Gambling not only
way to strike it rich in Vegas
Copyright © The Star Ledger 2006
BY LERON KORNREICH
LAS VEGAS--Even in a city
where everything screams, "Look at me!" William
Sweasy and Knut Grevle commanded attention as they gallivanted
giddily across Mandalay Bay's casino floor.
Wearing getups consisting
of mega-sized cowboy hats and fluorescent clown glasses, the
grown boys took on the persona of Las Vegas flash. And, after
winning eight grand at a roulette table, they summed up their
exhilaration with sparkling bumper stickers slapped across
their backs declaring, "I Heart Las Vegas."
The casino cowboys were keen
on sharing their story with me while cashing out their earnings.
Unfortunately, they weren't game to share their loot.
I was jazzed about my own
winnings, though they paled in comparison. No, I'm not talking
about the seven dollars in quarters that came clanking out
of the slot machine I played earlier that evening. I am referring
to the fifth row center seats I scored for the ABBA love-fest,
Audiences have heeded the
musical's call to "Take a Chance on Me" for three
years, making it the longest-running Broadway show to play
in Vegas. It was finally my turn to find out what all the
fuss was about.
Whatever one considers a
jackpot, Sin City is happy to oblige.
When I booked a holiday weekend
getaway, I had two goals in mind.
First, helping finance Steve
Wynn's fortune by gaming at his classy new high-end casino.
I felt this was only fair as, on trips to Atlantic City, I
had "donated" many a five-dollar bill to Donald
Trump via those inverse ATMs that casinos euphemistically
call slot machines.
Second, after ridding myself
of aforementioned "Money, Money, Money," come face
to face with the "Dancing Queen."
On previous visits, I slept
in the shadow of Paris' Eiffel Tower or crashed at Sir Lancelot's
quarters at Excalibur. This time, my husband and I opted for
the Las Vegas Hilton because paying with Hilton Honors points
would leave us more cash to spend on entertainment.
I must admit our room on
Paradise Road lacked the cool factor of, say, the Hard Rock
Hotel & Casino, where eye candy abounds poolside and swim-up
blackjack means gamblers don't have to leave the water to
win (or lose) a hand. The Hilton houses "Star Trek: The
Experience" and Barry Manilow's "Music and Passion,"
so it's safe to assume it's catering to a different crowd.
After numerous visits, I've
realized Vegas' chameleon qualities make it possible to plan
vacations ranging from tame to insane. Where you choose to
gamble depends on what kind of action you're seeking.
My husband maintains that
the best sports book, hands down, can be found at Caesars
Palace, where throngs of fans cheer at six enormous screens
and 12 small television sets. When hoop madness sets in during
the NCAA finals, the most coveted seats are at Paris, which
converts its theater into a colossal screening room.
Looking to gamble to light
music? Head to Wynn. Prefer rock `n' roll? Hard Rock turns
the volume way up, while Treasure Island lets gamers bop to
We dropped off our luggage
and headed out to the Wynn Las Vegas. I was itching to witness
the results of Steve Wynn's bid to outdo his former creations,
the Mirage, Bellagio and Treasure Island. Each of those hotels
has signature waterworks a volcanic erupting fountain,
dancing cascades, and clashing pirate ships so I was
naturally curious to see the new casino's "Lake of Dreams."
As my husband and I pulled
up the driveway, the sun cast an orange reflection across
the casino's curved glass front. Inside, we were greeted by
candy-cane-colored restaurants and souvenir shops, posh boutiques,
and a Ferrari/Maserati dealership that doubles as a museum
for those of us who don't have $65-thousand plus to spare.
The pool was empty except
for one intrepid swimmer undeterred by the chilly weather.
Without the usual hordes of sunbathers taking up every inch
of tanning space, we were afforded a view of the pool's lavish
We heard whispers about a
topless section behind the pool bar. I guess when they say
the pool is "European style" they aren't simply
referring to the architecture.
We crossed the relatively
subdued casino floor in search of the "Lake of Dreams."
There, statues of nudes stood semi-submerged in water, in
motionless anticipation of their role in the daily light shows
that alter the colors of the 150-foot-tall waterfall.
Once I got the water world
out of my system, we returned to the gaming floor to find
out if luck would indeed be a lady. We couldn't help being
roped into watching a No-Limit Hold'em tournament unfolding
quietly. A woman who appeared around 80 years old was giving
her male card-playing counterparts some hell. We were captivated
by her gambling antics and her cowgirl-influenced attire.
