What happens in Vegas

  • Jon Kelly
  • 12 Sep 08, 08:13 AM GMT

I can see why Las Vegas became the casino capital of the US. Coming out here in the first place must have been quite a gamble.

Who other than a punter, or someone completely deranged, would build a city amid the barren, arid emptiness of the Mojave desert? But for decades it has been defying the odds.

It came as a jolt when the bus arrived in town. One minute we were surrounded by miles of nothing except lots of dust and the odd boulder. The next we were in the midst of what appeared to be Blackpool as designed by Hieronymous Bosch, the replica Eiffel Tower straddling an imitation "Paris" being my favourite landmark here so far.

It would be easy to mock Vegas's excesses, but I think that would be to miss the point. In a country where boldness and risk-taking are celebrated like nowhere else, is it any wonder that Americans flock here?

Gene and CathyOf course, there's a darker history to the city, as anyone who watched Scorsese's Casino will know - one in which the presence of the mob loomed large. And recently the local economy has suffered, with takings and visitor numbers down as tourists tighten their belts.

But if Vegas offers a very different take on the American Dream from that suggested by Venice Beach, it surely stems from the same sense of optimism that wealth and riches can be within anyone's grasp.

I don't gamble these days, not since Ivan Sproule let me down by failing to score in a Scottish Cup semi-final a couple of years back.

But I thought I'd wander over to Orleans casino to try to find some Americans who were winning and losing.

The din of the slot machines rattling around me, I got talking to Gene and Cathy Ormond, who moved to Vegas from New York three years ago after Gene retired. Those years have been good to them, they told me - the weather was better, they'd been able to buy a much bigger house thanks to local house prices, and twice a week they could go out to play the slot machines before heading for a meal.

"I just think it's so glamorous," Cathy told me. "When you fly in and you see all the lights, it's beautiful. There's so much to do here. We're so lucky."

Why did Americans like to gamble, I wondered?

"Everyone just wants to hit the jackpot, I guess," Gene chuckled. "You know that the odds favour the casino, but it's still fun trying."

George and Anna-MarieSitting nearby, were George Lazar, 78, and wife Anna-Marie, 77, visiting from Cleveland, Ohio, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

They hadn't been so fortunate in recent years. When George retired as an aircraft designer, he had thought he had provided for his old age.

"I was quite well-off," George sighted. "I had a lot invested. Until the markets crashed, that is. We're getting by, but it's hard for people right now."

"I'm really angry about the way this country is being run," Anna-Marie interrupted. "All those foreclosures. It's time for change."

Like the Orlandos, they were decent people who wanted to enjoy their retirement. But America is all about making your own luck.


  • Comment number 1.

    In all the 35 years of travelling I have never been to Las Vegas. It obviously has something about it as lots of 'stars' perform there.......all over the World people are worried about how they will pay for their retirement.

  • Comment number 2.

    #1. It has Money. Until the 50's vegas was a waterless stop-off point for soldiers. The mob turned it into what it was and got Sinatra (Jonny Fonteine in the Godfather) to play there. Ever since the casinos have been able to offer enormous contracts to any major star to do seasons there.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Jon, you are right. To a certain degree, you make your own luck here.

  • Comment number 5.

    But...we don't MAKE luck at slot machines!

  • Comment number 6.

    I remember my first trip to Vegas....rather similar to that which you described. My mate and I had an "autodrive" car and we drove on the main highway (can't recall the number)...nothing for miles around....drove up a slight incline for what seemed like for ever, then just over the brow of the hill....a jewel of lights (we arrived in the evening time..). Im sure it has changed a lot in the 20 plus years since i was there.

    "....When you fly in and you see all the lights, it's beautiful....." same as the drive.

    Walking down the streets in the middle of the night was weird. The lights and neons were so bright, it felt brighter than day time.

    Lots of cheap food...since the food was at the back of the casino's, with cheap prices or "all you can eat" for $5, kept me going for many days. A nice way to entice the punters in, start with their stomaches

    In the land of "where dreams comes true..", this bizarre city is high on that list. A crazy town, but fun...just don't take it seriously

  • Comment number 7.

    Las Vegas was built where it is because it's close to Los Angeles while being located in another state.

  • Comment number 8.


  • Comment number 9.

    Sounds like Vegas hasn't changed. Have you seen the one armed bandits even in gas stations?

    Looks to me like Vegas is the ultimate American Dream, get rich on a whim; just get rich. Go play a coin machine.

    It's the ultimate "kitch city", and somewhere is a limpid illustration of how at least the western americans I know see themselves; life a mixture of hard work and chance - most of them still believe in the "chance" bit.

    Looking forward to your Phoenix blog. One request; try to check out the Arizona

  • Comment number 10.

    Sounds like Vegas hasn't changed. Have you seen the one armed bandits even in gas stations?

    Looks to me like Vegas is the ultimate American Dream, get rich on a whim; just get rich. Go play a coin machine.

    It's the ultimate "kitch city", and somewhere is a limpid illustration of how at least the western americans I know see themselves; life a mixture of hard work and chance - most of them still believe in the "chance" bit.

    Looking forward to your Phoenix blog. One request; try to check out the Arizona Biltmore. There you have the lush confident architecture of the American 20's, and the richest of the rich, it's Scottsdale, but really north Phoenix... GO SEE ITS WORTH THE TINY DETOUR.

  • Comment number 11.

    We certainly make our own luck in America. But something you may have missed is that we gloss over our failures. Maybe a couple people in that Casino made real money that night, while most lost, many probably losing more than they can afford.

    America is a land of opportunity, but it has lost it's sensibility and is a place where "opportunity" often times means taking unfair advantage of other people. America has been a unique pairing of democracy with capitalism, but it seems lately that the former is being erroded by the latter more and more. (Enron anyone?)

