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The International Writers Magazine: US Travel

Las Vegas for Poor People
Tom Coote
The receptionist at the Imperial Palace Hotel was appalled.
“Do you know how much the buffet breakfast is? It’s $20. You’re only paying $30 for a room that’s normally $160 and you expect to get breakfast as well?”
“I wasn’t expecting it”, I mumbled apologetically, “I just thought I’d ask.”


After coughing up the cash for four nights in advance, she reluctantly handed over our keys. We hauled our dirty backpacks up from the plush casino carpet and headed off through the forest of fruit machines in search of our heavily discounted room.

We had originally intended to stay in a hostel, in the disreputable downtown area (the day before, the other driver of the van that we had travelled up from LA in, had been hit over the head while taking a passengers money – his mugger got away with $20.) A quick search on the internet, however, had revealed that during the week it would be far cheaper to stay in a proper hotel on the main strip. It might not be as friendly or approachable as a backpackers’ hostel, but it was right in the centre of the action and it was a bargain. It just wasn’t that easy to find the actual room. There is a scene in Chevy Chase’s ‘Vegas Vacation’ where the whole family is completely overwhelmed by the ridiculously convoluted instructions on how to reach their room, and end up getting hopelessly lost in the miles of identical looking hotel corridors. This is not a comic exaggeration, this is what really happens. There have been so many movies made about Las Vegas but trying to find your hotel room for the first time can seem closer to the internal wanderings depicted in ‘Being John Malkovich’. We eventually tracked down our anonymous, comfortable and slightly dated double room and plonked ourselves down in front of the television to watch the Imperial Palace gambling channel. Female impersonators from their stage show told us who they were being, before laying down the rules (“Hi, I’m Joan Rivers and this is Blackjack!’). We soon grew tired of this and decided to head out into the real life movie set that is the Las Vegas strip. Ten minutes later we were still trying to find our way out the massive downstairs casino. They don’t make it easy.

I had tempted my wife with tales of the legendary Las Vegas ‘all you can eat’ buffet lunches. Casinos would often offer up huge spreads of porker fuel for a few measly greenbacks. It was a great way of getting the punters in. Unfortunately, those days appear to be no more. They all seemed to be at least $20, so we settled for McDonalds. The days of the bargain buffets may be over but the casinos are still desperate to draw you in through their huge, revolving doors and then keep you there (or at least until they’ve taken all your cash). Even if you’re only playing the slots, they’ll still hand out free drinks, and they all want to have the best free show. Several times a night, the Treasure Island casino offers up epic pirate battles on moving ships. Just down the strip, volcanoes regularly spew out towers of flame and glowing lava, outside of the Mirage. Symphonic fountain shows spurt heaven wards from the forecourts of Bellagio’s and Caesars Palace and even further down the strip, Circus Circus has attempted to capture the family market, with Big Top style entertainment offered up throughout the day.

Nobody tells you that visiting Las Vegas will make you fitter, but it does. The strip itself goes on for miles and if you want to see all of the best known casinos then you’re going to do a lot of walking. If you’re lazy you could pay to get the bus that goes up and down, or the monorail, but then you’d be missing out on half the sights (there’s actually a free monorail between Excalibur and The Luxor, up at the top end, so it’s worth taking that one). One old lady at our hotel complained bitterly of all the walking she had to do in the hotel! This may sound ridiculous but by the time you had wandered through the endlessly bland corridors and found you way through the mazes of neon and flashing machines to the street outside, then you might well have clocked up more than a kilometer. If you do that several times a day then you’ll soon burn off the free cocktails and budget buffet lunches (or burgers for the really poor).

After a considerable amount of cruising up and down the strip, taking pictures of fake famous things, we eventually decided to try our luck in the casino. As we hadn’t really been paying attention to the televised drag queens, we were far from confident with the rules of the table games. There was also a minimum bet of $5 for blackjack or roulette, so you easily go through a hundred dollars within a few minutes. We opted for the cheapest fruit machines and soon struck it lucky (disappointingly, loads of coins didn’t come noisily pumping out – when it was time to cash in your winnings, you just pressed a button and a credit slip was printed out). However, within a few minutes we had blown every cent of our $2 winnings (it’s so hard to quit while you’re still on top). The other cheap option was Keno. This is basically bingo for Americans. Old people sat in rows of plastic chairs, gazing intently at their score cards. Now that we were experienced gamblers, we soon got the hang of it. We felt pretty confident when we won our money back on the first go. After that it all went downhill - we were soon $6 in the red. We walked away while we still could.
© Tom Coote March 2010
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