the Boys Expand Their Gambling Budgets Using the American Casino
1 || Part 2 || Part
3 || Part 4
Friday and Saturday
The turquoise El Cortez Smart.
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I felt lucky. Not getting your nuts shoved so far
up your cavity they tickle your uvula is every bit as good as winning
the lottery. That meant it was time to gamble. Some of the crew
chose to go back to Henderson, this time to the Eldorado. The Eldorado
is the Joker's Wild's less glamorous sibling. Sort of like the Ozzie
to brother Jose Canseco. While the ritzy Joker's Wild bumps its
craps minimum to $2 for the weekends, the Eldo keeps it at a buck.
The tradeoff is that the table closes before midnight. They are
apparently catering to the responsible, early-to-bed senior crowd,
like Cyberhog, who said he needed to go back to his room at the
Flamingo and darn some socks, drink some prune juice and surf the
AARP web site.
Meanwhile, Burt, Mr. Dode and myself elected to
stay downtown and play at the El Cortez. The El Co has been my favorite
place to play craps for ten years. Back then, it was Jackie's basement,
a utilitarian facility that hadn't been updated in twenty years.
They had quarter chips, there was a Bigmouth Billy Bass mounted
on a pillar behind the craps table, and the pit boss would turn
it on if you asked. Now, of course, the joint is swanked up. It
doesn't stink so bad, the carpet is clean, and the singing fish
is gone. The pillar now has some rich-looking wood veneer on it.
When things were going well in Vegas, the El Co jacked up its table
to $5 minimum and I couldn't play that. Now, however, thanks to
unscrupulous lenders and sleazy financiers, the market is in the
dumper and craps are back down to three bucks.
The table was half-full. Burt and I bought in for
all our ACG winnings. Mr. Dode for the twenty bones in his pocket.
I cracked open my Deep Throat energy drink and pulled out a delightful
More. To my right, a surly, drunk Canadian yelled at the dice, the
cocktail waitress, the dealer and me. I took it from his stream
of profanities that he was losing. When he saw my cigarette, he
asked if I had any more. I'm always happy to share my passion for
the slender elegance of a More, so I comped him one. I don't remember
much about the craps game except that I wasn't making money and
the cocktail service was good.
Deep Throat and a More.
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The Canadian enjoyed his More so much that he asked
for a second. "You got any more of them fancy cigarettes?"
Fancy! See what happens? I still hadn't actually
smoked one, but I was already being associated with a higher class
of people by just carrying the Mores around. I gladly handed the
Canuck another one. He lit up, swore some more at his cocktail glass,
the carpet and a stain on the felt.
Soon, the Canadian was out of the game. He lost
the last of his chips on some crazy mÈlange of prop bets, and then
shouted an expletive that hurt Jesus' ears. I don't remember if
it was Burt, Mr. Dode or myself who tipped him off that my Mores
were, in fact, not fancy. Rather, they were a discounted brand of
ladies' cigarettes. Regardless, he did his country and NOW proud
by not caring.
"Give me another of those bitch smokes," he ordered
as his parting words. I complied and he was gone, back to wherever
broke Canadians go. I suspect that's the snack bar in the back of
The table never got hot and my ACG-earned chip
stack dwindled. I can't remember anyone hitting more than two points.
When the dice came to me, I sevened out before I could get a good
arch on the dice. Mr. Dode managed his meager twenty bucks to maximize
the free cocktail intake. It was like Jesus' loaves and fish: no
matter how often he lost it seemed there was more. He occasionally
put out a field bet, sometimes a minimum on the pass line. Often
he just drank and watched.
At the other end of the table, couple of grizzled
middle-aged men bought in. Roadhouse had a mop of gray hair under
a ball cap and the belly of a man living the easy life. He was a
little gruff and barked out his bets in a way that made dealers
flinch. Frank the Tank was next to him. He wore a Hawaiian shirt
and talked to everyone, including ladies passing by. All laughs
and hollering, making sure it felt like something was happening,
even when it wasn't. His bets were haphazard. Green chips on props,
fifty bucks on the pass line backed up with five in odds. I would
have thought he didn't know what he was doing if he weren't so certain.
