Las Vegas: In the heart of the Nevada desert lies a city with over a million lights, burning bright in the night like a shining diamond against an otherwise dark background. It is sin city -- one that never sleeps. Propitiating a hedonistic God, Las Vegas has just one goal -- to let you have fun, whatever may be your idea of fun.
Music, dance, drama, fashion and sex are offered round the clock to those who seek it. And, of course, there's gambling -- its lifeblood and raison d'etre.
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, around 43 million people visited the place in 2016, bringing in some $6.3 billion dollars of revenue for just the casinos on the Strip, which houses most of the well-known gambling joints. Compare this with another of the world's top tourist destinations, London, which attracted around 20 million tourists last year.
Surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides, the area was named Las Vegas, which in Spanish means "the meadows". The iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, was created in 1959 by Betty Willis, who never copyrighted it. Las Vegas thrives on glitter and glam. There are always top-level musicals or sport shows happening here. Whether it's Celine Dion or Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears or Ricky Martin, or top names in boxing, they have all been there and done that. And these are really the side-shows.
The main activity, of course, is inside the casinos -- on the green felt tables where you can bet from $1 or less to a thousand dollars (or a million if that's your style) in the hope of making more. Of course, mathematically speaking, many would have to lose for some to win, even as casinos keep on raking in the moolah. Many amateurs hang around the slot machines, hoping to hit the jackpots which may range from a lowly $100 to $12 million dollars in mega prize machines, often shared by several casinos. Most professionals, though, are seen at the tables -- Black Jack, Poker, Baccarat, Roulette, Craps and others games.
The gambling arena in some of the casinos reminds one of James Bond movies. Well-dressed men and women with a glass of liquor in hand completely engrossed in trying to beat the odds. The casino capital of the world makes people feel at ease. Dancing fountains, colourful, well-lit streets, live songs and music at every corner of the Strip vie to make it a dream destination -- an enchanting la la land which seeks to cast its spell on every visitor. If there are sinners here, so are the redeemers. Dozens of Christian Firsters carry around signs trying to dissuade the punters from the life they have chosen. Jesus Christ will punish you, is a theme which emanates from the loudspeakers they carry.
The attraction of the city is such that many visitors come here again and again. "Me and my husband have been coming here for the last 25 years. We have seen Frank Sinatra perform in this city," septuagenarian Suzanne from Boston said striking up a conversation. She still loves to roam around the city and enjoys standing by the dancing fountains, shooting video for the times when she's not here.
The gigantic Bellagio Hotel and Casino is one of the more attractive places on the strip, made famous by George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts through their iconic roles in the Hollywood movie Ocean's Eleven. Many of the hotels are made on themes to attract punters and tourists. The large-sized Eiffel Tower catches your eye at Paris Las Vegas and an entire stretch designed like Venice entices you with a gondola ride at the Venetian. The Pyramids and Sphinx at the Luxor remind you of a different era and country. Much thought -- and money -- has gone into these attractions to just say, come hither.
The city also attracts hundreds of conventions and celebrations, since it has the ability to cater to tens of thousands of officials from multinationals. Every year, hundreds of such gathering are held here, with the gambling tables and tourist places adding a touch of fun to serious business. If you get tired of the gaming tables or machines, you can always imbibe other attractions in the city -- wax museum of Madame Tussaud's at the Venetian with statues of famous and the notorious, the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay or the High Roller -- a giant ferris wheel at The LinQ.
For those who want an extra high, not necessarily from the flowing liquor, there's the Stratosphere -- the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States.
If you don't end up spending all your money in casinos, you can also visit the premium outlets at either end of the Strip. The shopping centres offer discounts, yet prices can be steep. But if you love branded stuff, finding many brands in one place can be tempting. Las Vegas may be fun, but it's expensive fun. Go there with your wallet full and with money you can lose. Or just visit the Grand Canyon -- four hours away -- and avoid the epicurean and libertine centre of the world.