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Against The Gods
by Scott Stavrou
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 3.4

There was a time when mankind was well-aware that he was nothing more than a wanton, sinful creature on two legs. Civilization and modern morality have repeatedly tried to subvert this truth with varying degrees of success. If you want to know what it really is to be human, you have to embrace your sinful, darker side. You have to take it out, wine and dine it, feed it liquor 'til dawn, let it over-indulge and revel in excess. You have to heedlessly toss caution and morality in the wind. You have to do this because you're human, and it's your great tragic flaw. If you want to do this right you have to sojourn to sin's natural habitat: Las Vegas -- the city whose very foundations are firmly entrenched in a deep pit of dark human desires.

There was a time when mankind was well-aware that he was nothing more than a wanton, sinful creature on two legs. Civilization and modern morality have repeatedly tried to subvert this truth with varying degrees of success. If you want to know what it really is to be human, you have to embrace your sinful, darker side. You have to take it out, wine and dine it, feed it liquor 'til dawn, let it over-indulge and revel in excess. You have to heedlessly toss caution and morality in the wind. You have to do this because you're human, and it's your great tragic flaw. If you want to do this right you have to sojourn to sin's natural habitat: Las Vegas -- the city whose very foundations are firmly entrenched in a deep pit of dark human desires.

Maybe these sinful impulses are part of our inner child, the side of us that lives just beneath the surface and wants to break all the rules; the side of us that chooses not to accept reality; the part of us that doesn't give a shit. On a rational level we know Vegas is the hot, flashy girl that'll treat us like crap -- just making us want her all the more. She wears too much makeup, talks too loud, drinks too much and curses and laughs at you while daring you to be bad. And it works. You can't help thinking, "Maybe she'd like me better, maybe she'd be nicer to me if…" You want her to like you, want to curry her favor. You just know the more licentious you are, the more likely she'll approve and bestow her favors upon you.

And so we sin. Sin, like misery, loves company. Las Vegas' 30 million annual visitors bear this out. Do they come here to become better people? No. They come to be served free drinks in the middle of the night; to double down with an 11 against the dealer's bust card; to throw the dice and win a fortune on the hard six; to hit the proverbial jackpot; to get baked by the blazing desert sun while lounging by a tropical pool before going out to see a couple of German's in tights romping with their white tigers or Nudes on Ice or gorging at all-you-can-eat buffet washed down with .99¢ shrimp cocktails. They come to Vegas do these things, and more, that you can't do anywhere else in the world. Is there more? Oh, yes, there's much more. Vegas has whatever you want. Vegas has things you didn't even know you wanted.

The mere fact that Las Vegas exists proves this. It's a city that was only founded in this century; a city that has no real reason to thrive in the middle of the damned desert. Yet it's become the Entertainment Capital of the World and one of the most popular destinations in history. And it's still growing by unprecedented, dizzying, neon-emblazoned leaps and bounds. On the doorstep of the new millenium, Las Vegas is home to 13 of the largest hotels and resorts in the the world. By Y2K it'll have the 20 largest hotel/resorts in the country. Indubitably also the most unique. Vegas bends normal reality into its own patented brand of surreality.

Breaking the Rules, Baby, Vegas Style

The rules are very simple. Go to Vegas, go directly to Vegas, do not pass go but do fprk over your $200 at the tables. Or more. Whatever you have, they'll take. You know this to be true. But because they built it, you will come. You'll come because you want to fight the odds, defy the rules, break the bank. The rules to break aren't just about wagering your money. They're about the wages of sin. You want to break lots of rules, and Vegas is the place, baby.

A trip to Vegas can be as simple as you like. There are package deals galore, cheap flights, or it's a simple enough drive through the desert for Southwesterners. Just keep in mind that the barrenness of the desert drive will match the way your soul feels when you're hungover and broke on the way home: dry, barren and mournfully reeking of despair. If you do it right, this is how you'll feel, but you'll be trodding in the footsteps of millions of other lost souls. After all, anything worth doing -- even sinning -- is worth doing well.