    A free market without morals soon becomes an economic dictatorship. But "we" don't mind that as long we're not the ones caught holding the short end of the stick.

  • Comment number 12.

    Vegas is a freakish place that even Americans find freakish. A debauched Disneyland for those looking to be relieved of their money. Keep moving.

  • Comment number 13.

    This is more a general observation of the responses to posts I've been reading here. There is a sort of weird, proud and aimless indigence I've been noticing from the American responses.... It embarrasses me a bit. But it's the type of embarrassment I feel when I'm out with my parents... That is to say that as much as they embarrass me I still love them.

    An interesting thing I've noticed over the course of my life is the isolated world view that the average American has.

    Off hand I would imagine that most Americans would have a more informed world view seeing as we have one of, if not THE, biggest independent news media in the world.... BUT, being an American myself I know better.

    Such a thing is not so surprising when I think about it more.
    Jon said, and I quote, "But like the rest of the Western world we were immersed in American music and American movies, American fast food and a way of life that took its lead from American consumer society."

    So if people living on the other side of the world can claim such things... Can be dazzled at such a distance... Then what would be the effect on someone actually born and raised in America be?

    It's an easy thing to forget, as an American citizen, that there is a world out there beyond our American music and American movies, American fast food and, can anyone forget, our American military.

    Our seeming arrogance to people living outside this country is really more ignorance. But I can understand why the former is often assumed.

    There.... now I can read the American responses here without cringing.

    PS: To the world: I love you. Please stop fighting and killing each other.
    It makes my head hurt. :(

  • Comment number 14.

    13 responses so far jon,seems to be the law of diminishing returns in our investment eh jon?hope you are nice and comfy on that luxury coach jon,keep it up jon boy!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    The last person I met who was going to Vegas was a cabbie taking me to the airport in Glasgow. He was booked on a direct charter flight in a few days and couldn't wait to go, like a kid at christmas. The Scot also suggested a pub I could get a pint in while my wife checked in the baggage (it was 11am). Now that's what I call equal rights, Go Scotland!

  • Comment number 16.

    itsmasel, thanks for the tip! I'll try to put your local knowledge to good use.

    coffeennicotine, I have to say that most of the Americans I've encountered in my (admittedly short) time over here have all been interested in where I'm from. Where's you're accent from? What's it like there? What brings you across?

    rainlawrence, I'm not too uncomfortable, thanks. But I don't think I'm stretching my legs enough. Any tips on travel sickness?

  • Comment number 17.

    I have not thought about this in a long time but nearly 50 years ago I lived in Las Vegas for about a year. I was young and from a rural community so this seemed the most exciting, glittering and wonderful place. I have lived many places since then.

    A few years ago, I had occasion to revisit this city which had, of course, changed incredibly.
    I will admit that I was surprised that I could have ever thought it so wonderful. Perhaps this is just a facet of old age.

  • Comment number 18.

    "Looks to me like Vegas is the ultimate American Dream, get rich on a whim; just get rich. Go play a coin machine."

    Well, this isn't really true. Most people here don't go to Vegas hoping "to get rich", you can go to your local gas station and buy a lotto ticket if that's the case (unless you go there for the world series of poker or something) I hate gambling, but even I would take a trip there just to see what the "sin city" is like. As the saying goes "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas"

    to the author...this blog you have going is pretty interesting. I'm always curious to know what others think of America. Also, If you go to New York PLEASE don't interview anyone from Long Island

  • Comment number 19.

    Deftones4Life, what's wrong with Long Island?

  • Comment number 20.

    Jon, I won't speak for Deftones4Life, but I'll say that Americans have their own stereotypes for people from various other parts of the country (as do people in other countries).

    I grew up in New York State, but about seven or eight hours' drive from Long Island. I suppose people there would say the stereotypical Longer Islander is materialistic, superficial, and obnoxious and has an annoying accent. Of course, Long Islanders would probably have a thing or two to say about folks from my town too!

    That being said, if we were in a pub in the UK and you or any other non-American had an unkind word to say about anyplace in our state, I'm sure any New Yorker would leap to its defence. Funny.

  • Comment number 21.

    I noted you changed "defense" to "defence." I'm sure your British readers could figure out the American spelling! Ha.

  • Comment number 22.

    As a native of Long Island, I feel I've been called out.
    It's a very particular place. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who lived there and wrote about it, called it a "slender, riotous island," and so it is. There are a great number of famous personalities who either lived there or were born there. There's certainly a higher quotient of weirdness there, which I think has to do with it being an island. We brought you Flavor Flav and Levittown and the Hamptons Classic at the same time. There are strong personalities, stong opinions, and yes, strong accents. This often doesn't sit well with those not brought up in a place where there is a general overtone of competition at all times, even in social settings.

    Oh, and I would agree with the accent comment. It's pretty horrible, but I've heard worse, though I wouldn't be so rude as to say where.

  • Comment number 23.

    I've been there 2 times. They have good shows and the national acts are always playing there. Gambling can be an addiction like anything else. Small town philosophers are just as likely to travel there as anyone else in the country. It's like Disneyland for adults. It's a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there, unless you like tourist cities.

  • Comment number 24.

    Loved it, especially when the Pound was worth 2 Dollars - everything was Half Price!

    The great thing about Vegas, I found, was everyone was treated with respect. In the Wynn, and the Bellagio even if you were playing the 1 Cent slots, you were made to feel welcome.

    If you go to a posh Hotel in the UK, the staff are often rude, and look down their nose at you.

    My Mum was very sceptical about the place before she went, and is now saving for a return visit.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites