Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Back from the Health Farm

A four-day trip to Vegas is probably the antithesis of a trip to a health farm, though perhaps for the first time in my life I was relatively sensible. Any time spent there is a constant battle with the temptation to drink, eat and gamble too much, and the bright entrepreneurs that have developed the city do little to dissuade you.

I had high expectations for Vegas having not been since 1990 when few of the giant new luxury super-hotels had been completed. I had read a lot about the city's transition from a seedy desert bowl part-controlled by the Mob to one of the world's great destinations, with a speculative property boom to match.

Steve Wynn himself is credited with having kickstarted the 1990s Vegas 'revolution' with the development of the Mirage hotel, which was the first of several themed giant hotels. His new self-titled creation has however taken the concept of Vegas luxury to a totally new level, and unlike essentially all of its peers, it is not themed and as a result it oozes class throughout. As nice as the themed Bellagio or Venetian hotels may be (amongst others), anyone who has travelled much will find them tacky, and tacky isn't generally what you pay $500 a night for. Naturally we stayed in New York New York, which has been described as the largest piece of 'pop art' in the world, and as much as I wanted to hate it, the exterior in particular is undeniably impressive.

Vegas has done a reasonable job of steering its focus away from gambling and towards a broad range of entertainment options ranging from world-class restaurants to Broadway-imported shows. However Vegas is a gambling mecca that would simply have remained a desert outpost without its casinos and that was the one factor that played on my mind the whole trip as I did my best to enjoy it.

As much as the likes of Wynn may try to build resorts that are as luxurious as any in the world (the Wynn hotel was the most expensive ever built), you can't help thinking that without the ability to gamble, they'd be no reason to be there. Why would you opt for the Wynn over an equally pricey and luxurious resort in the South of France or the Caribbean where the views are of beaches and not building sites? Other than its hotels, Vegas has few redeeming features if any.

Having said all of that, gambling is fun of course. I was encouraged to learn that all the casinos widely distribute the extent of their 'edge' over the punter, which ranges from 0.5-1.5% for Blackjack to 20%+ for Keno. Nonetheless it still amazed me how seriously some punters take games like Roulette which not only have an obvious 'house edge' but which have no skill factor whatsoever. Given that the casinos are so transparent, I no longer felt sorry for anyone that turned up in Vegas with a real cashflow problem they were hoping to solve. As they say in Latin, 'caveat emptor.'

Conversely it was much to my chagrin it was only towards the end of the trip that I discovered the ease which one can count cards in a single deck blackjack game, particularly if you play head-to-head with the dealer. In short, once the number of cards revealed from 2-7 materially outnumber those from 10 and above, it's time to load up your bet.

We also discovered another neat trick. If you play roulette (house edge approx 5%) and stick to the minimum $10 bets per spin, then you should expect to lose say $5 assuming ten spins per hour. Given that cocktail waitresses will happily ply punters with free drinks, and assuming three drinks per hour, you are essentially being paid to play and to drink. Should I ever end up as a tramp, you'll find me in Vegas. Cheers.

So all in all, Vegas was a slight disappointment. Maybe it took it all too seriously - maybe the idea is to drop your principles and taste at the airport, have a great time, and then to pick them up again on your way home. Unfortunately that was easier said than done given that the city's focus on life's various vices inevitably attracts the types of chancers, wannabees and bullshitters that one tends to spend one's life trying to avoid. Viva Las Vegas, but a few days was enough.

ps - Charlton naturally got well-beaten by Bolton whilst I was away - if ever there was a 'sucker bet' then backing Charlton away from home right now is it.


At 7:05 PM, Blogger Chicago Addick said...

Did you pick up your Ferrari from the ground floor of the Wynn?

At 7:28 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

No I opted out - I like my cars to be a bit like Charlton: safety-oriented, but not great to look at. A Volvo perhaps?

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