w w w w w w w
Staffer recounts his bouts with gambling and brutality
Wcome to the sickest city on earth.
This was my first thought as I got off the plane in Las
Vegas. I came out here on the dubious pretense of covering
George Foreman's fifth comeback fight, against an "opponent"
named Rocky Sekorski. My real reasons for coming were to
garner first-hand experience of the world's most decadent enter-
tainment center, gamble away my parents' hard-earned money,
and come home with some great "war" stories.
The plane from Detroit was filled with old people wearing
tacky clothes and drinking heavily. My mind teemed with de-
bauched expectations of meeting prostitutes and mobsters and
dreams of making the big kill. Actually, I had no idea what to
expect beyond neon lights and heavy expenses.
As I sat on the plane, my apprehensions about Vegas
grew. I was afraid that the people at Bally's Hotel, where I was
staying and the fight was to be held, would figure out The
Michigan Daily wasn't a professional newspaper or ask me to
show some ID. I am only 19, and Nevada is a 21 state for
both drinking and gambling.
By the time we taxied to the gate, I had mustered up my
courage and bounded off the plane with my reporter's notebook
in one hand and my Mastercard in the other. I was ready for
Las Vegas. Or so I thought.
The first things I noticed as I got off the plane were the slot
machines. Well, welcome to Las Vegas. On my way to the
baggage claim and taxi stands, I passed at least a hundred one-
armed bandits. I grabbed my luggage amidst a sea of fat peo-
ple and took a limousine, which in Vegas is cheaper than a
cab, to the hotel.
Las Vegas is not very impressive in the daytime. Streets of
squat, ugly houses turn into boulevards of monstrous hotels
and casinos. Nighttime, of course, is a different story. Bil-
lions of flashing lights of all colors and designs bathe the
streets and the masses of people flooding the Strip, the city's
main gambling artery. Despite the fact that the week before
Christmas is the only slow time in Vegas, the streets were
When we arrived at Bally's, on the far end of the Strip, the
driver winked, waved good-bye, and said, "Have a lucky day"
- the preferred salutation in Las Vegas. After hearing that ex-
pression for three days, by the end of my trip and cash supply I
was ready to brain the next person who uttered it.
I walked into Bally's and was shocked by the immensity of
the place. The lobby/casino, which is the largest in Las Vegas,
is more than 50,000 square feet and 140 yards long, and you
have to walk through it to get anywhere in the gigantic hotel.
As I checked in, the registration assistant saw on my reserva-
tion card that I was "press," and gushed good cheer all over me.
When the next person came up to the desk, he was gushed
upon, too. Everyone's royalty in Las Vegas.
Fortunately for me I am color-blind because Las Vegas is
glaringly loud. The city is draped in the gaudiest vestiges of
excess and decadence, which convey the message of the town:
Levin is a Daily opinion writer
By Joshua Ray Levin
waste, debauchery, and tastelessness. People come to Las
Vegas to let themselves go, and the garishly rich decor of the
Strip creates a perfect atmosphere for them to do so.
I entered the bowels of the googleplex which was the hotel
to introduce myself to Paula Gamage, Bally's public relations
director, who dispensed press credentials for the fight. When I
met Gamage in her small office, I was more than a little
nervous about being discovered as a college newspaper writer.
I was shaking when she handed me the phone to talk to Lee
Samuels, the coordinating supervisor from Top Rank Produc-
tions, the fight promoters. Samuels, sounding highly
skeptical, asked me who I was and what paper I worked for.
When he asked for my editor's name and number, I was sure I
was sunk since no one was still at the Daily. But before
kicking me out, Samuels granted permission to go to Fore-
man's workout that afternoon. He was still unaware I was a
student journalist, and I was glad I would have the chance to
see Foreman once before being bounced out on my butt.
I returned to the casino, ready to test the waters of drinking
and gambling in Las Vegas. Although drinks are free to any-
one in the casino, I went to the nearest bar and ordered a beer.
