Vegas Still Has Gambling!

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Midler_Bette2With the explosion of high rise condo projects, the opening of a new swanky restaurant every week, and the expansion of retail malls in many casinos, it’s easy to forget the core industry of Las Vegas. News flash: Las Vegas has casinos. And, while we’re at it, the Antarctica has ice, the Pacific Ocean has water, and baseball has steroids.

Oh, yes, and by the way, Las Vegas also has showgirls, ’round the clock cocktail service, and lots of topless bars. (Which immediately begs the question: why do topless bars have something called a cover charge?)

No matter. The point is, yes Virginia, we know Las Vegas has gambling. The world knows Las Vegas has gambling. Even Iowa has gambling.

The real news here is everything that’s hot about Las Vegas now that has nothing to do with gambling – but everything to do with being a world-class destination.

Las Vegas offers so much these days in terms of fine dining, shopping, clubbing and concerts, not to mention real estate, celebrity sightings and sporting events, that it can be rather dizzying.

This city is, in truth, still a mere (rebellious) youngster as a U.S. population center – it proudly claims the distinction of being the largest city in the United States that was founded in the 20th century. The remarkable thing about Las Vegas is that so many of the hippest developments have occurred here in just the past several years – a veritable blink of an eye in the history of American popular culture.

Las Vegas has always reveled in its status as a relatively small city with a larger-than-life name. But now, just fourteen-years into a new century, the town has accumulated big-city bona fides at a startling pace. If Las Vegas were a person, it would still be considered a college-age kid, with all of his attendant characteristics – daring, compulsive, occasionally outrageous. Always looking for the next adrenaline rush. And yet, desperately needing to be taken seriously as a grown up.

In many ways, Las Vegas will always retain the ambience of a never-ending bachelor or bachelorette party – God forbid that it ever gets set in its ways, averse to change, in bed by nine thirty. But the real beauty of this place is that, despite its growing sophistication and (dare we use the word?) maturity, visitors are still very much drawn to the stay-out-till-dawn, sleep-when-you-die craziness found only here.

Let’s be honest. There was a time when most twenty- and thirtysomethings pondered the music scene in Las Vegas as if it were a roster of refugees from the Home for the Washed Up. During, say, the 1980s especially, some of the world’s preeminent rockers associated Las Vegas with rockers of a very different kind.

And the music scene here now? Vegas is The Man, baby. No place else in the world comes close to Las Vegas in avant-garde entertainment, in its endless variety of white-hot musical acts, in its list of the most sought-after performers playing throughout the city, 365 days a year. Every superstar musical act wants to be here, every mega-performer wants to play here, to be seen here. This is the biggest of the Big Leagues, much to the delight of Las Vegas’ nearly 38 million annual visitors.

There was also a time, not so far in the past in chronological terms but seemingly light years removed in terms of perception, that Las Vegas’ dining scene was mostly associated with all-you-can-eat buffets and shrimp cocktail specials. Those things are still here, of course, and, although sometimes maligned by food critics, are rightfully just as popular as ever. (Quick: can you think of any other city that is as inextricably linked with either one of those two Vegas mainstays?)

Talk about food for thought, look at Las Vegas now: it’s become a bona fide world culinary capital, if not THE world culinary capital. The list of celebrity chefs who own and operate wildly imaginative and popular restaurants here is unrivaled anywhere. Truth is, devout foodies from everywhere plan trips to Las Vegas just to immerse themselves in this culinary wonderland. Las Vegas is now the darling of food and wine critics, and is continually highlighted in the most prestigious gourmet publications. It took other cities decades to establish this kind of notoriety; Las Vegas did it inside of 10 years.

You want to talk shop? Once upon a time, the city’s fashion statement was encapsulated in “I Lost My Ass In Vegas” T-shirts; now it has enjoyed a renaissance as a major international retail center, with myriad high-end stores. The premier shopping Meccas once were Park Avenue and Rodeo Drive. Now it’s Las Vegas and its good friends Gucci, Tiffany, Versace, Ferragamo and an endless number of other high-end icons.

Here, visitors don’t just shop and dine – they shop and dine as part of the overall entertainment experience. They marvel as “wine angels” are hoisted up a multi-story wine tower at Aureole at Mandalay Bay. They watch the sky change colors at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, or listen to gondoliers belt out opera tunes at the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes.

Yes, Las Vegas is growing up – quite literally. Time was when the skyline here was punctuated exclusively by fantastic mega-resorts inspired by the world’s most renowned destinations – Rome, Paris, Venice, New York Now several upscale residential towers dot the desert like wildflowers after a spring rain, and dozens more are planned in coming years. Donald Trump has built his own condo tower here and proudly put his name on it.

Las Vegas has never been more hip, more hot, more in demand. Poker is both king and queen, and A-list celebrities jump at the chance to be part of the numerous televised tournaments held here. (Honestly, now, who really saw that coming?) You can’t turn on the TV these days and not see a television series on which Vegas itself is the star. The public’s appetite for all things Las Vegas is insatiable.

There are lots of ways to gamble here. For the best dining, shopping, clubbing, concerts and special events in the world, Vegas is no gamble at all.

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