Viva Vegas



The desert was a dark black colour all around us with only our headlights illuminating the centre of the road. Then all of a sudden we could see the multicoloured neon lights of the Vegas casinos lighting up the night sky. On a clear day you can see the Luxor Casino laser from space. We had come from the insufferable furnace of Death Valley to spend some time relaxing and pampering ourselves in Sin City, the world’s gambling capital and the most popular holiday destination in the States.


Gambling is still considered the main attraction to Vegas and there is no getting away from the cha-ching sound of the slot machines. But the promotion of shopping in Vegas has revolutionized the economy on the Strip. The major American past time has become the biggest earner. It far exceeds gambling as the major source of revenue generation and entertainment in Vegas. All the major American store chains have a considerable presence in the city and each casino has its major “shopertainment” complex.


Tourism is not really seasonal but there is definitely an increase in the number of players at the weekend and during traditional American holidays. It is during the middle of the week that you will get reduced prices in the hotel casinos. Most of the tables are empty during the day and only fill up in the evening. But in some of the casinos it can be difficult to get a free slot machine at all times. You won’t win much unless you are really lucky as the odds are against you and it is only the professional white haired retirees who do. Many of them play the odds on four or five machines at once.


Modern day Vegas is the great imitator and offers a world tour without even having to leave the city. You can visit three cities in three hours in Vegas and if the heat is sweltering you can dodge through the casinos from city to city.


New York New York was the first city theme casino built in 1999.


It is odd to see Manhattan Island landmarks (the Brooklyn bridge, Empire state and brownstones) plus the Statue of Liberty all in the one eyeful. The most interesting attraction is a roller coaster called the Manhattan Express that is based on the famed Coney Island version and which bullets its way through the walls of the casino.


Paris Casino has a mock Eiffel tower, which is 50 stories high and provides a good view of the city for the non-vertiginous. The interior is the Vegas attempt at European chic with expensive boutiques and French style cafes and restaurants. The sounds of Edith Piaf eternally crooning pervade the place, but they don’t seem to disturb the serious slot players too much.


The Venetian is the most lavish piece of real estate on the strip. Boston impresario Sheldon G. Adelson invested 1.5 billion dollars in the precise architectural reconstruction of many of Venice’s finest buildings. Architects, artists and various craftspeople were dispatched to Venice in Italy with a measuring tape and came back with the correct measurements for everything. The misplaced Doge palace (a 120,000 square foot casino) sits on Piazza San Marco, but no-one here seems to mind. Initial anger displayed by the residents of the real Venice at the blatant plagiarism has been tempered by the provision of funds to tackle the pollution and rising sea-level in their own city. If as predicted the real Venice should sink beneath the waves in the future because of the rising tide of global warming, there will always be this little slice of Italy in the Nevada desert. The copied art and sculpture provides visitors with a visual crash course in Italian history of art. Riding in a gondola in the desert while being serenaded by a mock Venetian gondolier singing Italian opera under a plastic fake sunny sky is as romantic as it gets in this town and while doing so many are known to pop an impulsive question.


If you do, marriage is still a trendy thing to do in Vegas. The many churches offer instant gratification for up to 100,000 couples to tie the knot each year. If your ambition is to set up an Elvis/Priscilla marriage, you can do so at the Gracelands Wedding Chapel.You may prefer to go for kilt and sporran gear at the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather chapel or some leather bike gear and a helmet at the Little Chapel at the Speedway. If you are decidedly unromantic, the big advantage is that you can have a cheap Vegas wedding and it could cost you less than $100. The average Irish wedding probably costs twenty times as much. No instant divorces are available yet and you will need to hang around for six weeks or more if it doesn’t work out on the wedding night.

Vegas is a halfway house to virtual reality tourism. The next city to be copied is the beautiful city of San Francisco. How long will we have to wait for the Dub Dub casino with a mock Temple Bar? Tired of the visual over stimulation and a complete miscalculation of our own personal gambling prowess we left the neon behind poorer and returned westward to the relative coolness of the Pacific Ocean and the California coast.


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