Better to find out if they'll card me right away. The bartender
couldn't have blinked twice, before sliding me a draft. I felt
ready to try the tables.
On the way to the blackjack tables, I stopped to ask a man
for the time, as there are no clocks in the casino. He started to
panic, backed up, said "I don't talk to reporters," and ran away.
After I stopped trembling, I thought, "Holy Shit, I'm a marked
man in Las Vegas!" and trembled a whole lot more.
My $15 in cash disappeared quickly on the blackjack tables,
so I went to one of the many credit card "Instant Cash" ma-
chines. I gave the cashier my card and driver's license As the
person was filling out the cash advance form, she wrote out
my birthdate and kept going. I'm safe, I thought, just as she
stopped and looked back at my license. "Wait a second," she
said with a Jamaican accent, "we're not allowed to give money
to people, your age... So we'll just have to change your
birthdate." She crossed out the 1968 on the record and changed
it to 1966. "Now, don't tell anyone here I did this," she said as
she smiled and handed me the cash. I love Las Vegas.
I returned to the tables, and tried my hand at some different
games. There were quite a few players on the floor for 2 p.m.
on a Wednesday. Between roulette, craps, the Big Six wheel,
and another $3 blackjack table, I made a fast $20 donation to
Bally's coffers and returned to the bar.
Instead of trying my luck at the "Instant Cash" window
again, I decided to case the joint. There were a lot of old, fat,
and handicapped people playing the games, and very few yup-
pies. Everyone, even the winners, had blank expressions or
looks of disgust on their faces.
As I cruised the casino, I passed everything from poker ta-
bles with 20 cent antes to the baccarat rooms, where bets often
soar into the thousands. I decided to avoid the bacrrat rooms at
all costs. With their smart tuxedos and aristocratic looks, the
baccarat players all reminded me of Omar Sharif.
Statistics show that craps holds the best odds for the expe-
rienced gambler. Not so for me. The only truly rude person I
encountered in a casino was the pit boss at the crap table. With
someone as green as myself doing every possible thing wrong
and distracting him from his arduous job'of following each
bet, I can hardly blame him. I gathered from his utter contempt
that it would be wise for me to leave, so I did.
Stumbling through the hotel lobby, I ran into Foreman and
his advisor, the former great light heavyweight champion
Archie Moore. Foreman was talking to a reporter while Moore
was glad-handing around the area, talking up his fighter. I
found it curious that Foreman, a Christian preacher, would be
hanging out so near the tables, the liquor, and the working
women. Nixing the opportunity to talk to them, I walked on.
There really isn't much to do in Vegas besides gamble, es-
pecially during the day. This is, of course, intentional. Non-
gambling activities like swimming, tennis, shows, eating, and
drinking are all located near the casino, and you have to pass
all those tables to return to your room. The reason that drinks
- which, by the way, are incredibly strong - are delivered
free to the tables is because every time someone leaves a game
to get a drink, the casino is losing the money that player may
have blown gambling. Some casinos even have slot machines
in the bathrooms, so their customers can never escape the op-
portunity to throw away more money.
On the ride over to Johnny Tocco's gym, where Foreman
was training, the cabdriver asked me if I were in town alone
and if I wanted any female company during my stay. He in-
formed me that prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas but li-
censed in the neighboring counties. I learned that the women
receive medical examinations weekly and are considered safer
than the unlicensed working women in Las Vegas. When I de-
clined, he added that there were male prostitutes also available,
for a slightly higher fee. Again, I passed.
I later found out that for 150 dollars an hour, you can have
triple-X exotic dancers come to your room and "satisfy your
every desire." Everything that money can buy...
After the workout, at which I was the only reporter, I had to
walk back to Bally's because I was, once again, low on cash.