Where the Canadian had been, a couple of young
men nervously stepped in. They looked a little unsure about the
rules of the game. They also looked a little out of place in the
El Cortez. Sure, it's all cleaned up now, but most tourists of n
age and gender to be out chasing tail don't end up there. We talked
to the two young men, Sean and Drew. They were on a road trip. The
taller of the two, Drew, was on his way from some liberal arts college
on the east coast to start his career in Hollywood as a screenwriter/box
boy at Ralph's. The other was along for the ride, and leaving a
young and hot (so says Drew) wife at home to clean the litter box,
or bring home the bacon.
I was down to about ten bucks and praying for a
miracle when Frank the Tank got hold of the dice. He unleashed them
with the fury of Hades letting Cerberus loose on hoodlums in the
underworld. They clattered down the felt and struck the point. Over
and over. The grim pall of losing lifted as the Tank chalked up
winner after winner.
Burt, Mr. Dode and I were all well into the Heinekens
by now and feeling chummy. Between rolls, we'd run down and high-five
Frank the Tank. Others did likewise and he clearly enjoyed the attention.
He would swell up like a puffer fish after each score. He'd whoop
and holler and we'd join him. Sean and Drew, new to craps, saw their
stacks bulging like blisters in the sun. They still weren't entirely
familiar with the rules, but you hardly need to be when the dealers
keep shoving chips at you.
The two college kids each accepted a More to enjoy
while we played. Now, our entire end of the table had unlit ladies'
cigarettes in our mouths. I asked the two young men why they came
to the El Co. It turned out they were fans of Big Empire. They
must be pretty decent guys.
The Henderson contingent returned after the closing
of the table at the Eldorado. That meant it was sometime after midnight.
A few joined our table, and a few wandered off to play other games
or drink in the lounge. The table went cold again, and by two a.m.,
Burt and I had blown our ACG stacks. Mr Dode still had his miracle
The exterior of Larry's Villa.
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Still, the night was young. Mr. Dode had spent
much of the evening begging us to go back to Larry's Villa, Las
Vegas' dirtiest, scariest strip club. It had been a few years since
I had last made the pilgrimage. The Dode claimed it had been cleaned
up. "It's like the fucking Bellagio, now, I swear." There was some
backstory about Larry dying and whoever now owned the joint taking
We invited Frank the Tank and Roadhouse, who both
declined in favor of seeing if the craps table would warm up again.
We invited the young screenwriter and his friend. Drew, the writer,
was game, but Sean said something about promising his young, hot
wife he wouldn't visit any strip clubs. His being allowed to go
on the trip was contingent on him not seeing other women's boobs.
I saw two flaws in his logic: first, there is a big difference between
promising not to do something and actually not doing it. Especially
when there was no way to get caught. Second, a trip to Larry's was
not titillating. It was more of a sociological experiment, like
observing natives in their natural environment, or spending a day
in the Black Hole of Calcutta. If anything, Larry's would make a
man appreciate his wife more.
Sean was steadfast, apparently afraid that if he
came with us his girlfriend would be able to smell cheap stripper
on him several days later. She wouldn't. I feel compelled to take
twenty to thirty showers right after a trip to Larry's and the stench
is gone within a day.
While most of us climbed into a rental Kia and
Mike's Prius, Sean made the lonely walk back down Fremont Street
to his room at the Las Vegas Club.
More exterior of Larry's Villa.
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Larry's is located in a strip mall northwest of
downtown at Rancho and Bonanza. It is across from Big Momma's Rib
Shack and behind a gas station. They have no cover, no minimum and
video poker in the bar. They'll comp your drinks if you play. I
have been there when more people were interested in the slots than
the girls shaking their knockers on the short catwalk. Before my
first trip here, someone warned me not to touch anything in the
bathroom and I suspected that to be hyperbole. It wasn't. The toilets,
urinals, sinks and empty towel dispenser were all slightly moist
ad sticky. The vinyl booths were patched with duct tape and balloons
taped to the ceiling had deflated years ago.
