Vegas road trip overview

So, two days after my LASIK surgery, my friend Dave and I headed off to Vegas for stress reduction and general amusement. Many people questioned the wisdom of mixing eye surgery with a seven-hour drive to a desert town filled with bright lights and cigarette smoke, but it wasn’t a problem. Eye drops and good sunglasses proved sufficient to the task (with occasional help from Aleve).

Dave will probably write a more detailed trip report than I will, but here’s the quick, relatively short form.

Sunday night we reached the Luxor with plenty of time to recover from the drive before heading over to New York New York to eat dinner at the wretched Il Fornaio (link provided so you can avoid them) and see the wonderful Rita Rudner.

The Cabaret Theater they’ve stuffed her in is described as intimate, which is a convenient euphemism for “broom closet packed with far too many chairs.” It doesn’t matter. As soon as she takes the stage, Rudner owns the room, and you forget about the seating. Terrific show.

Monday morning, I set out to pick up all of the tickets I’d pre-ordered, and picked up a nifty sunburn during the walk down to Treasure Island. I also picked up tickets for O, which was allegedly sold out when I tried to call in an order a month ago.

Monday night was Blue Man Group. Since the Luxor now considers me to be one of The Special People, we got reserved seating in the seventh row. Doesn’t matter where you sit, though; this is a show worth seeing every trip, from anywhere in the house. Don’t forget to grab a set of earplugs on the way in.

Tuesday night was Mystère. Buying tickets three weeks in advance didn’t get us even remotely near the stage, but if there’s any Cirque de Soleil show that works well from the cheap seats, this is the one. Sit too close the first time, and you’ll find yourself trying to look everywhere at once. This is definitely one to see more than once, from different locations.

Dinner, sadly, was at Treasure Island’s steakhouse, which mixed indifferent service with bland sauces and side dishes; they did not ruin the high-quality meat, but they didn’t treat it with great respect, either. The overall experience was so disappointing and overpriced that I insisted on filling out a comment card. I had to ask to get one, since they’re not interested in finding out what you think. I found myself thinking fondly of Sizzler; the TI steakhouse had far better meat, but at least at a Sizzler you’d be able to taste the side dishes and get your drinks refilled.

The completely-revamped Treasure Island pirate show doesn’t open until the end of October, but the posters advertising it are worth framing. I don’t know if it will live up to the hype, but it’s definitely not for the kids any more.

Wednesday night was Zumanity (Flash-heavy site that’s long on “coming soon;” fortunately it has some video clips that include the lovely Marcella), Cirque de Soleil’s adult show. It’s “adult” in theme, but despite the heavy-breathing ad campaign, the erotic elements are frosting, not cake. People who pay extra to sit in the love seats are really just setting themselves up for audience participation. In a good way, though.

This is definitely a show to see from up close, for the faces, not just for the skin. It’s the most human of the three Cirque shows in Las Vegas, and the performers project a lot of personality in their expressions.

Thursday night was the big surprise. O was completely sold out when I tried to buy tickets three weeks before the trip, but when I was picking up our Mystère tickets, I casually mentioned that I had failed to get into O. The girl said, “Oh, we have excellent seats available for Thursday,” so we ended up in the second row. We also ended up with a souvenir inner tube tossed into the audience by the clowns. This inspired great jealousy from other audience members as we were leaving, and produced some great looks from passing strangers as we carried it through the casino. Terrific show, and I can see why it’s the hardest one to get into; the water really adds something to the typical Cirque de Soleil experience.

As far as the casinos go, I don’t really gamble. What I do is hang out in the casinos playing slot machines and watching the pretty girls go by. Best waitress outfits are at the Mandalay Bay, but the customer mix at the Luxor includes a remarkable number and variety of attractive women. I don’t get bored. A few were so beautiful that I was tempted to just throw money at them as a reward for existing. “No, I’m not trying to pick you up; I just want to thank you for being here.”

I also have an odd habit of winning money when I play slots. I have no illusions about the odds or the nature of the game, which I think is part of the reason, but after a while it starts to get silly. I played enough for them to comp the room and assorted other expenses, but I also walked out with $2,700 of their money, almost $1,500 of which was earned in one day.

I enjoy watching people play slots, but at the same time it’s a bit disturbing. The vast majority buy into the illusion, and never realize that the “game” they’re playing is simply a random number generator with a candy coating. One guy I was sitting next to for a half-hour was so upset by all the “near misses” that he managed to break the Max Bet button as he stabbed at the keys.

There are no “near misses” on a slot machine. If you didn’t win, you lost, and the combination displayed is completely meaningless. I don’t even look at it most of the time, except to laugh at the clever and cynical psychology behind the losing displays; the pretty girls walking by are far more interesting.

Do I have a system? No. Casinos love people with systems, because it means that they don’t understand random numbers and probabilities. The human brain is a wonderful pattern-matching tool, but unfortunately it often creates patterns where none exist.

Do I have theories? Sure. The first is that almost every piece of advice you’ll get about slot machines is bullshit. The odds always favor the house in the long run, and slots are an extremely fast way to gamble, so the casinos don’t need elaborate layouts of “loose” and “tight” machines to get your money. It’s far more likely that the majority of the machines on the floor are set to the same payoff level, to simplify revenue prediction.

If that’s true, then if your goal is to play a lot, you’ll get more action from a machine that pays less. The higher the jackpot and the more special bonus features, the less often you’ll see small payouts. This is particularly bad with progressive slots, which not only have a huge jackpot, but pay less on smaller wins than a standard version of the same machine. So, to play for a long time on the same starting cash, avoid machines with names like Triple Double Super Diamond Haywire Run Deluxe. The basic versions of machines like Wild Cherry and Red, White, & Blue are more likely to give you a lot of small payoffs and let you fill up your slot club card.

[Disclaimer: about a third of the money I won came from a $1 progressive Triple Diamond Wheel of Fortune machine, so my theory has a few weak spots]

If you’re not using the casino’s slot club card, and you’re playing slots for more than twenty minutes, you’re missing out on the easiest way to feel special in Vegas. Even a casual player can get line passes and buffet comps, and serious play earns free rooms, meals, and generally better treatment. In my case, they gave me the room for free and put us in the reserved section for Blue Man Group.

Yes, it’s a customer tracking device that gives them a great deal of information about how you play, but given the volume of people moving through these places, it’s useful to have a way to stand out from the crowd.

Oh, somewhere in there, we ate at two terrific buffets. The Mandalay Bay buffet is expensive but worth it, and their desserts included a remarkable tiramisu. The Bellagio buffet is amazing, for both the quality of the food and the sheer variety; whatever you like, they’ve got it, and it’s really, really good. I particularly liked the smoked ono, but the real prize was once again on the dessert table: the finest lemon meringue pie I’ve ever tasted. I could have skipped the meal and just eaten slice after slice of this stuff.