanilla and allspice infused with Jim Beam –topped with a splash of Fever Tree ginger ale. 

 Think you can last eight seconds or more on the wildest ride on the Strip? Test your strength and stamina on the mechanical bull at Gilley’s or watch the competitors in the Toughest Cowboy Competition on Dec. 6 and 13, starting at 10 p.m., or in Bikini Bull Riding on Dec. 9 at 10 p.m.
NFR bull riders will sign autographs at Gilley’s on Monday, Dec. 10 from noon to 2 p.m.
Jump on stage and sing along, or simply enjoy the sounds during DanSing Karaoke on Dec. 11 and 12 from 8 p.m. to midnight.

MGM Grand “Home of the Champions”

The MGM Grand sponsors 17 World Champion cowboys and cowgirls including nine-time All-Around World Champion Trevor Brazile.  During the 10 days of the rodeo, MGM will host a variety of  special events including several autograph sessions with cowboys throughout the week. Other events include:

The NRS Shopping Experience runs from Dec. 6 – Dec. 16 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The Million Dollar Cowboy Saloon featuring Gold Buckle Champions will be held at Rouge, which opens at 2 p.m. daily

The Crown Royal Gold Buckle Zone offers live music, dancing and performances at 9 p.m. nightly.

The MGM is also host to the Miss Rodeo America pageant. There will be an autograph session Dec. 7 from 9:30 p.m. – 10: 30 p.m. and an appearance by Lo Cash Cowboys at 11 p.m. The Miss Rodeo America Fashion Show will be held Dec. 8 at 12:30 p.m. and the coronation is Dec. 12 at 9:30 a.m.

Events wrap up Dec. 15 with the Trevor Brazile World Championship After Party at the Gold Buckle Zone at 9 p.m. followed by a free Lee Brice Concert at 11 p.m.

Free taxi rides courtesy of Crown Royal

The free taxi ride initiative is part of Crown Royal’s ongoing partnership the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund (JCCF), which provides assistance to injured cowboys and their families. The Crown Royal-sponsored cowboys (the Crown Royal Riders) will distribute taxi vouchers to consumers 21 and older during appearances around Vegas in order to ensure fans are making it to and from the Thomas & Mack center safely each night of NFR.

For every voucher redeemed, Crown Royal will donate $10 to the JCCF. For every qualified ride by bull rider Cody Whitney (riders must stay on their bull for eight seconds to count as a qualified ride), Crown Royal will also donate $1,000 to the JCCF.  

Food and Drink Specials

Public House Las Vegas at Luxor:

  • $3 PBR Beers

Tender Steak & Seafood at Luxor:

  • $30 Crown Royal flight includes pours of Crown Royal Whiskey, Crown Royal Reserve and Crown Royal XR.
  • Tomahawk Chop for $79, a grilled 30-ounce Angus beef rib-eye steak accompanied by roasted fingerling potatoes, exotic mushrooms and caramelized onions.
  • Game Meat Tasting Platter for $55, Wyoming range-fed American bison rib-eye, Colorado Rocky Mountain elk medallion and Texas Hill-Country wild boar spare ribs.
  • Périgord truffle mashed potatoes for $25.

*Tomahawk Chop and Crown Royal Flight can be purchased together for $95.

Tacos & Tequila at Luxor:

  • Monday – Friday from 2 to 6 p.m.:  $5 Dos Equis, Jose Cuervo shots, well drinks, sangria and house red and white wine, in addition to $18 buckets of Sol.
  • $10 Beer & Shot Cart: Coors Banquet & Sweet Home Rodeo Shot (made with Southern Comfort, Plymouth Sloe Gin and orange juice – created exclusively for NFR.)
  • Monday through Friday from 2 to 6 p.m., the restaurant will offer half-off starters including guacamole, queso fundido, nachos, quesadillas, chicken tamales and tostadas, beef flautas and corn on the cob.

Senor Frog’s Las Vegas at Treasure Island:

  • Two-for-one Crown Royal shots and $10 Crown Royal specialty cocktails.
  • Crown Royal maple whiskey-infused BBQ sauce shrimp, ribs and chicken.
  • The restaurant will also offer specially priced signature monogrammed Crown Royal bottle bags, meet and greets with rodeo stars for autographs, live country music on the weekends, as well as Crown Royal souvenirs including hats, bandanas, flags, key chains, posters and more.

Trevi at Caesars Palace:

  • The restaurant will offer Chef Peter Scaturro’s specialty dish osso bucco, a veal or pork shank that is slowly braised and topped with a veal demi-glace sauce. Priced at $32.95, the hearty dish will be accompanied by a saffron and spinach risotto.


It’s not that warm in Minnesota. I know this from spending half my life freezing in the northern part of the state. So 20 years ago, I decided to thaw out and traded in scarves and mittens for tank tops and flip-flops (Take that, polar vortex!). I swapped snow for 300 days of sun a year. I may not have been born here, but there are hotels that haven’t lasted in Vegas as long as I have. The Sands, Hacienda, Aladdin, Desert Inn and the Stardust too. I've been to my fair share of implosion parties. (Yeah, that’s a thing.) As a writer for, I've applauded hundreds of shows, explored every major hotel in town and raised a few glasses at most of the city's bars and clubs. Now I'm the resident foodie here. I write about all things dining — from $3.99 shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate to the finest sushi at Nobu, and everything in between.