All the way there, Mr. Dode kept telling me how
much nicer it was now. When the Prius pulled into the parking lot,
I noticed fresh paint on the roof and walls. I thought I was about
to be disappointed by how corporate even Larry's had become. The
four of us stepped out, followed by four more in the Kia. We were
Burt, Mr. Dode, Mike, Steve, Robert, Jeff and Drew and me. A man
in baggy jeans walking towards Larry's did a double take. He asked,
"How the hell did you guys end up here?" Apparently, Larry's clientele
isn't so upscale that a bunch of college-educated-looking nerds
The thumping bass of hip hop coming from inside
the club shook the asphalt. We entered the dark, black room and,
as our eyes adjusted, saw that the Dode was very, very wrong. The
room looked a little cleaner, but not much. It was also way more
urban than I remembered. We were the only white folks there. On
the stage, a fat black woman was having a dollar fed into her g-string.
A small group stood in front of the stage trying to have a conversation
over the booming soundtrack, and another handful of folks played
"Oh, man, I must have been really drunk that night,"
Mr. Dode said to explain his previous claims.
We pulled up some chairs on the side of the stage.
The fat girl finished her routine mid-song and went into the backroom
to eat some Ding Dongs. There was a lull of about five minutes while
the music continued to blare but nobody danced to it. Mr. Dode brought
me a beer. Finally, another fat girl came out and did a lackluster
job of walking up and down the catwalk in a bikini. Eventually,
she took off her top and exposed sagging breasts. A couple guys
at the stage's edge dropped some singles at her feet.
The first dancer pulled up the chair in front of
us and sat on it Fonzie-style. She got right to the point. " Do
you want a dance?" She smelled like Hostess snack cakes. Her name
was Candy or Summer or Chastity or something that meant either her
parents had wanted to doom her to a life as a stripper, or she had
put little effort into her stage name.
I didn't want a lap dance but decided Drew, who
had never had one, did. And who better than from a slightly intimidating,
heavy-set woman in the back room of a dingy and odd-smelling club?
I gave the girl twenty and pointed at Drew. She took his hands and
led him into the Throne Room. I normally don't hand out twenty-dollar
bills like they were nickels, but I wanted to make a good impression
on the kid. I wanted his first trip to be Larry's like mine: a cherished
moment that I can share with my grandkids on future trips to Larry's.
Besides, my losses for the day were mostly limited to what I had
won with the ACG, and I was still flush from the Joker's Wild winnings
of the night before.
Two minutes later, Drew was back. He didn't say
much about the dance, but he finally lit up and smoked the More
I had given him two hours earlier. Meanwhile, his dance partner
must have thought I was made of money. She sat down in front of
"So, what do you do?"
"Me? I'm a doctor," I lied.
"Really," she asked but didn't wait for an answer.
"Because I have something wrong with my feet. Why do my feet hurt
all the time?"
"Because you're forty pounds overweight," I said.
She frowned and lifted her foot up on the table.
"I can't operate on it here. The lighting isn't
"No, no," she said, "I just want to show you where
it hurts. She pointed to her arch.
I pretended to study her foot carefully. "Let me
see the shoes." She handed me one of the six-inched stilettos made
I nodded. "Here's the problem. You need sensible
shoes. Go to JC Penney tomorrow and buy yourself a pair of black,
patent-leather flats-soled shoes. You'll feel a lot better dancing
in them. And for your own good, lose some weight."
Candy/Summer/Chastity thanked me for my time. I
told her I would have the office send a bill. It was her turn to
get back on stage. Larry's Villa only had two dancers in the rotation,
and the other one wore a Milwaukee Brewers jersey and had the same
physique as that team's star slugge, Prince Fielder. It was now
3:30 in the morning and time for us to go back downtown.
Latenight pie at the Golden Gate.
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A very late-night slice of pie used to be a tradition
for us. It's getting harder to find, though. The Vegas Club and
Plaza no longer have coffee shops. Binion's closed at one a.m. and
the Gold Spike's diner was still under renovations. We tried the
Four Queens but the hostess told us only one waiter was working
and he was overwhelmed. So we ended up at the Golden Gate Bay City
Diner, which was once great but is now sort of like a TGI Fridays
with pancakes and eggs. I ordered a slice of German chocolate cake
and it was outstanding: moist, chocolately and with a thin layer
of caramel-coconut frosting.
The conversation of the eight of us was slurred
by the volume of beer and the late hour. Drew explained a little
bit more about his plan to move to LA and write movies. At least
he understood there were about 20,000 other people with the exact
same idea, and the studios only made a couple hundred movies a year.
