I’m a Christian, a firm believer in God and His majestic power to order the affairs of man on this plane of existence according to His perfect will. It, therefore, goes without saying that I’m also a firm believer in providence, which Wikipedia describes as “the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth.” It was this providence that, once again, catapulted me to Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada from December 20, 2016, to January 30, 2017. In case, you have forgotten, Vegas is widely believed to be the money basket of the United States of America. Some people prefer to dub it the world headquarters of gambling. The city is sparklingly attractive.
I found myself by providence in this enthralling city as Lawrence Bisong, my son-in-law, relocated to the place from Salt Lake City in the State of Utah, the citadel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church), whose parishioners are known as Mormons.
I won’t sue you for defamation if you liken my journey from Nigeria to Vegas to the well documented biblical journey of the Israelites from Egypt to The Promised land; a journey that, all things being equal, ought to have taken them only 40 days but which took them 40 solid years! Did you say ‘why’? Well, as I could not afford to pay over a million Naira for an economy return ticket, courtesy of the terrible crash of the naira at the foreign exchange market, I opted for a cheaper ticket. My son-in-law got me one on Ethiopian Airline.
This is how the trip went. After taking off from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, at about noon on December 20, we had an hour stop-over at N'Djamena in Chad, ostensibly to refuel. Thereafter, the big bird took off for an over five-hour flight to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. In case you didn’t know, Addis Ababa has become the hub of most international flights to almost every part of the world. Aviation is certainly a money-spinning industry for Ethiopia. In Africa, Ethiopian Airline is a clear leader. The airline operates two fully booked flights to Nigeria daily, i.e. to Lagos and Abuja.
Anyway, at the Ethiopian capital, we hopped into another Ethiopian airline plane to begin a 10-hour flight to Dublin, Ireland, where we had a stop-over of one hour. When the plane lifted up, it was for a straight 14-hour flight to Los Angeles. After immigration formalities, I had to wait to connect a 40-minute flight to my final destination, Las Vegas. Then, the unseen hands of nature set in. My flight was delayed for six solid hours due to bad weather. When we eventually took off after the long spell, we landed at Vegas after just 40 minutes. In total, I flew almost half of the world for more than 35 hours. Boy, was it a pleasurable adventure for someone my age? Sincerely, I don’t think so.
But there is one interesting aspect of the long haul that I like: it afforded me the opportunity to mingle with different nationals. Almost all the airlines were fully booked. Some who missed their scheduled flight were rescheduled for the next flight.
I was curious to know why the rush for Vegas, especially on a Friday. I got the answer from a friend I met on the trip, who introduced himself as Steve, and who told me that 99 percent of the passengers thronging to Vegas, including himself, were chronic gamblers who flood the various casinos dotting the city on Fridays to fulfill their passion, gambling. "The temptation to stake your money for winning the jackpot is so high you never think of any possibility of losing,” Steve told me categorically. “And when you lose, the money, your loss, goes to the government because the casinos are heavily taxed."
Steve further told me that some hitherto terrible impoverished people had become millionaires overnight through gambling and their testimonies are a veritable source of encouragement to other gamblers to rush to the city that does not sleep and where their lives could be transformed overnight. However, the flip side is not too exciting to the heart and the ears as some who came with their life savings had not only lost all but also ended committing suicide. "When you hear of a SIN CITY, here you are," Steve told me without betraying any emotion.
Not only gamblers love Vegas. Airlines too. According to those who know, airlines make a hell of money flying to Vegas. They operate the cheapest flights to the city round the clock. I got a foretaste of the city shortly after I disembarked and headed to baggage claim to pick my luggage. I saw gambling machines at strategic points in the hall with some passengers gambling right there. What an infectious habit, I mused to myself. Planes were landing and taking off every five minutes, and the interesting thing is that you could not see any sigh of stress on any of the passengers.
Again, I couldn’t stop wondering how the airport could cope with hundreds of passengers in less than 30 minutes interval without any commotion. The answer is not far-fetched. Vegas is in an arid land where you see kilometers of virgin desert land sprawling before you.
