Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leaving Las Vegas

I might be one of the few people in the history of the world to spend a full week in Las Vegas and not drop a dime in the slot machines. It's not that I have anything against gambling (at least in moderation), it's just that I would rather blow my hard-earned money on other things, like photo equipment.

Besides, I wasn't in Las Vegas to party, I was there for the annual Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) convention, and I had some serious learning to do about marketing my fledgling wedding photography business. I went with my business partner, a beautiful, single, young woman who did joyously throw herself into Vegas' party scene. Let's just say, she had a much better time than I did, if you don't count the hangovers.

It's not hard to gamble in Vegas, the slots are everywhere. They are there to greet you in the terminal when you step off your plane at the airport, and you have to wade through a mile of slots, crap tables and poker tables to check into your room at most of the hotel-casinos.

Perhaps, what struck me most about Vegas is that it is truly a city that never sleeps. I would wake up at 6 a.m., take the elevator down to the main floor to pick up a cup of coffee and find dozens of people feeding the slots, turning cards at poker tables and tossing dice at crap tables, while tossing down drinks and smoking cigarettes.

Like most big cities, Las Vegas is a town of contrasts, but maybe even more so. It is hard to imagine the amount of money that is being spent there each day. I watched an older Italian gentleman buy $5,000 worth of chips at a crap table one afternoon in the Paris Casino, and wager hundreds of dollars per toss.

Yet every day at the bus stop shelter in front of my hotel, a half dozen or so of some of the most desperate-looking homeless people I had ever seen would hang out most of the day (I am embarrassed to say that I stayed at Hooters Hotel and Casino. Hey, it was cheap and right across the street from the MGM Grand, where the convention was).

The casinos are all glitter and lights, both inside and out, yet every few feet you walk on the Boulevard there is someone snapping a card at you to hire a prostitute. On the Saturday night, I spend exploring Las Vegas Boulevard, the sidewalks were littered with thousands of these cards.

And you have to wonder, how many of the thousands and thousands of people that are feeding the slots or betting on the next Blackjack hand are gambling away this month's rent or mortgage payment. As my friend Mercy says, Vegas wasn't built on winners.