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I don't like Las Vegas -- but I keep going there

Mar 27, 2012 - By Walter Cook

A trip on the party bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is a little too pricey to attract the often-desperate characters one encounters on a Greyhound.

As far as I could tell, there were no recent parolees or runaway teenage mothers looking for a fresh start.

Instead, the bus was filled with retirees and their middle-aged children, a group of young Australian guys touring the country, some hip Japanese girls, and a few slightly shady solitary gamblers like me.

For $100, I was able to secure a round-trip bus ride, during which I was treated to amenities not usually a part of bus travel, including two complimentary Bud Lights, free snacks, and a Russian-accented "stewardess" who cracked jokes about alcoholism, the down side of gambling, and the offerings of Barstow, Calif., our trip's sole pit stop.

I took the party bus because I had waited too long to purchase airfare and had, therefore, been priced out of the market. I also didn't want to end up like the people we passed whose cars broke down en route to Las Vegas.

With cars in such condition, I couldn't help but wonder if the drivers should even be going to Las Vegas.

That is, of course, assuming they were headed there for the usual reason: a chance at the new American Dream, in which you become rich, not because of talent, intelligence or hard work, but merely the hand of fate lifting you from obscurity into the dream.

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Once every few years, the siren of Las Vegas calls to me.

For me, she's not a temptress. Rather, she's a hoarse-voiced old lady.

Her face is caked in makeup. She holds a cigarette in one hand, a slot machine lever in the other. She's a year away from a tracheotomy and a few more casino visits away from poverty.

The very air surrounding her -- essentially a nicotine cloud with a hint of whiskey breath -- makes me sick.

I want nothing to do with her.

As far as I'm concerned, you could drop an atomic bomb on Las Vegas and the world would lose nothing of cultural or intellectual significance (human life, notwithstanding).

In fact, if the sprawling, artificial desert city didn't exist, resources -- from water, labor, and building material -- could be put to better uses in cities built in suitable environments.

Be that as it may, I keep coming back to Las Vegas.

I blame it on craps, as well as the occasional opportunity to hang out with some less-judgmental friends who love the place.

If my Vegas-visiting friends wanted to rendezvous somewhere else, and Starbucks had craps tables and free gin-and-tonics, I'd never set foot in that city. (Note: California's American Indian casinos do not have craps due to state-tribal compacts.)

Luckily, I'm not one of those poor souls who justifies the city's

moniker of "Lost Wages." That is, I'm incredibly cheap. That's why I play craps: There's a chance of winning at craps, and, if you bet like I do, only a slightly higher chance of losing. That's pretty good for a casino.

The odds are usually heavily stacked against you in any casino game: The roulette wheel has the green zero and double-zero that put the odds in the house's favor. The blackjack table -- the McDonald's of casino "games" -- is too fast, thanks in part to automatic shufflers that ensure face cards clump together, which forces you to lose your money quicker. Slot machines are long-shot bets hat take away any chance for human interaction and turn people into zombies.

Craps is the only casino game that pays out true odds in what's known as the "free-odds bet" (I recommend you Google it prior to your next gambling outing).

Craps is also a deceptively slow game.You may not walk away from the craps table a millionaire, but you'll walk away from the table feeling pretty good thanks to the cocktail waitresses' kindness and the game's slow pace.

If more people played craps than slot machines, which give the casinos the vast majority of their profits, Las Vegas would be nothing more than a strip of pawn shops, shanties, and a few four-story casinos.

And its toxic influence on our society -- which is painfully apparent judging by the proliferation of reality TV shows and casinos throughout the country -- would be limited.

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In Las Vegas, most people drink, inhale a lot of second-hand smoke, and lose money. It's a combination that can lead to an exhausting drive home. As a result, I was glad to be on the party bus.

For me, even the one day I spent in Las Vegas was too much. My friend, Jay, was going to be there for, like five days.

I didn't know how he'd make it. He likes strong drink and plays blackjack. He's the kind of guy Las Vegas loves.

The trip back on the party bus wasn't as lively as the trip to the raunchy city. More people slept, fewer people talked.

Perhaps they were a little more cynical about Vegas's offerings.

But, like me, in time they'll probably be back.

Here's hoping they'll stick to craps.

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Editor's note: Former Ranger reporter Walter Cook is a business writer living in Los Angeles.

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