Sunday, 17 March 2013

This Is Las Vegas

This is from a book that I gave my dad for Father's Day a few years ago, according to the inscription I made in the front, 2009 actually. I don't even really remember that, or where I bought it but I picked it up this weekend while I was at the cottage and finished the whole thing in a day and a half - quite the fun little read! I thought the following section was particularly good as it is fitting for both my love of Las Vegas and the current debate about Toronto possibly getting a casino:

"The casinos lie out there on the baked earth like extravagant toys discarded on a beach, their signs looping, beckoning, spiraling, and fizzing recklessly, as in that moment of glory just before the batteries run down.  'Las Vegas,' wrote Tom Wolfe, 'is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs.  One can look at Las Vegas from a mile away on Route 91 and see no buildings, no trees, only signs.'  But what the signs are signaling so hectically are invitations less to luck than to fantasy.  The Strip is a Disneyland for the middle-aged, its hotels conceived not just as places to stay but as Hollywood sets, each built around an idea, each offering its guests the chance to star in the movie of their choice.  Those who have secretly hankered after Ben Hur go to Ceaser's Palace, where they can lounge on Cleopatra's Barge (with a view of the gaming tables) while their drinks are served by girls dressed as Roman slaves.  At Aladdin's, it's The Arabian Nights, at the Dunes and the Sahara discrete versions of The Desert Song, and at Circus-Circus Big Top, with trapeze artists flying about above your head while you gamble and a gallery of battering sideshows to bemuse the children.  Each is a world in itself, staffed by upward of three thousand people, with its own swimming pool, gymnasium, and arcade of expensive shops; many of the hotels have tennis courts or golf courses, and most of them stage elaborate supper shows, with famous stars and full supporting casts, more lavish and expensively staged than Broadway musicals.  Together they constitute a kind of movieland version of the Borscht Belt, with gambling as an added element of fantasy and release.  They also offer anyone with even a modest bankroll an appearance of the opulence, luxury, and obsequious service that is elsewhere reserved for the very rich.  For the few days his money lasts, the Las Vegas tourist can in every possible way feel like a film star.

The typical guest at a Strip hotel is a middle-aged and middle class - over a quarter of the guests are college graduates, a fifth are self-employed- and that is how the casinos want it.  They are more interested in turnover than in the really high rollers.  This is why they have failed to attract the oil-rich Arabs who fuel the gambling economy of Europe.  The Arabs, I was told, find Las Vegas rules too restrictive.  If they bet the table limit on a single number at roulette, they are not allowed to double that bet on a split number, or treble or quadruple it on a three-way or four-way chance, as they can in London.  The conglomerates that now own most of the casinos do not want million-dollar winners, or even million-dollar losers.  They want steadier, more moderate customers-those who will win or lose tens of thousands of dollars at most.  Which is, of course, more than enough to wipe out the majority of us.  But in the world of really big-time gambling they order these things differently, and Las Vegas has lost out as a result.  Its casinos turn over more than a billion dollars a year, but democratically, from twelve million weekenders, conventioneers, and passing tourists and some sixty thousand couples served annually by the town's second industry-quick marriages."

From The Biggest Game In Town by A. Alvarez, 1983
(And a big thank you to Jason for typing out the above passage for me while I watered my parent's plants.)

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