The Vegas McCarran International Airport is located in an area called Paradise, 10 kilometers away from the main city. In size, the airport is three times bigger than our Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. Yet, the huge size is not peculiar to the airport alone but also to all the landmark structures and monuments in Vegas; ranging from hotels to hospitals, universities etc. The planners of this city put into generous use the God-given expanse of land. I equally noticed that not only commercial planes were on the tarmac but hundreds of private jets of different colors too.
As I said, gambling in Vegas does not discriminate against class. The vice is not class sensitive. From the poor to middle class, to millionaires, you see all classes of people trooping into various casinos/hotels to gamble. One Mr. Scott told me how a known millionaire whose businesses were going bankrupt came in with what he said was his last savings, $5 million, to stake for a jackpot but got just $3 million, losing $2 million.
What about a Chairman/CEO of a notable courier service, who according to those who know him sensed his company was going under and felt that the only way to salvage the terrible situation was to stake his last $20,000. He was lucky. According to my narrator, he gambled with the money and raked over one million dollars; just like that! What do we call that? Luck? Or providence? Help me out, dear readers.
Still, that is not all about the frills and thrills of Vegas. It is an unwritten rule that any hotel in the city should have a casino. The supermarkets are following suit too having realized that nine out of ten visitors to Las Vegas are casino freaks. Maybe in the nearest future private homes will join the epidemic.
Ten top Casino Hotels in Vegas that make averagely N20 million dollars a week are Las Vegas, Nevada, Aria Resort, Mam Grand, Bellagio, Stratosphere, Treasure Island, The Venetian, the Mirage, Mandalay Bay, Tuscany Suites, The Cosmopolitan and Mandarin Oriental.
Room rates at these hotels range from $300- $1000 per night. Most of the hotels are not smoke-free while few are. The hotels are fully booked. So, if you want to be part of the Vegas fun train, you must book your reservation three weeks ahead. You need to be there at weekend to see how people fill up the hotels to the brim, with people queuing up as if waiting to buy tickets for a blockbuster movies; whereas they are just waiting to get on the machines. The casinos pay millions of dollars every week as taxes to make America more prosperous. As many as the hotels are, those who cannot afford the high rates or cannot get one take solace in sleeping in their caravans and vehicles. The weekends are like carnivals in Vegas.
If you are in Las Vegas and you have not visited a place called THE STRIP, then, your trip may be meaningless. The Americans created this city for casinos but also added irresistible tourist attractions to make you empty your wallet, and buoy their revenue base. THESTRIP is the most famous and fabulous stretch of road that has lots of incredible attractions all the way. No wonder the cliché: "Stroll the Las Vegas STRIP in all its glory.”
To enjoy the opulence and scintillating view of this place, arm yourself with a camera and wear comfortable shoes. The attraction is that almost all the major capitals in the world have one form of presence or another. Easily accessible are: Paris, London, New York, among others. Each of these has alluring landmarks to hold visitors spellbound. One can move around these areas 24 hours non-stop, and without getting tired. Las Vegas is dubbed the Sin City as some of the activities we read in the biblical city of Sodom and Gomorrah are practiced with impunity. Sex is openly advertised and you are confronted with pimps with postcards luring you to girls of easy virtues; the scarlet sisters. Random smoking and heavily drunk people are common sights too.
In spite of the weird behaviors of the revelers, Las Vegas is still touted to be one of the safest cities in America. The crime rate, I was reliably informed, is the lowest because jolly loving people roam the streets. And peradventure you are infirmed, and you need qualitative Medicare, Vegas is the place to be. It is a city that cares as much for men as also for pets. Believe this or not, Vegas has luxurious hotels specially built for dogs, cats, and horses. Animals get as much quality care as humans. That is one aspect of this city of sin and gambling that you don’t want to miss the next time you visit America. Lesson learned from Las Vegas is for Nigeria to develop her tourism which includes gambling and betting to buoy her Internal Generated Revenue.
Folu Olamiti Media Consultant writes from Abuja.