Sunday, 30 September 2007

Losing in Las Vegas...

Mrs Loadofoldstodge and I returned from our North American holiday yesterday afternoon and needless to say my body clock is still somewhere over the Atlantic so I'm awake at 6.30am on a Sunday morning which doesn't happen that often :)

Our final stop was Las Vegas and if, like me, you enjopy a bet, this is the place for you. There are, it seems to me, two types of Vegas - "weekend Vegas" and "weekday Vegas".

"Weekend Vegas" is a madhouse. Thousands of Americans drive or catch short-haul flights for the weekend - California is only a few hours drive - and pack the resort to dfrink and gamble. The slots and tables are busy though there didn't seem to be a lot happening in the High-Stakes lounges when I passed by.

All the hotels have a "Race and Sports Book" - what we could call a betting shop. Horse racing is a main component but at the weekends, racing punters get a raw deal as the football fans dominate. On Saturdays, College football matches run from dawn to dusk and on Sunday, the Professional Football games mean the bars and seats are crammed with noisy and often drunk fans. With a plethora of screens, up to six matches can be shown simultaenously and for those not interested in the matches, it becomes almost impossible to enjoy the racing. Baseball, on the other hand, is a much less popular sport it seems to me. The relationship between baseball and football in the US is similar to the relationship between cricket and football in Britain.

"Weekday Vegas" is a much more enjoyable experience. Although conventions mean the town is still busy (occupancy rates still at around 85-90%) the atmosphere is much more relaxed. The casinos are quieter though busy in the evening and the horse racing punter can enjoy a much calmer experience.

On any given day, there are between fifteen and twenty meetings of all shapes and sizes covered ranging from thoroughbred action through harness racing to quarter horses. Given the time difference, you need an early breakfast (eggs benedict of course) if you want to tackle the East Coast action which gets under way from about 9.30am Pacific (three hours behind the east coast). It's impossible to cover everything and my advice would be to concentrate on one region. The Race & Sports Book at The Mirage (our hotel) was replete with copies of the Daily Racing Form (the US equivalent of the Racing Post). This paper is regionalised with editions for the East Coast, Midwest and West.

I took on the West Coast (having been in San Diego) and this meant on most days two or three meetings from venues such as Bay Meadows, Emerald Downs, Fairplex and Santa Anita. These meetings started around lunchtime and meant entertainment out of the heat of the Nevada afternoon. The evenings were pretty mediocre to tell you the truth with Los Alamitos staging quarter races (events ranging in distance from 300 yards to four and a half furlongs) and harness racing in the Midwest all that was on offer.

I was disappointed to see no sign of British, Asian or Australasian racing and most of the Race & Sports Book areas closed by midnight unlike the rest of the casinos.

The rules on mobile (or cellphone as they call them) usage were very strictly enforced and I saw on a couple of occasions people forcibly ejected from the racing area for using mobiles. Otherwise, drinks are free (apart from a tip to the waitress) and with a tv screen and comfortable chairs (especially in The Wynn) it's a hugely pleasurable way to lose your money.

There seemed little evidence of betting on non-sporting events such as politics though I perhaps should have enquired further about, for example, the US Presidential election.

The Hotels and Casinos are very similar though for me the standouts were The Wynn (a second one being built), The Bellagio and The Mandalay Bay. Our suite at The Mirage was very comfortable and if you ever want a good lunch, visit Carnegie's (the deli in the hotel) and ask for their roast beef sandwich - a delight.

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