An Unconventional Relationship

An Unconventional Relationship

Monday, 25 August 2014

Nick Wealthall's love letter to Vegas.

As I write this, I'm sitting at the desk of my hotel room on the 21st floor, looking out over the strip and to the bright perfect sky over the mountains beyond. Now, I’m not writing that to make you jealous. It’s completely essential for the context of the article, I swear.

In fact, I wish you were here.

(I don’t).

Last month, I wrote a love letter to the Main Event, which is now just days away. What I’m writing to you this month is a love letter to Vegas itself.

I first came here on a holiday about 20 years ago, back when the gamblers pulled up in wagons, and an all-in meant they were literally betting the ranch. I arrived as a naïve English student who still couldn’t really believe such a place existed. I was super cool back then; I asked a buffet waitress how many times you were allowed to go up, and clapped the first stripper I saw do a full split from standing (still don’t know why more people don’t appreciate their athleticism; it really is terrific).

Apart from a severe lack of local knowledge, I’ve always been strangely comfortable in Vegas. It quickly became my second home (literally as I rented an apartment here for a decent amount of time), my spiritual home, and even my escape. A really common response to Vegas coming up in day-to-day conversation is, ‘I liked it, but I couldn’t be there for more than two or three days.’ And that, my friend, is where you and I must differ. I could die here… and probably will.

Of course, this place is ridiculously romanticised for me. I ran away from the corporate life to come here to play poker and write. Think of how you remember your first love, how you look at that person – that’s how I see Vegas. All of the good stuff, none of the flaws.

I’ve given her a good strong talking to this trip, sadly. Vegas has got worse. There’s no denying it any more. As gambling has become legalised around the US there’s been less motivation to come to Vegas for average Americans, so the town has had to find other ways to attract visitors and grow.

This means ‘diversifying’ (ugh) beyond the gambling market, and THIS means young clubbing types and family amusement park types.

My server at a restaurant in my hotel cheerily informed me I get more loyalty points (sorry, what now?) per dollar from eating food than I could from gambling. How is this possible? I mean, I think their business model might be a tiny bit broken!

If you want a symbol of how this place has changed, simply look out your window. Someone’s put a fucking Ferris wheel in the middle of the strip, for crying out loud!

That’s not Adult Disneyland. That’s just Average Disneyland.
Sin City has become Spin City (they should use that), and it’s all to give the kids something to do.

We’re one step away from a man in a stuffed Dinosaur outfit welcoming you to Macarran.

I can’t lie to you, when I see a child in Las Vegas I want to bend down to its level and scream, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?! GET OUT! GET OUT OF ADULT DISNEYLAND!”

Seriously, I don’t go to Wet 'n Wild and ruin their fun, do I? No. No I don’t. Or at least, very rarely.

The thing is, no matter how much it changes, it stays the same. You can still get a better room or better seat by giving the right person $20. You can still get insane amounts of food for less cash. You can still get a full directory of local adult services from an overweight card flicker on the street (I’m told). And it’s still the home of poker.

The World Series is here because it started here, but really, how could it be anywhere else?

If it didn’t exist it would be started here.

Just like Marty McD, when I wanted to run away from life and play poker, I didn’t dream of running to a casino in Luton or Biloxi; it’s only Vegas that stirs the blood of poker wannabes.

The shocking thing you’ll discover when you come to the WSOP for the first time is that it’s barely a blip on Las Vegas’s pulse monitor. Once you step outside the Rio, it doesn’t really exist. The town has become too huge. (125,000 hotel rooms will do that!)

From a poker point of view, the perspective is very different – at Series time, the town really comes alive. Back in the day, it was all about the cash games. The real pros didn’t even bother with the tournaments, they just sat in the cash games round town waiting for the gubers who’d made a tournament score to come and donate it to them. These days, the cash game action is still insanely good and way better than at any other time of year, but tournaments have taken over. Six or seven casinos run tournament series alongside the WSOP, meaning you’re statistically never more than 30 minutes away from an opportunity to bust one.

But it’s the endless fun and endless escape from the ‘real world’ people seem to find so appealing. I’ve read a decent amount of blogs from pros who haven’t come to Vegas this year for whatever reason. Everyone makes their own choice each year: this is the first time I’ve been at Series time for a couple of years, because life kept getting in the way.

But I can tell you one thing. Every summer I’ve been somewhere else at Series time, I’ve felt the pull of Vegas.

That hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years… maybe it never will.

Tags: Nick Wealthall, Las Vegas, columnists