(Sept. 28) LAS VEGAS — Being in Row 5500 on the Pack Expo 2005 show floor is kind of like being in the desert outside Vegas, the way Robert DeNiro described it in “Casino.”

There are a lot of holes out there, and you don’t want to wind up buried in one.

Buried was how John Smyth, a salesman for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Ipak Machinery Ltd., felt when his company drew lot 5543 for the annual packaging extravaganza, Sept. 26-28 in Sin City.

That’s like putting your chips on one of a kind, 9 high.

“We’re kind of at the back of the hall, and we expected a lag time of a couple of hours the first day,” Smyth said.

Didn’t happen. On its second hand, Ipak was dealt a full house.

“We were mobbed all day,” Smyth said. “The first time I looked down at my watch, it was 2 o’clock. It’s been awesome.”

“Awesome” isn’t much of a stretch. By noon of the first day, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, Arlington, Va., the show’s sponsor, had already registered well over 19,000 attendees — a record for the Las Vegas show.

“It’s been great so far,” said Per Ohstrom, marketing director of Chep USA, Orlando, Fla. “To me, this is a working show, where people come to share ideas. And this year we’ve been able to get some good discussions going.”

Complementing the record number of attendees in Las Vegas were more than 1,300 exhibitors — about 25% more than the last time the show was in Vegas, in 2003 — covering roughly 550,000 square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Highlighting the educational programming were presentations on radio frequency identification technology and the latest Food and Drug Administration packaging regulation initiatives under the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002.