THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Real Scoop: Mobwriter in Las Vegas

(Photo at right: The LV Strip as seen from the Jockey Club roof.)

It was a whirlwind trip, just 5 eventful days in Sin City. Here's the rundown:

My best friend, JJ Gamble (her real name!), and I flew to LV for free compliments of her son-in-law who flies for Southwest Airlines. Since we used his buddy passes, we promised we'd refrain from besmirching his good name, i.e., no sex on board, etc.

The silence at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas was deafening. No clink, clink, clink of coins hitting the hollow-bottomed slot machine trays. In fact, only a handfull of folks patronized the rows of slots that kind of resembled tired soldiers standing at attention.

I don't recommend Suzuki as a rental car brand. The compact sounded like it was ready to hop the curb and head for the junk yard any minute. But at least it got us where we needed to go.

We headquartered at the Jockey Club on the Strip (see our suite at upper right, minus the great view), enveloped on the south by the magnificent Bellagio and some new half-built glass thing on the north. In fact, you couldn't actually see the Jockey Club from the street, but that was okay since it's central Strip location made up for it being hard-to-find. Our suite included 2 TVs, well-equiped kitchen (we saved a bundle cooking in), handsomely appointed furnishings, a king-size bed, and ample room to stretch out. Even though we received a discount for attending a promotional event (many, many real estate discounts around LV), the Jockey Club is a solid value anyway. The ground floor even boasts a small grocery store, albeit expensive. And it allowed us to pick up important items such as wine, milk and a map without having to retrieve our clunker Suzuki from the pleasant valet service.

The Strip appears mostly as I remember it from 2001 with its sea of gawkers from all parts of the globe. But direct questions to various employees about how things are really doing were met with grimaces and sighs of relief at still being employed...for now. The word is that people are spending considerably less than normal (whatever that means?) on gambling. In truth, the table games, as well as the slots, at Caesars, Bellagio, Venetian, Paris and Palace Station seemed somewhat sparce. A floorman, who shall remain unnamed (not my intention to hurt anyone's business), said that bet size was down considerably. And a reliable source told us that a popular restaurant owned by a famous chef was serving about 1/4 of normal numbers.

BUT...the 2 shows we attended, Bette Midler, who thanked the audience for choosing her show, and Cirque du Soleil's O, appeared full. Both shows exhibited grand production values that boggled the mind, a far cry from the Las Vegas of yesteryear.

Then there was the visit to Sheri's Ranch, a bordello in Pahrump, Nevada, about an hour's drive west of Las Vegas, where prostitution is legal. My friend, Lora Shaner a retired madam at Sheri's, escorted us to the famous ranch for lunch. The place looked like a standard darkish bar and restaurant...except for the nearly naked girls strutting around. And they were most pleasant while we toured the establishment, including the "dungeon" complete with real devices of torture to drive their patrons to ecstacy! The other theme rooms we visited were far more conventional. Sheri's is sort of a downscaled version of the Playboy Mansion. Check out Sheri's Web site for photos and more info:

Slick took JJ and me to visit his friends, Big Daddy Carlos and his wife, Ava Berman, who are refurbishing Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino in Glitter Gulch. (See earlier Mob Speak blog featuring the pair.) While waiting to see Big Daddy who was in a meeting, the multi-talented, accomplished restaurateur and promotor, Ava, made the 3 of us feel like family. She and I even discovered to our utter amazement that we grew up in the same north suburban Chicago town and even went to the same high school! Shucks. They presented us with comp VIP tickets to their Holloween tour in the hotel. It was the neatest, creepiest such tour I'd ever experienced. I highly recommend a visit to the historic Horseshoe if you want a taste of authentic Las Vegas in its heyday. Benny Binion started holding the World Series of Poker at the hotel and the rest, as they say, is history. Be sure to check out the million dollars on display on the casino's main floor, guarded round-the-clock. Don't know about you, but to me a million bucks is still a lot of money.

Yours truly

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