Before we knew it, dinnertime
snuck up on us. I'd heard the new "it" place for
dining and dancing was Tao at the Venetian. Paris Hilton rang
in the New Year at the Asian fusion restaurant; I was not
sure if that made it more or less appealing.
It's a good thing I had reserved
a dinner table weeks in advance, because a crowd had already
formed when we arrived at the candlelit tunnel entrance. Despite
a 7:45 reservation, we were not seated until approximately
8:30. Fortunately, we had no show tickets that night or we
would have had to choose between ABBA and the Alaskan salmon
and avocado with Yuzu sesame dressing.
Once seated, we were thrilled
to discover our table on the second floor overlooked the restaurant's
centerpiece: a massive Buddha drifting peacefully above an
infinity pool. A DJ spun funky techno tunes as we ate our
Chinese/Japanese/Thai inspired meal.
When making our reservation,
I had strategized that an early evening slot would have us
wrapping up our meal around 10, when the nightclub opened.
That foresight paid off because diners bypass the snaking
line, which saved us time and made us feel pretty darn special.
It did not, however, save us money. We still had to pay the
cover charge $20 for women, $30 for men.
When the elevator doors leading
to the nightclub opened, we couldn't help but gasp at the
sight of nearly 300 wooden monks lining the wall, holding
bowls of water and votive candles. It was an awesome display;
although, I wondered whether a Buddhist visiting Tao would
be offended by the exploitation of religious icons amid symbols
of lust and vice, such as the nearly naked models luxuriating
in rose petal baths. Then again, this was Vegas, where Puritans
can find reason to blush at every turn.
Lately, Sin City has been
trying to cater to a less "sinful" crowd. More casino
operators than ever are betting the good clean fun of Broadway
shows help draw crowds to their floors. Luxor hopes the Tony
Award-winning musical "Hairspray" revives the pyramid's
panache. The Vegas version opened in February abridged and
intermission-free, like many other musicals to hit the Strip.
In June, The Venetian will
raise the curtain on a 90-minute version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's
pop-operatic sensation. In a city whose skyline is made up
of a mock pyramid, ersatz Eiffel Tower, and pseudo Big Apple
skyscrapers, it is only fitting that the masked Phantom will
belt out "The Music of the Night" in a faux Paris
Opera House within an imitation Italian municipality. In step
with Vegas glitz, the show promises to ramp up the kitsch
with a chandelier twice the size of the Broadway version and
a canal more than twice as long.
The Knights of Spamalot prepare
to prance onto center stage for their Vegas debut in 2007.
"Mamma Mia" did
not disappoint. We sang along with the rest of the crowd and
found ourselves dancing in our seats. On prior trips, I had
opted for shows exclusive to Vegas, such as the semi-submerged
human circus "O" or Siegfried & Roy's dazzling
tiger spectacular (which I caught before it closed after an
animal mauled one of the magicians).
It hadn't made sense to me
to catch a Broadway show when the Great White Way is so accessible
from New Jersey, where I once lived and frequently visit.
But "Mamma Mia" taught me Vegas gives Broadway shows
its own twist, making the experience slightly different.
There are plenty of old-school
Vegas shows to choose from for purists. Headliners such as
Danny Gans keep audiences in stiches nightly, while Barry
Manilow and Celine Dion hit the high notes. There is no shortage
of Cirque du Soleil shows everything from the pyrotechnics
and puppetry in "KÀ" to the X-rated contortionism
As I am a sucker for anything
Cirque-like, I debated buying same-day tickets to Franco Dragone's
newest creation, "Le Rêve: A Small Collection of
Imperfect Dreams." I was willing to shell out $100 per
ticket, especially since I'd read that the Wynn theater's
circular design ensures a good view from nearly every seat.
After a brief consultation,
my husband and I decided to leave something for our next visit
to Sin City. Once "LOVE" opens in June, we'll have
yet another excuse to return to the city of neon and naughtiness.
The Mirage's Web site describes it as a Beatles tribute consisting
of "aerial performances, extreme sports and urban freestyle
Like the other 39 million
tourists projected to flock to the gaming mecca this year,
I cannot deny the city's appeal. I know I'll be back. Perhaps,
next time, wearing neon clown glasses and an oversized cowboy
NOTES: Leron Kornreich is
a former News 12 New Jersey reporter living in Los Angeles,