Slots Of Fun In Vegas


January 31, 1993|By DAVE BARRY

Just before Christmas, Beth and I, being deeply traditional people, went to Las Vegas.

We stayed at Caesars Palace, a giant hotel-casino authentically decorated to look exactly the way the Roman Empire would have looked if it had consisted mainly of slot machines. Caesars also features roughly four zillion flashing lights, huge toga-clad statues that move, cocktail waitresses wearing costumes designed by Frederick's of Rome, and a bar on a large indoor boat that actually floats.

In other words, by Vegas standards, Caesars is very understated. It's a traditional Amish farm settlement compared to the casino next door, the Mirage, which has -- really -- dolphins, albino tigers, an indoor rain forest, and an outdoor volcano that erupts on schedule. Also, right behind the front desk is a giant aquarium containing sharks. So you definitely should not mess with the Mirage.

But you can't beat Caesars Palace for that old-fashioned Christmas spirit. Each day we went downstairs to the casino at around 8 a.m. for breakfast, and we found gamblers still up from the night before, with drinks in their hands and cigarettes in their mouths, staring at cards and yelling at dice. Meanwhile, over the public-address system, drifting through the smoky air, came the voices of a choir:

"Hark the herald angels sing" . . .

But the gamblers were not harking to the music at all. If the roof had opened up and the actual herald angels had come swooping into Caesars, the gamblers would have kept right on gambling. And pretty soon the angels would have stopped singing and started putting quarters into the slot machines.

It's very difficult to resist the slot machines, and Las Vegas is designed so that you can't walk anywhere without encountering dozens of them. The casinos are basically dense slot-machine forests. You wander in there, feed in some quarters, get some free drinks from the thoughtful cocktail waitresses, feed in more quarters, glance at your watch and . . . Whoa! It's 1997! People get lost in there. If you searched all the slot-machine areas, you'd probably find Amelia Earhart.

You would not, however, find Beth. For some reason she was not attracted to the slots, even though I demonstrated to her how entertaining they are:

Me: OK, you put a quarter in, and you pull the handle, and . . .

Machine: Whirrrrclunkclunkclunk. (Silence.)

Me: Ha ha! Now you put in another quarter!

Beth: Why?

Beth thinks the casinos should offer more of what she described as "fun" games, the type of entertainment-for-the-whole-family entertainment that people engage in to happily while away the hours. If Beth ran a casino, there would be a brightly lit table surrounded by high rollers in tuxedos and evening gowns, and the air would be charged with excitement as a player rolled the dice, and the crowd would lean forward, and the shout would ring out . . . "He landed on Park Place!"

But they don't play a lot of Monopoly in the casinos. They do play a card game called blackjack. I took a blackjack lesson from a friend of ours named Bob, a Las Vegas resident who is an expert gambler, although he makes his living -- this is true -- managing pension plans. ("Don't worry, Mrs. Bleemer; you're in a very solid investment position. Unless the Lakers lose.")

Bob sat me down and explained his simple Winning Blackjack System, which can be easily learned in just a few minutes by anybody who is Stephen Hawking. "OK," Bob said, "if you have less than 16, and the dealer has a six or higher showing, then you should get another card, unless you have a seven and a three, in which case you would 'double down,' bearing in mind that an ace can be a one or an 11 but not a two or a four, or, on weekends, a nine."

After I was confident that I had no idea what Bob was talking about, I sat down at a blackjack table and immediately won about 10 hands in a row by making a series of totally random decisions. Meanwhile Bob, sitting next to me with his Winning System, was losing. I won $26, which I deposited in a slot machine for safekeeping. In the background I could hear angels singing "Gloria in Excelsis." They must have been winning.

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