Las Vegas is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. It earned its reputation as America's playground through legalized gambling. But today 35 million visitors come to this desert resort city for a variety of reasons including what might be the newest trend in Vegas: to see a Broadway show. VOA News' Brian Padden looks at what some critics are calling Broadway West.

Mamma Mia! is playing to packed houses here at Mandalay Bay, one of the biggest hotel- casinos on the Las Vegas strip. It is one of three large-scale musicals of the kind normally seen on Broadway in New York City, playing here in Las Vegas. It is drawing rave reviews and, more importantly, giving tourists another reason to visit. Kathy Mitchell and her sister Laurie Lee came from Seattle, Washington.

KATHY MITCHELL: "We came to Las Vegas just to see the show."

"You came just to see the show?"

"Yes, I did."

"Because she is the dancing queen."

"I am the dancing queen."

"She is our family dancing queen."

The success of Broadway style musicals here breaks with the conventional wisdom that entertainment in Vegas must offer either a short break from gambling or an extravagant event.

Mike Weatherford is the entertainment columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"The perception has always been in the past is that you are only in Vegas so many nights and so you want to see something you can't see at home."

Mamma Mia! and the other shows playing in Vegas have an "extravaganza" quality to them. The casinos have also made deals with the producers to limit other productions of the musicals from playing elsewhere besides Broadway.

For cast members, like Elizabeth Cher, working in Vegas means less time touring on the road.

"Because you don't have to move cities every two or three months which is really nice. It nice to settle in and really feel at home and sort of nest and make your place."

This year the musical We Will Rock You directly challenged the dominance of Broadway by making it's exclusive North American debut here rather than in New York City. With a growing population in Las Vegas, and Southern California nearby, there is real potential to create a "Broadway-West."

But Las Vegas columnist Mike Weatherford says the hotels that back the shows are not sufficiently committed. They still see entertainment primarily as a means to get people into the casinos.

"The casinos want to have it both ways: they want to charge you full-scale Broadway ticket prices but they want to give you a cut-down version of the show. The new Phantom of The Opera that is coming to the Venetian next year will be cut down to 90 or 95 minutes. They say, more of a movie length and people will be fine with it. We'll find out."

Still, it is hard to argue with success.

"It's more fun in Vegas!"

And it just seems like a good combination: watching a musical fantasy in a make-believe town.