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Open Road: Intro to Las Vegas

While Teresa Jordan and her husband Hal Cannon were in Las Vegas for a little R&R, they heard a piece of music that seemed to sum up the city perfectly.

Viva Las Vegas
by Teresa Jordan for the Open Road

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When Phillip Bimstein composed his techno-chamber piece, Casino, he used the voice of Tom Martinet, a former craps dealer who has helped compile a dictionary of gambling. Tom loves words and chooses them carefully, and there's a reason that he feels "eat, drink, gamble, and sex" capture Las Vegas:

Tom: "That's what the town is. It's great for this town. It's not good for your backyard if you live in Muncie, Indiana and you've got gambling. Then it brings all the things that are associated with it. But here it's okay because that's what this community is built on and therefore it keeps everyone happy. It keeps food on everybody's table."

Vegas 1 Las Vegas is Tom's backyard, and he agrees to show us around. As a young man, Tom studied to be a priest, a career more to his family's liking than to his own. In his words, he's too much of a mathematician, and he left the seminary 35 years ago to try his luck as a professional gambler. He soon learned the only sure way to win at games of chance is to work for the house. For him, there are parallels between religion and gambling. Dice, for instance, are a lot like fate and gambling a sort of prayer to bend them your way.

Tom: "They're going to do what they're gonna do. Dice have ears, dice have eyes, dice have no heart. Um, it's a way of trying to control your environment without really having any control."

There's no doubt that Las Vegas, with the biggest casinos in the world, is a gambling Mecca, and it intrigues me to think of the huge hotels as elaborate cathedrals. But certainly these hotels revolve around fun rather than anything more serious. Tom is cynical.

Tom: "A sow in silk is still a pig and it's still the rackets. It's just dressed up really nice. The big draw, the big, um, the mainstay here, is taking everybody's money. And its not the casual tourist we're interested in, because they're not going to gamble that way. We're interested in habitual gamblers. We don't want to break them, we just want to keep them coming back."

Dubious or not, Tom likes a good game, and he agrees to give us a few pointers around the craps table. Folks are lined up two and three deep in front of the slot machines, roulette wheels and blackjack tables. But the most excitement, the loudest gasps and groans and shouts of elation, surrounds craps.

Tom: "Okay, get some money out."

Hal: "Money?"

Tom: "Money. This it. Now you have to pony up. You need American cash."

We pull out $35 and Tom just laughs. He tells us that we need at least $200 if we want to learn craps. When we cough up half that, Tom raises his eyebrows, but he helps us turn our money into chips, buying a couple of hundred bucks worth for himself. Tom tells us that you learn by betting, so we just try to follow along:

Tom: "We need forty-four, windowpanes! The square pair! Arrgggh...yet so far."

Vegas 1 The pit crew -- four men in white shirts, satin vests and bow ties -- keep track of the action, take the bets and pay them off. It all moves so fast! And it's a long time before I notice a couple of men in suits. The pit boss and the floor man, pacing around the table, watching the crew, eyeing each player. They wear pinky rings, double-breasted suits and dark shirts & ties.

Tom: "Mafia style...some things just never change. Alright we need that nine...Nina from Pasadena. Nueve for the gravy. That was 11. Ah Shitsky!

You don't have to play long before the dice become everything to you. I can't help shouting out how I want them to behave. But the truth is, we aren't doing well. Our little stash has dwindled to about ten bucks. Both Hal and I are getting discouraged and, to tell the truth, just a little bored. But right then, our luck begins to change.

Crowd: "Eight hard! Yeah!"

Tom: "Don't get no better!"

And we play again.

Tom: "I need a six or eight. I say, I say."

Voice: "Six! Whooo Tom, alright! Six! Yeah!"

Tom: "Isn't this fun? I wonder what the poor people are doin' tonight."

Before long we've won back what we've lost and then some. This is a lot more fun than it was before.

Tom: "So 30, 45, 50, 52...so we made 150 bucks tonight, honey."

Hal: "That's not bad."

Tom: "That was a hell of a hand...so let's go to the cage and cash out."

We're up $150 for the night, and Tom has cleared over $400. We're ready to celebrate and we're just about to take Tom out to dinner when the floor boss hands us a ticket for a free meal. We're dumbfounded, but Tom isn't surprised.

Tom: "When you have their money they are much more generous, cuz they want you to stay and play and they want to have a shot at getting it back."

We sit down to big steaks and congratulate ourselves on our luck, and also on the good sense we have to keep our money in our pockets. Until, that is, the keno runner stops by. The numbers look good and hey, we're on a winning streak.

Going broke on The Open Road, this is Teresa Jordan for The Savvy Traveler.

On the Web: Vegas Weddings

The official web site of The Las Vegas Wedding Association

Las Vegas Tour Desk Wedding Guide

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Virtual Chapel's Guide to Las Vegas Weddings

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