Viva Las Vegas – or so goes the crazy old Elvis song!
Vegas is king when it comes to casinos with the most glamorous and glitzy gambling palaces in the world.
But could a UK city ever become a ‘satellite Vegas’ and a mecca for casino tourism?
Yesterday, the House of Commons’ Culture Committee called for the loosening of gaming regulations in recognition of the “global nature” of gambling.
Presumably, they also had casino tourism in mind when coming up with their recommendations.
A few years ago, there was a push to introduce Vegas style super-casinos in the UK.
After much public debate Manchester was the surprise choice over Blackpool for the first super-casino, but in the event the project was dropped after a lot of controversy.
Since then, the UK has seen no mega-casinos to cause even a small ripple in the casino pond.
Having been born in Manchester (and much as I love the place) I could never imagine the city oozing the excessive glamour or glitz of Las Vegas.
It doesn’t sit comfortably with the city’s rock’n’roll heritage of The Smiths, Joy Division and the Buzzcocks.
Imagine Manchester Castlefields on a grey and wet Wednesday with the Bellagio-style floodlit fountains dancing to a soundtrack of Morrissey singing Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.
A kind of Liberacean dream Mancunian style? Somehow I think not!
Over the water in North America, Las Vegas has always had its competitors – notably Reno, Atlantic City and Laughlin – but nobody does gambling and tourism better.
So what’s the secret of its long-term success?
I’ve enjoyed two trips to Vegas so here’s why I think this gamblers’ paradise in the Nevada desert has never been bettered…
* Las Vegas thinks huge and builds even bigger. Total excess and monetary megalomania are at the centre of everything that glitters on the city’s streets.
* If you build something beyond our wildest imaginations, tourists will come. From the streets of Paris to the canals of Venice via the Egyptian pyramids and a tropical paradise island, this can all be yours in Las Vegas.
* Vegas likes an excess of fountains and water gardens, preferably synchronised with popular operatic blockbusters and dramatic night-time lighting. Chuck in some wild tigers or flamingoes and you’re set for success!
* Innovation is king In Vegas. Casino developers think beyond the confines of the daily grind. Think space travel – to infinity and beyond. Think about the world’s wildest places and spaces. Think virtual… Vegas taps into this better than anyone.
* Vegas goes one better than its competitors by adding an art gallery, aquarium, zoo or circus… or better still a rare near-extinct animal behind a glass screen.
* ‘Imagineers’ create the simulacrum of a city where everything is fake and unreal, making it so tempting that seduced visitors will never want to go home. Sensual overload awaits!
* Las Vegas’ night life is legendary. Casinos vye to book exclusive concerts with the world’s biggest performers and promote the most spectacular, jaw-dropping shows.
* Indulgence is key. Vegas shows everyone, whether gamblers or the casual visitor, the time of their lives… and the gambling has pretty high stakes from the humble slots to the premium black jack tables…
Tammy’s casino guide
1> The Paris Las Vegas casino recreates that true whiff of France in – erm – the desert! Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower (OK, it’s not as tall) or dine in one of the Parisien-style restaurants or bars with a fake French waiter as your guide. Oh la la!
2> The Venetian takes visitors on a mock trip to Venice’s canals with singing gondoliers and gondolas whilst blue skies and projected clouds give the illusion of an Italian palazzo (without the smell of sewers!).
This complex boasts smart shops and a classier casino interior than most plus recreations of Venetian buildings and the Rialto Bridge. Mind-bending.
3> The Wynn casino is the brainchild of entrepreneur Steve Wynn (the man who accidentally put his elbow through one of his many Picassos).
This is the new, posh kid on the block – it’s brash or class depending on whether your taste is bling or designer. Crammed with designer shops, this is a place where you need to raid the bank or win at the gaming tables to fully appreciate its many upmarket features.
4> Treasure Island is one for thrill seekers and film fans who can enjoy the nightly T1 show featuring pirates and sexy sirens using special effects that only Hollywood could normally muster. It’s not a patch on the original Buccaneer Bay pirate show and is definitely one to upset feminists! Expect pyrotechnics.
5> Circus Circus is another family friendly casino (if that doesn’t sound like a strange concept). I once stayed here when I was a bit skint because it was cheap and the rooms are good value. However, there’s one big drawback – I hate clowns! The thought of having creepy clowns staring down at you from your bedroom wall is one that still haunts me at night. It does have a circus show under a big top though – if you like – err – clowns.
6> Caesar’s Palace is one of Vegas’ greats and a true original. Its Roman theme is so kitsch as to be comforting. Who could resist a touch of Imperial Roman excess and statuary as you gamble away your money at the tables?
7> The Mirage was famous for being the most glamorous casino of its day with its gold dusted windows and tram line. This is where Siegfried and Rolf performed their magic show with rare wild lions and white tigers until Rolf got mauled by one of the big cats (and lost part of his brain, poor man). The duo have given up lion taming but their zoological garden of amazing animals and dolphins still remains.
8> The Bellagio is probably the most classy of all the casinos by virtue of its sparkling fountains, beautiful interiors and smart eateries. It also has an art gallery crammed with Impressionists which is surreal but stunning.
9> The MGM Grand is a monolithic, ugly chunk of a building with a huge casino and entertainment complex. One for boxing fans and those who have no taste in architecture.
10> The Stratosphere takes visitors to the stars and beyond with a revolving restaurant in its tower which is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the USA.
When I visited there was a hilarious but fun Star Trek themed tour which culminated in the actors making the visitors the centre of the action. Today the casino is largely renowned for its Insanity thrill ride where riders find themselves dangling over the edge of the tower. A word of warning – it once got stuck for a couple of hours!
Finally, there’s the ‘authentic’ downtown experience at Fremont Street East, the original heart of Vegas. Packed with casinos including the historic Golden Nugget this place always makes me think of Martin Scorcese’s gangster films and the city’s mob history.
Some of my favourite old-style casinos are located on the newer end of the Vegas strip including the Flamingo with its authentic-old Vegas style & Chilean pink flamingoes, and the Imperial Palace with its fascinating historic car collection (5th floor) including Marilyn Monroe’s Lincoln Convertible.
The great thing about Vegas is that it’s a relatively inexpensive hop across the Atlantic as many hotels offer decent rates for high quality rooms.
But can ever you imagine any of this in Manchester or Birmingham in the UK?
No, I thought not!