Vegas Baby!

by vpundir | March 29th, 2005

This was my Vegas weekend. But don’t get any ideas already. I was there on business.

You are already aware that Las Vegas is called the sin city. I’d rather call it the city of indulgence. And I did see some posters hailing it as the city that never sleeps, though technically, New York is the city that never sleeps.

You know where you are as soon as you land in the city. There are slot machines in the airport lounges! As you walk out of the airport, you can see the skyline dotted with tall casino/hotel buildings.

Apparently, the bulk of action is on a small patch of land called “the strip”. The casino/hotel buildings are typically architecturally interesting and theme-based, unless you are looking at an old-school casino like Treasure Island.

Some of these are quite remarkable. MGM Grand is bathed in green light at night, but otherwise looks pretty much like a regular 5-star hotel. Inside, it has some elegant lighting and is relatively subdued.

But then you get out and see something like Disneyland across the road. You go there and find out that it is called Excalibur (like in the tale of King Arthur), and is built around the theme of medieval times. I thought it was very cheesy. It’s connected to something a called Luxor which is constructed as a pyramid.

Opposite the Excalibur is a casino I liked quite a bit. It’s New York New York. It’s built like, well, New York. You see the statue of liberty, the empire state building and a commemorative laser where the twin towers of world trade center should have been. Inside, it’s pretty cool…makes you feel at home pretty quickly. Feels nice to walk in the streets, grab a pizza or enjoy some idiot’s singing in a karaoke bar. Oh, and they also have a roller coaster and a great kids’ section.

Then there is the Bellagio. I didn’t go in, but right outside it are dancing fountains, and that is worth watching – day or night. Caesar’s Palace, the next in row, is built like you know what. It’s under construction. Even so, the section open for public is huge. It’s the biggest shopping destination in Vegas. In fact, I wasn’t aware that so many luxury brands existed as have showrooms in Caesar’s (just kidding, but its huge).

Opposite it, is Paris. It’s got an almost life-size Eiffel Tower. I didn’t go in, but apparently the people inside have an attitude, just like the French actually do. Oh, on the outside, there’s also a replica of the original hot air balloon.

Venetian is another casino, apart from NYNY, that I loved. It’s got canals complete with gondolas and canal-side shops. Since they have to keep it clean, they have chosen pathway stones that look dirty, so as to match Venice as closely as possible.

Not to forget Aladdin. This one, of course, is set up as an Arabic adventure. I couldn’t find the time to visit it, though it looked interesting from the outside. Flamingo, as the name suggests, appeared to be a damn loud place. There are others like Bally’s and Imperial Palace on the strip, which are not worth mentioning. Further down the strip are Monte Carlo, Sahara, Circus Circus, Hard Rock, Stardust, Stratosphere, Riviera etc. but I didn’t get a chance to go any further than Harrah’s.

Harrah’s is where I worked on Saturday and Sunday. It’s a damn loud place too, but compared to Rio where I worked on Friday, it would be put down as tasteful.

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a much feared gangster, is often credited with creating Las Vegas by setting up the first major casino Flamingo. He is credited with having the vision and foresight to create this business in the middle of the deserts of Nevada. He wasn’t the one to invent Vegas, though.

In fact, initially Siegel didn’t see any worth in Vegas at all; it was hot, arid and in the middle of nowhere. However, Vegas did have one major advantage that was it was in the state of Nevada and in Nevada it was legal to gamble. He saw a standard mob related opportunity and decided to act on it. Bugsy Siegel is associated with gambling in Las Vegas so much even though his work in Vegas came at the very end of his life and his project of building the finest casino ultimately lead to his death. But he surely was the man who made Las Vegas into the gambling Mecca of the United States.

Overall, the casinos are the lifeline of Vegas.

The locals, however, don’t like to gamble in the casinos on the strip. They say these casinos have their machines “tightened”, meaning that the odds of winning are low. So they go to off-strip casinos that are meant for locals – have better odds, and accept smaller bets.

Though each casino is unique, the typical business model is the same. In one building, they have essentially 7 activities – casino, hotel, comedy show, magic show, semi-nude show, shopping mall, and eateries (including a buffet).

Off the strip, there’re helicopter and boat rides of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead. There’s an ATV tour of the Grand Canyon as well. Heck, they even have bungee-jumping. (I never went off the strip – no time. A friend of mine who returned from there the day I left told me all about it) Then of course, you can rent Ferraris or Harley Davidsons or even scooters right on the strip.

That’s the family Vegas. Then there’s the Vegas underbelly, off the strip with strip-clubs and rampant prostitution. It is widely believed that even the casinos on the strip are the mob’s way of legalizing black money.

Anyways, the locals don’t like casinos. On one hand, they provide them employment whiled on the other, they suck money away from them. There is an angst against bankruptcies caused by casino gambling, and the couple of old ladies who helped me with my surveys also talked about how the traffic is very bad due to drunken driving (alcoholic beverages are typically free in most casinos) and also because of an overwhelming transit population (people visiting Vegas).

All in all, I think I’d like Vegas, if I went there for a pleasure trip. But I probably won’t be able to handle more than 4-5 days of it (which is in stark contrast to my aforementioned friend who says she could live there).

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