Football heaven: Viva Las Vegas, despite all its flaws

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 9.44.52 PMLAS VEGAS – Adult Disneyland.  Gaming action 24/7.  Football bettor’s paradise.

If you like to bet on football games, Nevada is the only place you can do it legally.

And that’s important.  Years ago, before I started coming here, I made football bets with a bookmaker in Houston.  I had a good year, up $2,500 at the end.  But when it came time to settle up, my bookie skipped town.  Never to be found.

If you owe him and don’t pay, you get your knees broken.  If you’re lucky.  I knew a guy in Houston who couldn’t pay his bookie.  He got a visit one evening from a man who greeted him with the words, “You better step outside.  You don’t want your family to see this.”   He then was shot in the head.

So I’ll take Vegas.  In spite of all the many things I don’t like about it.

This town is designed to take your money every which way it can.  I never knew so many sharks could thrive in a desert.

It starts as soon as you land at little McCarron Airport.  Want a taxi?  Count on spending $20 for a 10-minute journey.   Save a little by taking the shuttle?  Count on a 30-minute wait as the van slowly fills up.  It won’t move until every seat is taken.

Check into your casino hotel and you’re informed you’ll be charged a $25-per-day “Resort Fee” that was not mentioned when you made your reservation.

Resort?  You mean a beach?  A golf course?

Of course not.

Hey, Vegas:   A couple of palm trees, a swimming pool and a brigade of hookers in golden high heels does not make a resort.

By the way, I’ve never paid a Resort Fee in Hawaii.

Oh, and here’s another thing.  If there’s a refrigerator in your room, you probably can’t use it.  If you remove any of the hyperpriced snack items in order to chill a sandwich, you’ll be charged a hefty fee even if you put their items back without opening them.  “Everything is electronically weighed at all times,” you’re told.  Technology strikes again.

Another peculiar thing about most hotels here:  no restrooms in the restaurants.  You want to wash your hands?  You may have to go on an expedition, up an escalator, weave your way through rows of slot machines.  You get the idea:  perhaps you’ll be tempted to play a slot on the way back.

Most things here cost at least 30 percent more than in your home town.  Unless you’re from New York City or London.   A basic omelet is $15.  A hamburger $13.  A steak?   Fugetaboutit.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Especially your money.

All sorts of traps have been laid for you.  If you see a sign that says, “Play our slots, everyone wins,” turn away.  What you win in those places is some sort of trinket you could not possibly want.

You get better prizes at your kid’s Halloween carnival.

Having said all these negative things, I don’t know anyplace that offers better free entertainment.  The Strip – Las Vegas Boulevard – has some spectacular attractions.

The Venetian Hotel truly looks like Piazza San Marco, with its canals, gondolas and Renaissance architecture.  Paris Hotel has a downsized, but still imposing, Eiffel Tower.

Bellagio has soaring, falling fountains that play to classical music.  And the lobby of Cosmopolitan is a sight to behold with its towering drapes of crystal beads.

Outside the entrance of the Mirage is a volcano that spews fire.  Next door is Treasure Island’s Pirate Show.  Yes, it’s cheesy, but always fun (more so if you precede it with a visit to the hotel’s oxygen bar).  Galleons maneuver to blast loud smoky volleys, and usually someone rescues a beautiful maiden (well, perhaps not a maiden, but she IS beautiful).

MGM Grand has a cavernous lobby and jungle displays and prowling lions.  Before I get bombarded by e-mails from PETA, let me say I don’t approve of putting these magnificent animals in way- too-small cages, but since it’s free to look at them, I’ll look.

And there are some dining values.  The Carnegie Deli at the Mirage serves a bowl of chicken soup with kreplach identical to the original in Manhattan.  And even a Bostonian will applaud the clam chowder at the Oyster Bar at Harrah’s.

And you can’t complain about the $23 buffet at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (off the Strip but reachable in five minutes with a $5 ride on the Monorail) that includes wine and beer.

The more expensive, but still reasonable, Le Village at the Paris also includes all the wine you want and offers incredible ambience:  it actually looks like a French village with its stratospheric ceiling painted like a sky.

Strolling the Strip used to take much less time and effort before the sidewalk got all broken up with bridges, blockades, staircases and overpasses designed to accommodate stretch limousines.  You may be slowed even more by the army of hawkers pushing advertisements for erotic experiences.

But I didn’t come here for sightseeing or fine dining or the hundred-dollar Cirque de Soleil acrobat shows and all the others.   I came here to bet football, although you can bet other sports also:  basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, tennis, horse racing.

There’s nothing like making my bets and sitting in a big plush leather chair at the Mirage Sports Book and watching the 4-5 games I bet on, displayed on big-screen TVs just a few feet away. But get there by 7:30 or you may not find a seat.

Of course, it’s not so fun if you lose.  This trip, alas, hasn’t gone well.  I followed the advice of our blog’s Mark Roberson on Saturday’s college games, because he beat the line on 12 of 16 on Opening Week.  But this time he dipped to 4-6 and I suffered with him.

On Sunday I wasn’t much better, at 4-5.  I underestimated the readiness of three inexperienced starters at quarterback:  Geno Smith of the Jets, E.J. Manuel of Buffalo and Terrelle Pryor of Oakland.

And I caught a bad break on the Rams, who won by 3 but missed covering by a point.  One of their players inexplicably lost the football when he was about to cross the goal line untouched.  So his certain touchdown became a touchback, and I became a loser.

But it wasn’t enough to break my addiction to football betting in Vegas.   I’ll keep coming back, rip-offs and all.

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