Just the name “Vegas” evokes instant images – monster shopping malls, marauding mobsters, gold-plated towers and sybaritic splendor. Above all, of course, gambling…the 24-hour playground of those enjoying the pulsating thrill of a possible windfall of unearned earnings or…betting everything on one last desperate, doomed dice roll at 4am.
Jaundiced observers may see Vegas as a monument to artifice, greed and sleaze. Others see it as the most exciting city on planet earth. One fact speaks for itself; the city attracted 40 million visitors last year alone. And although the economic crisis has taken its toll on this extraordinary Nevada city, it’s still home to 15 out of 20 of the world’s largest hotels.
It’s no coincidence that Vegas has featured in so many movies, whether it’s Presley’s Viva Las Vegas or the Rat Pack’s Ocean’s 11 – moving on to Martin Scorsese’s sizzling profile of organized crime, Casino. Who can forget the psychopathic, pen-wielding mobster played by Joe Pesci? Be careful if he’s on the phone in any casino near you…
Or the doomed drunkard played by Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas? It’s a place that, of course, has its dark side, but only if you choose to see it so. It’s also the city of dreams, the ideal setting for a wedding or a romantic getaway.
Vegas may be designed to bankrupt the foolish gambler but it need not be that way. Set a ceiling on your spread and stick to it, down to the last nickel. If you lose, fair enough. If you win, don’t get greedy. The “odds”, that elusive term common to gamblers, may ultimately be against you, but gambling IS fun. So if you like to bet on which raindrop will reach the bottom of the window first (although there’s little of that in Vegas) or in the words of former mayor Oscar Goodman – a fierce custodian of the city’s reputation – “which way a cockroach will move”, then this is your mecca.
Great perks accompany gambling in Vegas. Drinks in most casinos – the yard-long margarita being a particular favorite – are complimentary. So when you get to the fruit machines, take time to enjoy a good slug and don’t pull that handle too frequently. The biggest ever slot machine jackpot was 39 million dollars but be prepared to fall a little short of that. Of course, if you’re mega-rich and prepared to risk colossal sums, then, as Piers Morgan once proved in a documentary, a casino can take a million dollars off you very quickly!
A car is a great way to see Vegas. Don’t think about hiring a limo. That’s a cliché in Vegas and nobody will notice you. Parking is free almost everywhere and gas is cheaper here than in neighboring California. So a Las Vegas car rental will not break the bank.
Fancy going on a gondola in a replica Venetian canal? Or a trip up the Vegas version of the Eiffel Tower? Or staying in an Egyptian pyramid? You’re in business. Vegas caters to your every whim, especially if you’re a good customer. Are you pining for a mountain of caviar? It’s at your door, sir! Doubtless, certain establishments would deliver the Taj Mahal to your room if they could transport it!
And you’re in great company. The Venetian, which now occupies the site of the old Sands Hotel and Casino, was where the original Rat Pack – principally Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis – played to sellout audiences in the early 1960s. Howard Hughes and Tony Curtis were also former residents. Nowadays, you may find the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears prepared to officiate at your party … for a price!
Go down Vegas’ strip and you will see what was once the world’s largest hotel, the MGM Grand (3799 Las Vegas Boulevard) the New York, New York Hotel and Casino (3790 Las Vegas Boulevard) and – just opposite at number 3785 – M & M’s stores – four floors of chocolate fun – and Caesars Palace (3570 Las Vegas Boulevard), the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino (3770 Las Vegas Boulevard) and the Trump Tower (2000 Fashion Show Drive – Las Vegas Strip) with its 24 carat-gold windows.
You can easily pay 25,000 dollars a night for the best accommodation in the city. But there are many places within the reach of mere mortals. Avoid coming on weekends when room prices spiral. Keep a cool head and enjoy yourself. Of course, if you ever get really fed up with the glitz, the desert is nearby. Just don’t bump into Mr Pesci; he may be disposing of a corpse or two behind those rocks!