Regular gasoline is cheaper in high-rolling Las Vegas than in "Crossroads of the West" Salt Lake City?

Yes, it's true — for perhaps the first time ever — the average cost for a gallon of unleaded gas in Vegas is less than in Utah's capital, and by a significant margin — 15.2 cents.

The thought of saving money in Vegas — outside seasonal lodging — seems like a contradiction in itself.

Never mind that Salt Lake City only has 85 octane as its regular gas, versus 87 in Vegas, or that Nevada's gasoline taxes are 8.1 cents higher per gallon than Utah's are.

"Typically Nevada is higher than we are," said Rolayne Fairclough, AAA Utah spokeswoman, explaining that Utah, Wyoming and Idaho typically have extra-high gasoline prices each summer.

Gas in Las Vegas is selling for an average of $3.999 a gallon as of the July 30 AAA survey, versus $4.151 in Salt Lake City.

Prices for gasoline peaked in Vegas at $4.279 back on June 21. Since then, they have dropped 26.3 cents.

In Salt Lake City, gas hit its all-time high at $4.183 on July 18 and has only declined 2.1 cents since then.

Sometime in early July, gasoline started selling for less in Las Vegas than Salt Lake City.

To make matters even stranger, gasoline is selling for $4.096 in Pocatello — 6.6 cents less than in Salt Lake City — and the fuel there primarily comes from Utah's own refineries. Even overlooking the 160-mile distance from Salt Lake City to Pocatello, Idaho's gasoline taxes are 2.2 cents higher than Utah's.

John Felmy, chief economist with the American Petroleum Institute, said supply, demand and taxes are key components in the price of gasoline.

"You have various supplies. ... You have certain amounts of competitive issues," he said. "Competitive businessmen make the final decision (on prices)."

Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association, said he hasn't kept track of gas prices, but historically Las Vegas is usually higher than Salt Lake City, since it is supplied mostly from California.

Like Felmy, he stressed that the ultimate bottom line for prices is the independent business owners.

But, he said, "There's no one definitive answer."

He also stressed that over time, the market usually evens out. Utah does seem to have had high prices for the past three weeks, but looking at an entire year will show Utah gas prices in a better light.

No one calls to say thanks when Utah's gas prices are well below average, Peacock said.

Oil prices have now decreased about 17 percent from their all-time high in early July. Regarding oil prices and their immediate or delayed effect on local gasoline prices, Peacock said he's not sure anyone really understands that complicated relationship.

"Generally, these prices take time to work through the system," he said.

That said, he noted that sometimes it does appear that gasoline prices change much faster after oil-price increases than following decreases. But he said that's simply how it appears, when other factors in the oil industry from weeks prior may actually be making the difference instead.

Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office, said that office has no plans to investigate Utah's gasoline prices. That's because the gasoline industry has proven almost impossible to adequately investigate in previous attempts, he said.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said, "Currently, we do not have plans for an investigation in gas prices. However, the Department of Commerce monitors this information for us, as well."

Utah currently has the seventh-highest gasoline cost in the nation at $4.189 cents a gallon. All the Western states, excluding Arizona and New Mexico, are in the top 14 for the highest gas prices.

The state with the least-expensive gasoline average is Oklahoma at $3.655.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com