You can have your fun at any of the theme mega-resorts. If all you want to do is lounge poolside by day, and drink, eat and gamble by night, any one of them can accommodate you wonderfully. They're all set up so you'll never want to leave once you've set foot through the doors. That's why Vegas boasts the lowest room rates of any major city, some of the cheapest food, and more hotel rooms than all the rest -- still with the highest occupancy levels. They want to get you there and keep you there.

When you want to break other rules, there's no shortage of things to do -- especially since everything is open all the damned time. The first thing you might consider is venturing off The Strip. One of the finest off-the-Strip spots is the Rio All Suite Hotel. Even if you don't stay there, there are plenty of reasons to visit. First off, take a glass elevator up to Voodoo Lounge on the 51st floor. You can sit and sip your favorite libation while looking at one of the finest views of The Strip. Rio's scantily clad cocktail waitresses are also laudable -- perennially voted the best in Vegas by the Las Vegas Review journals Annual Readers Poll. (Of course the finest view of the Vegas "skyline" is from The Stratosphere Tower, but there's really not too much besides the view and the world's highest roller coaster there.) The Rio's Carnival Buffet is among the most elaborate in town and includes many atypical buffet foods, including sushi. When you've had your fill of food and drink, wander down to Club Rio, the hottest resort nightclub in town. It's a NY-style nightclub with a Vegas slant, and it's the place to go if you want to stay up all night drinking and dancing with the beautiful people. If you're in for a quieter evening, the Rio is hosting the largest collection of Russian art ever shown in this country -- and making a healthy contribution to Russia's dwindling coffers in the process.

The Luxor's Club Ra is also a trendy nightclub. It's right on Tropicana and The Strip and happens to be located in a monolithic black pyramid adorned with the brightest light on the planet (which supposedly can be seen from space). Basically you'd have to be pretty wasted to miss it (but in Vegas, all things are possible). The MGM's Studio 54 is the in place for the younger "just barely old enough to drink and gamble" set.

As this article was written, Club Utopia, across from the Monte Carlo, was currently being investigated for allegations of exhibitionistic sex on the premises during its Second Annual Nymphomaniac's Ball. So by the time you read this, it may be extinct (the club, not sex).

If the tables are cold and your libido is hot and you want to chase fun until the rise of rosy fingered dawn, you'll want to consider a stop at The Beach on Paradise Street. It's the city's most popular nightclub for locals, where the waitresses work in bikinis and the men in swimsuits and their appearances reveal that the hiring criteria may discriminate against people who don't look like supermodels.

Paradise Street runs parallel to, and lies just east of, The Strip, and it's the area you want to be in for eating, drinking and dancing away from the resorts. Its "restaurant row" is home to Gordon Biersch brewpub, where you'll get the same superior brews and elegant fare that have made all their locations such a hit. Nearby PF Chang's is another local hotspot, where the cocktail lounge is very popular with locals and where dining is especially worth it if you call ahead and reserve the Captain's Table, which is in the kitchen, adding a festive and chaotic air to the occasion.

At the southern end of Paradise Street you'll find the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, "the World's First Rock 'n Roll Hotel," which is the "in" place for the young, stylish set. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, it doesn't have a nightclub. But it's the spot to get liquored up early and meet people you want to go clubbing with later. Take your time, since no one of any consequence will be at the clubs much before midnight anyway. When it's time, amble around the corner to The Drink on Harmon Street, a favorite with both tourists and locals alike for the past several years. The scene starts late and lasts late (or early, depending on your perspective). There's plenty to keep you occupied there: a large elevated dance floor, several bars and even a cigar lounge. With these amenities, The Drink successfully attracts an eclectic crowd that gives it a vibrant atmosphere.

Las Vegas is awash in culture. Why is it there? The money. It all goes back to the money. Dreams have a tangible cost in Vegas, where you may (or may not) have to pay for your sins, but you're at least heartily encouraged to commit them and, in today's frigid moral climate, that in itself is a rarity and truly something to revel in. If you want to wallow in your sins there's really no other place in the world to match it.