He thought it was better to try when you're young and not saddled
with kids, or a wife who won't let you go to strip clubs. I hope
he succeeds, and I hope one of his stories is the coming-of-age
tale of a kid dragged to a scary strip club by strangers where he
learns what truly is important in life: good arch support.
Nearly five a.m., we said goodbye to Mr. Dode and
Drew and returned to our $3.65 room at the Four Queens. I fell asleep
immediately with the sweet taste of coconut on my lips. The trip
was complete and I was ready to go home.
Saturday was leaving day. Almost nothing ever happens
the day we leave town, and today was no different. We slept in as
late as we possibly could while still escaping an additional night's
charge. Breakfast was the "champagne" brunch at Main Street Station,
reduced to half-price ($7) thanks to a coupon in the ACG for the
Fremont Street "funsheet". While it's the best buffet downtown
with eggs benedict and omelets made to order, it gets slightly weaker
with every visit. Still good, it's just no longer great. The tasty
cinnamon rolls are gone and the desserts are just on par with the
north strip buffets.
The Encore's charnel house chandeliers.
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Some of us had to leave after brunch, and some
of us got to stay a few more hours. Or had to stay. For me it was
had to, since I already mentally prepared to leave and was sick
of looking at slot machines. The last major stop of the trip was
Steve Wynn's new homage to himself, the Encore. Blah.
The Encore's casino is deceptively large. It's
supposedly as big as the Wynn's, but it feels smaller because it
is broken into small sections that are meant to act like boutique
casinos. In reality, the rooms are so similar that they blend together.
Plus, regardless of how fancy the carpet marble floors, ornate columns
and seats are, Texas Tea and Wheel of Fortune slots
are still just cheesy machines that make silly noises and have corny
animation. Wynn can only class it up so much while still giving
people the cheap thrills that butter his bread.
The casino has an over-the-top red dÈcor and creepy,
dripping-blood chandeliers. I'm sure the lighting was expensive
because Wynn's major design theme is usually "Look how much I spent!"
But it's ugly as shit. Beyond the casino is a walkway with the consistently
fancy restaurant. I understand that Wynn is looking to attract an
affluent clientele that want an escape. Even when the rich are escaping,
though, they still probably would like a simple breakfast for less
than $25. Encore feels like it's priced to the max in every aspect,
in order to make everything an "event". Events get old fast. It
would be cool if a place like this had a knockout little breakfast
bar with the best bagels and egg sandwiches, for less than five
bucks. Something that offered valued, instead of pomp, along with
The fabulous Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
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The Encore's conservatory looks nice. The natural
lighting that pours in through overhead glass is lovely. It's also
redundant with Wynn's other creations. Adding Danny Gans as the
entertainment is Wynn's way of saying, "I tried being snooty by
transplanting Broadway hits like Avenue Q and Spamalot.
Now I give up. Here's a crappy impressionist who's been around forever
because that's what you people will pay for." Las Vegas is the only
town in the world where a guy doing tired George Burns imitations
is considered the height of class.
The nicest thing about the joint was the free slot
play we each got for joining the Red Club. We each got around $20
just for joining, and quickly turned it into cash.
After Encore, Mike and Steve took off for California.
Robert and Jeff gave me a ride to the airport. On the way, Jeff
wanted to take pictures at the "Welcome to" sign just south of Mandalay
Bay. Years ago, you had to park at the decrepit Klondike casino
and dodge oncoming traffic to get out to the sign in the middle
of the road. Now there is a parking lot in the median and a little
mound to stand on for photos. Fewer people probably die, but it
just feels like another tourist attraction. Jeff and Robert had
their pictures taken, but I was much more interested in the two
lovely Mexican girls ahead of them in the line. They were shapely,
lively and secreted sex appeal like I do body odor. It was overpowering,
and hard to focus the camera on my unattractive friends.
It also gave me something to think about on the
flight home. Robert and Jeff dropped me off at McCarran. I waited
in a few lines. I got on a plane and slept until we landed in Denver.
I left Las Vegas behind with a little more money in my pocket, a
lot of fine memories and a sincere hope that those two Mexican girls
would still be there when I got back.