If you’ve got money to burn, Las Vegas wants you and your family to feel right at home.
At least, that’s the message gamblers around the country are being sent by the barrage of new hotel properties springing up in the desert like wildflowers in summer.
Hotels have spent hundreds of millions — even billions — of dollars to create extensively detailed theme casinos designed to cater to the every whim of an individual willing to risk leaving a wad of cash at the Blackjack table, Craps pit or Roulette wheel.
The themes chosen by the casinos are richly layered: You can gamble in Central Park of New York, New York, amongst a darned good reproduction of Michaelangelo’s David at Caesar’s Palace, or within the world of the Egyptians at Luxor.
The newest hotel is Bellagio, very loosely based on the town of Bellagio, Italy. A 36-acre lake (with white-light fountains that dance to Broadway show tunes every 30 minutes from 6pm to Midnight), is the opening act for an elegant casino, conservatory, fine restaurants imported from Boston to San Francisco, and a two-room museum that houses the better part of a $300 million fine art collection.
In the end, however, the elaborate themes are nothing but entertainment. The goal these casinos strive for is to create an attractive, homey atmosphere that will keep gamblers and their money coming back.
The rewards of creating the right “home away from home” are rich. Many gamblers will hop on a plane a half dozen times a year, check into the same hotel, and play the same tables, no matter if they win or lose $500,000 each time. Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, for example, typically stays and plays at The Mirage.
“If you’re going to drop that kind of money, you’re entitled to a few perks,” said one marketing agent for Caesar’s, whose primary job is to find cash-laden gamblers she can lure to the casino.
The stable of perks available to gamblers of all levels is deep. Stand at any table for awhile, and an attractive woman in a skimpy outfit will offer you a free drink. As long as you gamble, you can drink yourself into oblivion for nothing. The famous all-you-can-eat buffets will allow you to stuff yourself for practically bus fare. Just like home.
For medium-level gamblers, those who come a few times a year and perhaps wager $10,000 to $30,000 per visit (casinos keep track of what you wager with electronic "credit cards"), hotels hand out free airfare, show tickets, VIP passes to various restaurants and buffets, and some of the nicer rooms on higher floors. These might include junior suites with either two bedrooms and one bathroom or one bedroom and two bathrooms, or just a larger bedroom and bathroom with comfortable furniture, and perhaps a big-screen television and your own VCR.
These days, the average bedroom in a casino will typically be far more elegant than your bedroom at home. Marble and granite, for example, are used extensively. Move into a suite, and the sky is literally the limit. In the movie, “Rain Man,” Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise spent a night in a Caesar’s Palace suite that featured several bedrooms, a full kitchen, and an enormous living room with a two-story, floor-to-ceiling window.
(No one seemed to know exactly how many high-stakes gamblers who had stayed in the room actually cooked something in the kitchen.)
Today, casinos are investing millions of dollars creating "villas," very private, yet elegant private homes that are luxuriously appointed. At one hotel, each villa comes with its own maid and butler, ready to cater to your every whim.
Villas are designed to recreate the at-home experience for the gambler who comes to town ready to leave millions on the table. Unfortunately, you can’t rent one. They are invitation-only. Even the hotel employees haven’t been in to see them.
If you don’t want to gamble with the masses, each casino offers varying levels of privacy. The higher the stakes, the more privacy you’re afforded.
These are semi-private area cordoned off from the central part of the casino. If you want a private room with a private table, it can be provided to you. If you want a dealer who speaks your language, to make you feel more at home, that request, too, can be accommodated.
Big gamblers may also be allowed to pay their debt over time. Gamblers may leave a marker with the casino, and deliver cash installments to locally-based marketing agents over time.
So does Las Vegas actually feel like home? Clearly, no one from Italy would mistake Bellagio, with its inlaid marble floors, for a neighboring village. Parisians won’t feel at home in the desert even if the Paris casino has a half-size Eiffel Tower.
But for gamblers of every race and religion, the ability to lay down a bet across from a friendly face may be all the home they need.