Just GOING To Las Vegas Is a Big Enough Gamble

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

                   It’s been almost exactly four years since the last time I was in Las Vegas, Nevada, and what I saw then was distressing, but with a credit crunch having taken over, and the city being among the hardest hit of any major US city during that span, the town it is now hardly resembles the one I enjoyed working in so frequently during the mid-80s and early 90s. 

                   I was in Las Vegas this past three days to work a convention for Nimsoft, a Bay Area-based software (I think!) corporation. I performed with keyboardist and best buddy J. Raoul Brody, and got paid enough that I turned a fair profit even after paying airfare. Nothing like yuppies with a bit of money to burn! And where better to burn it than a place that charges for EVERYTHING! The convention was at the Four Seasons Hotel, which is tied in with the mammoth Mandalay Bay Resort Hotel, a totally unnecessary and not even that visually interesting complex. It’s got a House of Blues tied in with it, and among the upcoming “Blues” artists scheduled to play there is a “supergroup” comprised of members of New Kids On The Block and Backstreet Boys. Oh, Wowdy Dowdy! Get down with your bad selves, guys!

                    What I remember of the Vegas from the past was the implied rationale, “We’re making enough off the gambling, so we’ll cut you some slack on the other expenses.” Not any more, and I noticed it from the minute I got out of McCarren Airport and into a cab. Well, there was a bit of a gap between those two events, because first I needed to weather a line longer than your average Matterhorn Bobsled or Pirates of the Caribbean line, though it at least moved faster. I got into the cab, and since I only had $25 in cash, I asked the driver first if that was enough to get me to The Four Seasons, and he assured me it was. He was correct, the drive took about 15 minutes, and cost $18.90. It wasn’t until the next morning when I looked outside my 37th floor suite and into the daylight when the first thing I saw, almost directly beneath me, was in fact the airport! Oh, but I’m sure the driver took the Shortest Route Possible. And so the ripoffs began! 

                     As I checked in, among the first questions I asked was if the hotel had Wi-Fi, which they did, at a mere $14.99 a day. Oh, spare me! But they did have computers throughout the complex that allowed you 10 free minutes, then a dollar a minute after that. Cheap bastards, but they, like any other casino/hotel, thrive on people’s zeal/desperation. If folks are on line, then they’re not gambling, right? So they offer the many often-trashy, always extravagant, variety shows to lure people into the main casino area. Not to mention posh restaurants, overpriced clothing and jewelry shops, and plenty of trashy souvenir shops that manage to sell you something that you look at a few minutes after buying and ask yourself why. And if you need a little extra cash, there’s plenty of ATMs around that dispense in $100 increments for the mere charge of $4.99 per transaction.

                         And back to those shows! Gone are the days when every major casino had an internationally famous headliner who might play for two weeks before the next one comes in. Now you have headliners like singers Celine Dion and Barry Manilow, magicians like David Copperfield and Penn & Teller, and a plethora of nearly famous but mostly over-the-hill comedians, all of whom have their own room and play there year-round. And the prices! Actually what’s more interesting than the astronomically high prices is to wonder how they come up with such round numbers. Tickets to see “Jersey Boys,” the semi-biographical tribute to Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, cost from $72.10 to $259.10, while to see “Larry G. Jones: Comic Singing Impressionist,” the cost is a more modest $52.92 and $72.92. This is a far cry from the Vegas and Tahoe shows from the 1970s, where to see The Carpenters (with opening act The Righteous Brothers) cost $10 and that included three drinks! Sammy Davis Jr. charged $25, that money-grubbing hustler!  And certainly any number of Elvis tribute acts charge more now than even the most ruthless of ticket scalpers were getting for the Real Thing some 40 years ago.

                          Thank god they still had the buffets, which offered a full three-meal package for $42.99 a day per person, but since there is enough food to feed…. I dunno, Africa maybe, in each buffet, who of less-than-Rush Limbaugh proportion could handle more than ONE a day? The breakfast buffet cost $15.99, and I indulged enough that I didn’t have to eat again, but if I wanted to drink later in the evening, a regular glass of red wine was a mere $12. I didn’t hang out in the casino (since I gave up all serious gambling about 30 years ago) long enough to determine whether waitresses still come up to people at the tables or the slots and offer free drinks, like I remember from all those years ago.

                               Yes, times change, and where I used to frequently work back in the day, The Dunes Hotel, is now the more elaborate Bellagio. The Dunes fell victim to the excesses of its more outrageous neighbors, most of them offering theme park type attractions to lure not only tourists, but their families as well. I’m not sure why they decided to make Vegas family-friendly, since if the kids are there, then probably the parents are hanging with them, and not as much at the tables. The excess has caught up though, as the state of Nevada currently has about a 12% unemployment rate, and the city of Las Vegas has begun losing population after a 40-year growth from around 40,000 in 1960 to nearly 1.5 million in 2000. What I remember most from my visit four years ago was the abundance of cranes, all active in construction of numerous new casinos, probably all trying to outdo each other. I didn’t see a single crane this time!

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