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Las Vegas: Still a wild weekend?
Can the Sin City still live up to its reputation
Las Vegas. If it didn't exist, we'd surely have to make it up. If casinos have a spiritual home, then it's Vegas, a shimmering mirage rising out of the horizon as you cross the Mojave Desert.
A city never short of hyperbole, Las Vegas is the self-styled 'Entertainment Capital of the World'. Who can argue; everybody who is anybody held a residency at Vegas at some point in the past: Elvis, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Celine Dion.
Frank Sinatra sang about Chicago being his kind of town while New York was so good, he named it twice. But he and the rest of the Rat Pack really came alive in Vegas. It was glitz, glamour; lights, music and cabaret.
Even the nobody's held residence in Nevada's most infamous conurbation. A host of 70s cop and detective shows inevitably found themselves investigating the magician playing to a lounge audience which had less life than the city morgue. It was always the magic men.When in Vegas, steer clear of that strange but deadly breed.
Despite all this, there was a seedy side to the city. A dangerous air, a darkness which held the world enthralled as it became clear organised crime was behind the casinos. Fredo Corleone's downfall is sealed in Vegas, while the characters in Casino were composites of the real-life mafioso who inhabited the city in the 70s.
Hunter S. Thompson's seminal novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, dug under the surface of the city but let's be honest, without its colourful past, Las Vegas wouldn't be tCe city it is today.
Nor would the legend 'what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas' sprout without it. Stag weekends, weeks; anything goes but none of it comes home, sealed by the Omerta which engulfs the trip.
Louis Does Vegas
The draw of Vegas shows no sign of abating; visitor numbers continue to increase year-on-year. In 1977, just one year following the introduction of the world's first video slot machines, 10.137m visitors were recorded as staying in city hotels; in Q1 2017 alone, 10.437m visitors arrived. The mythical status of the city grows as the world becomes smaller.
Vegas is ahead of Macau in general tourism. While the Chinese government opened their borders to the masses, not just the gambling hoards, Vegas has been the base for many a trip. The Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, the Mob Museum, Red Rocks; they are all within easy reach.
Indeed, anecdotal evidence puts much of the city's success down to the improved attractions away from the casinos as a key reason for the success. The convention circuit in particular is proving lucrative, bringing 6.3m visitors to Las Vegas.
As the masses make up more of the numbers, is it a case that the traditional week away to play the tables is being impacted by the growth in online casinos.
While the glamour and glitz holds its appeal, the reality of Nevada is somewhat different as Louis Theroux discovered in his 2007 documentary, Gambling In Las Vegas. There's a cross-section of the quirky, odd and downright weird which you never have to meet in your sitting room, unless you are quirky, odd and downright weird yourself, in which case your friends will be as well.
The thrills of being in the casino are no different on your iPad; it's still there but easier to walk away from. Martha, whom Louis met, was a habitue of the Vegas Hilton but staggeringly unlucky. Theroux proved the opposite, winning $1,500 at Baccarat, not taking the advice - wisely as it happens - of the luckless salesmen he meets along the way.
Pack Up Your Inhibitions In Your Old Kit Bag and Smile
Throughout the film, it's clear that the denizens of the craps table or the sirens of the slot machine left their inhibitions in the hotel suite. In the comfort of your own home, you have the entertainment you want, in the surroundings of your choice. No need to worry about inhibitions; they were taken off with your coat after a hard day at the office.
All you need to do is find your own Richard, the Hilton's 'Super Host' and you are made. If you like, you can really go to town with the Vegas atmosphere, mixing your own Pina Colada, looking at the tacky Elvis picture and listening to Barry Manilow croon about the Copacabana. In the comfort of your own lounge, the world is your oyster, limited only by your imagination.