SIN CITY: This is a town of big winners and big, big losers.
LOSER: A 27-year-old Texan was having sex with a New York tourist on the High Roller Ferris wheel (100 feet higher than London’s Eye) in the glass-enclosed capsule while onlookers videoed them.
Upon returning to earth, they were arrested. Then a TV series paid him $4,000 cash to appear. There’s more. Back home in Houston he flashed the greenbacks and was soon carjacked — and shot to death. His assailants were quickly arrested.
WINNER: A Las Vegas woman dropped into the L.V. airport, dropped some quarters in one of the handy slots last month, and won close to a million: $933,000.
It’s a town where anything can happen. Last weekend the hotels were pelted by a heavy, cold downpour, clearing the pools due to thunder and lightning. Women in matching “Bride Tribe” T-shirts were celebrating the upcoming nuptials of a friend whose bridal veil sagged alarmingly, but they all laughed.
Nearby, inside the Venetian’s lobby, an elevator burst open, disgorging a bunch of giggling women, out for fun.
The slots were busy with geezer smokers, but basically this is a young Strip, which racked up a gross of $6.3 billion last year. Unbelievably, the gambling take is far exceeded by the revenue from room rates, dining, drinks, shopping, shows, etc., and has for years.
Speaking of shows, I’m here with daughter Wendy, son Barclay, and his wife, Julie, to see Cirque du Soleil’s phantasmagorical show The Beatles: LOVE. My cell phone was barking flash-flood warnings, to add to the pyrotechnics.
“Nevada Is a Secret Business Haven” headlined USA Today, referring to the Panama Papers exposé. The reviled Mossack Fonseca Panamanian law firm, which seems to grow offshore tax shelters like peanuts, has an office here, of course.
Hotels, including the Venetian, where we dropped our bags, offered “European-style” sunbathing, meaning topless. You can swim up to play blackjack and not have a shirt to lose at some hotels, which are basically shopping malls where you can rent a room.
The pools are now dubbed “day clubs,” where people seem to stand around and drink instead of old-fashioned swimming. At the Paris Las Vegas you can swim in a two-acre rooftop pool beneath a 500-foot half-size Eiffel Tower and taste a buffet featuring dishes from five French regions.
But there’s fun galore to be had, even if you don’t gamble. I had four quarters to blow but never got around to it. These casinos are not philanthropic enterprises. The odds are with the house, more or less, depending on the game.
How do you think Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to the GOP, got to be worth $29 billion? He also owns gambling dens in Macau, China, and secretly bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He first denied it, hiding behind secrecy barriers, but was outed.
Standing high, reflecting the sun, is the 64-floor Trump Tower — tallest one here. Our neighbor, the $1.8 billion Palazzo, is all suites, also owned by Adelson. I didn’t see him around, counting the take, but I heard that celeb chef Mario Batali, formerly at the Santa Barbara Biltmore, dropped in recently to chat up the staff at his B&B Ristorante, a pricey place at the Venetian, not to be confused with B&B Burger & Beer, which he also owns along with Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, specializing in Italian-style dinners, not to be confused with a nearby Italian eatery serving “American”-style Italian food.
If you get bored, there’s the Mob Museum, harking back to the days when Vegas was run by gangsters and then reverted to a new “Family” face. When that failed, it built mega hotels with amusements for all and mega rewards for investors.
A big hit at the Venetian are the indoor gondola rides, a pleasant drift past miles of high-end shops and piloted by real Italians, such as the sweetly singing young Lina, from Positano by way of Seattle. Twenty dollars a person and for me one place where you get your money’s worth.
We left Las Vegas in the rain, broke but happy. Here, LOVE is all you need. My Santa Barbara house is about the size of one of those luxury suites but comes with a cat, far from the 42 million people who hit Sin City every year, looking for fun and/or love in too many places.