Stand in a room full of adults and mention the words ‘Las Vegas’ and ears will prick up around you. It is the holiest of all adult playgrounds, a gambling mecca where anything goes and where you can do whatever you like under the belief that ‘whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’. And a lot does happen in Vegas. Last year 39 million tourists headed to the neon desert utopia and in gambling taxes alone ploughed over 9 billion dollars into the Nevada state coffers.
Las Vegas is a hedonists paradise, you can drink 24 hours a day, find drugs easily, gamble away your kids university fund, sleep with women fifty times out of your league for just $125 and best of all – not be judged by anyone. Seriously, you could throw your guts up over a dodgy looking Russian bloke who knocks ten bells out of you and then shit yourself in the taxi back to the hotel, but precede the tale with “when I was in Vegas…” and no one cares. It’s a ticket to freedom, to a break from life and with hotel rooms from just $20 per night midweek and roundtrip flights from the UK for around £350 it is high on the list of anyone wanting to spend a few days a gurning mess on some hotel floor being ridden by the best looking Puerto Rican money can buy.
Without doubt, one of the best movies of the nineties is Casino, a fascinating look into the life of Chicago mobster called Frank Rosenthal (Sam Ace Rothstein) who ran several Casinos in the 1970’s and early 80’s. But Vegas began long before then, hundreds of years in fact. But it gets interesting around 1930 when Herbert Hoover gave the go ahead for an engineering marvel for the Boulder Dam (now known as Hoover Dam). A huge influx of men all looking for work travelled from every corner of the country looking for a wage. The population of Las Vegas went from just 5,000 to 25,000. Keen to keep the money within the State local businessmen opened up entertainment venues and business boomed. Looking for even more revenue Nevada relaxed gambling laws in 1931 and the currently illegal gambling halls suddenly flourished into bona fide gambling institutions. Mobsters were already pivotal to the success of Las Vegas and suddenly they had legit businesses to mask their illegitimate fares. The rest of the country was pissed off and disgusted with the blatant criminal figures plying their trade in the West and strict movement orders were placed on the dam workers. However, when the second world war kicked off people got over it, and when a military establishment was built on the outskirts of the city business rocketed in the casinos resulting in the first ever resort being opened on what would become the Las Vegas strip – The El Rancho. The flag had firmly been planted and over the next fifty years Las Vegas was a booming resort city where everyone who could, world go and try to make it rich.
Then, in 1989 a developer called Steve Wynn , funded by money from Wall Street opened the first mega-resort on the strip; Mirage. Serious money was now being thrown at Las Vegas, criminal organisations declined and the city was suddenly being marketed to families, couples and people looking for more than just poker, sex and booze. Money had built Vegas and now it had been completely remodelled, suddenly the sleaze became glitz and Las Vegas was open to all.
I have been to Vegas many times, and it is every bit as enchanting as you imagine and never loses its charm. Think Disney World with Mickey Mouse, it’s got a similar feel except it’s a hard core city drenched in forty degree heat and Mickey has been replaced with beers and $1 Margaritas. So Vegas for kids? Yeah sure.
The Strip is the hip-happening-heart of the city. It is where the castles, rollercoasters and major resorts are. It is also insanely expensive on Friday and Saturday nights for a room with prices coming in at $200+. These same rooms can be nabbed for around $50 midweek plus the rip off wrapped up as ‘resort tax’. The Strip is where all those looking for luxury, world class restaurants, shows and nightclubs head. With kids in tow all you can really do is spend the days in the awesome pools and the evenings mooching down the strip with a beer in hand. Kids love the lights, the characters and the atmosphere. But shift up to the North of the city and find yourself in my own personal favourite part of Vegas. Think $10 rooms, free entertainment, and a huge ceiling illuminated with HD music videos. Find yourself amongst locals and cheap arsed tourists all getting hammered and entertained for free, it for many is the tacky Las Vegas and somewhere you wipe your feet on the way out. But it is the best you will get for your money anywhere else in the city – Freemont Street.
Outside of city we did a number of things. Hoover Dam is a must, as is driving along the new huge bridge spanning the gorge. Being a little anxious about heights I was both relived and miffed to realise you couldn’t see a thing due to the huge concrete barriers. We also headed to the Valley of Fire which I stropped and refused to pay $10 to enter since it was a State park and not a National Park (for which I have a pass). But mostly our time in Vegas was spent chilling out, relaxing by the pool, walking the streets and just loving being somewhere we didn’t have to concern ourselves with anything.
However, one morning we decided to head to Denny’s for breakfast. As I was paying by card the cashier said to me “how about a tip for your server” to which I responded “I have left one on the table”. The cashier then asked “did you leave $7, that’s what you should have left”. It pissed me off and just reminded me of the bull shit, ancient tipping system that the Americans cling to. It has gone beyond thanks in payment, to an obligatory expected additional tax like payment regardless of the level of service. I don’t actually mind tipping good service and always round up in a taxi wherever I am in the world. But in the States, servers have this pre-determined amount in their head that they think you owe them…. For doing their job. In the US the federal minimum wage is around $7.45 per hour but ranges up to about $9.50 an hour in some States. That means that if a server is working for tips only then his manager is acting illegally and rather than being pissed off with a snide tip should be reporting the person he works for. But look at it this way, a server is earning $7.45 an hour, and serves 5 tables in that hour. Each table leaves him a $7 tip (on breakfast!) that’s a total of $42.45 per hour. Multiply that over an average working day and that’s $340 per day, $1700 per week and $88,000 per year. That is twice the salary of a regional airline pilot! And where a pilot has self-funded him/herself through years of training and then has the responsibility of human lives in their care, a server carries a plate from the kitchen to a table and tops up a diet coke with no ice and usually gets that wrong.
I have noticed this time that the whole service industry is shameless in regards to shaking you down for every penny they can. Service is plastic, fake and usually completely over the top. It’s like every word is tinged with a mime of “just give me a fucking tip”. I know that the US is legendary for rude, surly and arrogant customer service and so when you do get smiles it is a welcome change from the norm. Actually, for anyone wanting to see customer service in the US, go into any Walmart, ask someone a question. Watch the absolute contempt in which you are held. Or go into a Taco Bell and speak English and watch in amazement as you are ridiculed when the server can’t understand you. But, and if you want to seriously endure some hard-core shit faced spittle fest, speak to a representative from any airline in the whole country. And why is this – It’s because they aren’t getting a tip. Because in a country of over 300million people if you don’t return as a customer someone else will. It is the direct result of a service industry plonked up by a false taxation paid to someone doing what they are already paid to do.
So what should you leave? Well, some say you should bum a dollar for every drink you buy in a bar, others say just leave a couple of dollars when you leave. In restaurants 10 – 20% is the norm depending on service and the same in taxis. But my advice is this – If service has been genuinely good and the service is not added to the receipt then round up to around 15%, if it has been poor then don’t leave anything at all. But don’t get too bogged down about tipping, every American I have spoken to hates the whole tipping system too. And, though it may seem like everyone is out to shake the dollars from you, many (and off the tourist trail, most) are genuinely decent people just exercising some good service.