Tocco's gym is in downtown Las Vegas, which is a lot
smaller and less flashy than the Strip, which snakes into it. I
was surprised and disturbed to find myself walking through a
low income area. The irony of poverty in the literal shadows
of twenty story, billion dollar casinos reminded me of the
slums behind the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
It took me two hours to walk the several miles back to
Bally's, including some unprofitable casino stop along the
way. I was reminded of the movie Westworld, because each
casino was decorated in a different "setting." The Frontier has a
Western design; the Sahara sports a desert look. Circus-Circus
is obvious. There's something for everyone.
I made another cash withdrawal on my credit card (at this
point I was down to $100), and waited at Ball's for my
cousin Les Morgenstein, who was posing as my photographer,
to arrive. While waiting for Les in' the lobby, I sat down at a
25 cent video poker machine to pass the time. Keeping one
eye on the door, I slowly ran out of quarters..
Les walked in just as I dropped my last two quarters. I had
the ace, king, queen, and jack of spades, and the jack of hearts.
Normally, I would have saved the jacks, because you need
jacks or better to win. But seeing as this was my last hand, I
went for the big win - a royal flush. I couldn't believe my
eyes as I pulled the ten of spades, completing the flush. At
250 to one, I walked away with $125. Les was definitely glad
to see me.
And I was excited to see Les. In a town where everyone is
out for themselves, Las Vegas is a very lonely city without
company. We went to Caesar's Palace to try our hands at real
poker. We sat at the 1 to 4 dollar tables, so it wasn't that real,
but I did win over twenty bucks. I also won two fake, gold
Caesar's medallions for my efforts at the tables. After we left
the tables, we grabbed the 99 cent midnight breakfast at the
casino next door and called it a night.
After spending the afternoon losing the money I won the
night before, I bagged the blackjack and we grabbed dinner at
one of the many cheap buffets offered by the casinos. Like
liquor, food in Las Vegas is plentiful and cheap, a courtesy to
and sexism. I drank har
year, because I needed i
son told us when we we
in Vegas. We didn't in
watched Miracle on 34th
S truggling out of
weigh-ins. At the gym L
introduced himself. He
ringside seats and a fre
with Foreman and Mo
seventy year-old Moore
me." I quickly obliged.
We spent the day aw
even more gruesomely
pletely mesmerizing, a
patched Sekorski in the
one of his heavy blows 1
The biggest cheers w
half-naked women, borro
round cards were hoote
asked one of them after
The brutality in Las Vegas is not limited to the ring alone.
After eating, we hurried back to Bally's to catch Donn Ar-
den's ten million dollar "Jubilee," the casino's production ex-
travaganza. Gamage told me that, if I really wanted to see what
Las Vegas was all about, I had to take in at least one floor
show. Although neither of us were crazy about going, the
hotel gave us free admission and drinks, so we decided we
might as well scope it out.
Before I left, one high ranking Dailyite suggested I take
hallucinogens with me to Las Vegas to get a more: unique per-
spective on the city. Well, fortunately for me, I didn't, because
there is no way I could have handled anything as outrageously
stupid as Jubilee if I were whacked out. Words cannot describe
how taudry and ridiculous the show was. Sequins, polyester,
feathers, and breasts abounded. They even managed to get in a
nude dance/rape sequence during their rendition of the sinking
of the Titanic. Get the picture?
The music was taped and the singers were lip-synching. The
only person with a glimmer of talent was a fourteen year-old
juggler wearing gold medallions and a polyester jump suit
unbuttoned to his stomach. The show was chock-full of racism
She looked at me, laughe
spect, I guess it was a
makes her living shedd
Ann Arbor too long.
After the fight, I toc
play the Palace one last
I got $25 in chips, puttii
the airport. Four hours h
lars in my pocket and a
casino bathroom at Bally
old Yugoslavian bathro
friend since I arrived in I
said good-bye to Le
fun in Las Vegas, but I
depth in Vegas; nothing
I was as glad to leave as
that the next time I go,]r
I better understand how 0
Which is gaudier... Levin's jacket or the facade of Caesar's Palace?
PAGE 6 WWEEKEND/JANUARY 15, 1988
WEEKEND/JANUARY 15, 1988