Las Vegas Facts & Fodder

Wedding Chapels:
- More than 50
- $35 fee
- In 1997, 110,696 wedding licenses were issued
- Marriage License Bureau stays open from 8 am to midnight; 24 hours on all NV legal holidays
- On average there are 8,400 weddings per month; 280 per day; or one every 5 minutes

Famous People Married in Las Vegas:
Elvis & Priscilla, Sinatra & Mia Farrow, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward, Cindy Crawford & Richard Gere, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Ann-Margaret, Bruce Willis & Demi Moore, Billy Martin, Mike Haight, Joan Collins, Judy Garland, Tony Curtis, Mickey Rooney (several times), Mary Tyler Moore, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Joan Crawford, Michael Jordan

Number of Gaming Licenses:
- 1,577 in Clark County

Number of Slots:
- 140,000

Number of Live Tables:
- 4,200

1998 Total Gaming Take (profit):
- Over $7 billion

Gambling Habits:
- Average length of stay: 3.5 nights
- Average hotel cost per night: $62.30
- Percentage who gamble: 89
- Average gambling budget: $515.44
- Average number of hours gambling per day: 3.9
- Average bet (among table game players): $15.22
- Percentage who attended a show: 48
- Percentage who were "very satisfied" with their trip: 94
- Average age: 48.3
- Percentage married: 70
- Percentage from California: 28
- Percentage from foreign countries: 19

Biggest Single Jackpot:
A $12.5 million jackpot was paid in 1997 on Megabucks. Slots are linked to a statewide network with progressive jackpots in the millions. The pot grows every time a coin drops anywhere in the linked system in Nevada.

The Biggest Win Overall:
Some say Australian media baron Kerry Packer took the MGM Grand for $270 million in one year, mostly at Baccarat.

Hotel/Casino Construction Costs:
- Fremont St. Experience (downtown renovation): $70 million
-Hard Rock Hotel & Casino: $100 million
- Luxor: $375 million
- MGM Grand: $1 billion
- Treasure Island: $430 million
- Monte Carlo: $344 million
- New York-New York: $460 million
- Caesars Palace: $25 million at opening (1966); $1 billion in renovation/new construction projects through 1998
- Mirage: $630 million
- Excalibur: $290 million
- Stratoshpere: $500 million
- Bellagio: $1.7 billion (openned 1998)
- Paris: $750 million (openned 1999)
- Mandalay Bay: $950 million (opens spring 1999)
- Venetian: $1.4 billion (opens April 1999)
- Aladdin Hotel/Planet Hollywood Music Hotel: $1.2 billion (opens 2000)

Room Count:
As of October 1998: 109,906. Circus Circus alone has more than 10 percent of total Las Vegas hotel rooms.

The Suite Life

Most visitors stay in one of the average and very affordable Las Vegas hotel rooms. But for "high rollers," the door is always open, and the red carpet is rolled out in lavish, unbelievably expensive suites. For those who've lost or won enough to impress the casino, these suites are comped. For those with deep enough pockets to pay, they go for a pretty penny.

The Desert Inn is one of the stalwart spots on the Strip. DI's three largest suites have a rack rate of $15,000 per night and range from 7,800 to 9,300 square feet, each with private pools, full-time butler/staffing service and bathrooms larger than the typical living room. Though these suites are only booked about one weekend per month, the list of guests is stellar: Sinatra, Howard Hughes, Dean Martin, Tony Bennet, Bill Clinton and many Hollywood luminaries, including Bruce Willis, Rosie O'Donnell, Greg Kinnear and George Clooney.

Las Vegas' Lucky History

Las Vegas has gone through many phases since its original and ironical founding by Mormon settlers in 1855. The Mormons migrated to Utah, and little else happened in the sleepy desert outpost for some time. It might never have been heard from again, except for the fact that gambling was legalized in 1931. Las Vegas found a reason to be.

