The gambling is pretty straightforward. Vegas was built on the money provided by losers. The advertising makes it clear that they will return just a fraction of every dollar you give them. Slots are for suckers. Most of the casinos are now run or funded by Mormons, and the town outside the Strip is deeply conservative, but it is also hypocritical enough to use the wages of sin to fund the local roads and schools. Maybe someday I'll practice counting cards like the MIT Blackjack Team, who took the casinos for a couple million. But for now, I avoid gambling.
The booze is everywhere. Penn & Teller (whose show I saw on Mr. Gaiman's recommendation) are teetotalers, and made a point of mocking Vegas drunks. I saw one boozehound escorted out of a restaurant at Caesars by security. The $1 beer and $2 giant margaritas were having the effect you might expect, AKA lots of drunken idiots. But you know, they push the stuff pretty hard. At one meal at Caesar's I was offered a wine list and declined. Then a cigarette-girl style "wine girl" came by and offered me a glass. I declined. Then my waiter asked if I wanted a cocktail. Water would be fine, I insisted. I mean, what's a guy gotta do to not get a drink around here?
That said, I had some fine Kikusei sake at the sushi bar later, served in a pseudo-Klein bottle. The Klein topology kept the ice on the outside, while the sake was inside.
Sex is back, if it ever left. The last time I visited was in the mid-90s, and the sex was not as in-your-face, or maybe it was just my choice of hotel was quieter. On the Strip, the cocktail waitresses don't wear much. The guests often wander the streets in thongs or bikinis. Grey-haired Anglo gents walk about hand-on-ass with young Latina ladies in hot pants. The Hispanic touts on the street pass out cards and flyers for the escorts whereever there is construction, because that's where the sidewalk narrows and you can't escape them. The topless shows are as big as ever.
The best moments are when the brides and the hookers collide, as I saw in the lobby of the Venetian. Lots of people are getting married in Vegas, and then have their reception in the casinos and on the strip. I saw no less than four brides in a single day, wandering around in their gowns. It's the classic Madonna-and-whore status for women. I'm still amazed that people deliberately get married in Vegas. Not much of an omen for future happiness, is it?
The shopping surprised me. The resort casinos all have gigantic shopping malls attached. Sure, they call it the "Via Bellagio" or the "Forum Shops at Caesars", but it's a mall, complete with food court and so forth. Most offer pretty high-end merchandise in a strangely faux-rustic setting (complete with tromp l'oeil skies, cobbled streets, and a canal at the Venetian). I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the Euro-trash Armani and so forth, but mostly as eye candy. The most amusing eavesdropping of the trip was seeing a cigar-toting Italian-American shaped like a fireplug and bejeweled with pinky rings show up at Hermes to rave about his favorite new French cologne, Rocabar. His dark, fashionable date listened patiently and the staff happily sold him the full line. The scent is actually pretty decent, and if you ever want to smell like a mobster, now you know how.
Finally, the Vegas architects are a superstitious breed: there's no 13th floor at Caesar's, and the Voodoo Lounge at the Rio levitates above 10 floors of nothing. Or at least, the "50th Floor" comes directly after the 39th floor in the elevator. Because it's so much more impressive for the ads to say "See Vegas from atop the 50th floor!" It's not just the gamblers who can't count.
It's not all bad, of course. The Vegas sins are very American sins of excess and greed. But the city does have its magic, sometimes literally. The Penn & Teller show was a marvel of jaw-dropping black comedy. Or (as they call it) "a stimulating evening of
The fountains at the Bellagio made me listen to the entirety of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On", one of the sentimental tunes (from Titanic) that passes for art around Vegas. And you know, the fountain show left me with a big goofy grin on my face. It's that good.
I love Vegas, but it's just so ridiculous.