The first real casinos began appearing in the forties, but the heyday didn't commence until Bugsy Siegel, along with a little help from the "Goodfellas," erected the Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in 1946. Thus, the first era of Las Vegas, the glamorous desert resort town, was ushered in. For the next 20 years, Vegas was it. The Rat Pack and cool cat wannabes wandered around the hip joints -- The Flamingo, The Desert Inn, The Sands, Caesars -- in shiny suits with ties askew, a drink in one hand, a smoke in the other, a broad on one side, a dame on the other. There was no political correctness; it was Vegas. The joint was swingin', and there were no rules, no limits, no cover, no minimum, no sales tax, no waiting period for marriage, no state income tax and no regulation of gambling. No rules. And the people dug it. Anything could happen, and usually did. The scene was so hot that the money and the booze flowed freer than Mt. Vesuvius.

Big money attracts big attention. In 1966, one of the wealthiest men in the world, Howard Hughes, became enamored of Vegas. He ensconced himself and his entourage in the entire sixth floor of the Desert Inn Hotel (the "DI" if you're hip) and put down roots. Even the reclusive Hughes realized the potential of t he dynamic desert town, and he began buying up properties as if The Strip was his own private Monopoly game. After several years of his eccentric behavior, during which he rarely left his suite, the DI tried to evict the reclusive multi-millionaire. Hughes made some phone calls and within days the DI was his. Hughes stayed put. In Vegas, more than anywhere else, money talks. Today, the DI is one of the toniest spots on The Strip, with a recent $200 million makeover.

Every year brought more tourists, which meant more wallets and more money. New hotels and casinos sprang up. Owning a casino was a license to print money. Gambling became such big business that the government stepped in and organized the Nevada Gaming Commission. Stringent regulations were set, and every attempt was made to rid the city of any Mobster influence. Tales of Organized Crime skimming operations abounded for years, but the Commission and the FBI were vigilant. There was big corporate and government money involved now. Gambling became more than just something for the glamour set. Mr. & Mrs. Joe Average wanted to take a chance, too, and their money was just as green as anyone else's.

The eighties saw more people making even more money. Vegas wanted it. City leaders commissioned one of the largest tourism advertising budgets in the country, dedicating $25 million to tell the country that Las Vegas was "America's Way to Play." The slogan, coined by native Las Vegas adman Sig Rogich, helped Las Vegas soar to new heights of popularity. He sold Las Vegas so well that he was ultimately tapped to be the advertising director for both Reagan and Bush's Presidential campaigns. Rogich made the jump from glitzy Las Vegas ad guru to high-powered politico with an office in the White House. He even served a stint as U.S. ambassador to Iceland. Rogich then went back to Vegas and masterminded the New York-New York Resort.

Vegas became so popular that it attracted the corporate moneymen. MBAs and high financiers knew a successful endeavor when they saw it. And they all wanted a piece of the pie. Gambling became "gaming." Even Steve Wynn, who went to Vegas as a professional gambler, parlayed his profits into casino ownership. He realized quickly that the way to make money in a casino is to own it. High finance men knew that building a casino was not a gamble, and Wynn even got involved with Michael Milken to finance his company's tremendous growth. Wall Street to The Strip was not such a jump. It's all about money.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Vegas put a lot of effort in to cleaning up its image. Corporate America wanted Sin City to be a family destination, and offer hotels with childcare services. Thus, new resorts were built with families in mind -- "bring the kids." People did. And tourism continued to rise. Vegas could do no wrong.

What's the Vegas of today? On one hand it's become a real city, the fastest growing in the country, with over a million residents. It has a university, nice homes, good schools, a dynamic business community and plentiful activities away from the casinos. Las Vegas is awash in culture. Why? The money. It all goes back to the money. Dreams have a tangible cost in Las Vegas, where you pay for your sins. You'll have a terrific time on your date with the glitzy, gaudy Lady Las Vegas, her wiles will titillate you, but when the check comes, guess who's paying?

You are. But you're gonna like it. You can bet on it.

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