Setting your work in a place you have never been, or have only visited briefly, can be difficult. There are countless YouTube videos you can watch, but those tend to focus on the absolute worst and the absolute best of anywhere, with little in between. They’re still useful to watch, but it takes a lot of video watching to get even the start of a solid picture. It’s easy to tire of watching travel videos before you get to the one full of important details. This is especially true if you want to set all or part of your work in Las Vegas.
Most of Nevada is rather desolate; a lot of small towns with rather odd, isolated populations spread out around a bare desert. Reno is okay, but a bit bleak and boring during the day. Then there’s Las Vegas, or “Vegas,” as it’s known to residents and regulars. It has a reputation as the place you go to do whatever you want without consequences, making it the ideal setting for a scene in your novel, screenplay, stage play, or poem set at a bachelor or bachelorette party, wild girls or guys weekend getaway, post divorce or break up trip, or vacation for the repressed character who just wants one wild experience. The city does have a dark side as well, making it a strong setting for work about trafficking, street life, poverty, gambling addiction, alcohol or drug addiction, and scams.
Should you decide to create a piece of art centered around a Las Vegas strip casino, here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your project.
The casino lights are disorienting to people who are not from Vegas.
Turning Stone resort is the closest thing to a Las Vegas casino in the Utica area. Picture a series of “Turning Stones,” some with even brighter, flashier lights, all sitting in a row, and you have an approximation of the Vegas Strip. Now add the lights of any big city on to that. Like most of Vegas, it’s pretty in it’s own tacky, overdone way, but it takes a minute for a person’s eyes to adjust to all that swirling color and light and a night time that’s never entirely dark.
There is a common cab scam that hooks a lot of people new to Vegas.
Many Vegas cab drivers are honest, hard working people. And many are not. The most common scam begins when a customer gets into a cab. The driver strikes up a conversation, asking the person if they are from the area. Most people assume that the driver is just being friendly, or planning to suggest clubs, restaurants, and casinos run by friends in a city that runs on partying. The driver is really only trying to gauge if the customer is naive enough to believe they need to go all the way down the strip to get anywhere, or take another overly long route. Answers like, “Oh no, I’m originally from the Pittsburgh area but am now from New York” are a green light to go ahead and turn a $5.00 cab ride into a $20.00, or a $20.00 one into $50.00. In order to avoid being scammed, tell them you’re very familiar with Vegas, map the shortest route out on your phone, and tell the driver you want to take that exact route. They still might make an excuse about traffic and get a few more dollars out of you, but you can avoid a double or triple fare.
Your character cannot hail a cab.
If your art is set in a Las Vegas casino, your characters cannot be seen or described as hailing a cab. They don’t stop on the street. In order to get a cab in Vegas, you need to walk to a designated taxi stand and get in line. The taxi stand will be clearly marked with a sign and a path to the place where the cab pulls up.
It is considered horribly rude to cut in the taxi line. If there are ten people ahead of you, then you’re getting in the eleventh cab that pulls up. Occasionally, someone might offer another person their place in line. I once spotted a family with a small baby hanging around the bench in the back of the taxi stand outside a mall in Vegas. They appeared not to understand that they needed to get in line in order to get a taxi. They also did not seem to speak English or any other language I can speak. I gestured, pointed, and offered them my cab to get the baby out of the sun. The family each stopped to thank me. People behind me grumbled.
The hotel rooms are much tamer than the rest of the casinos.
Walking the strip, you see a flurry of swirling lights, colors, and patterns. Once you get into your room, you’re more likely to see sedate black, dark brown, taupe, and camel accented with touches of red, yellow, or purple. There won’t be dice, pictures of Elvis, or slot machines around once you get to the hallway to the guest rooms.
Everything on the strip is not glamorous.
Most people think of beautiful places like The Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, or Caesar’s Palace. Those are certainly there, but there are also a couple of Travelodges known more for the garbage in the hallway than anything else, and some of the lower priced casino hotels receive similar reviews.
The strip does not remain constant.
Some of the casinos and their hotels have been there for decades. Others were built in the past few years. There is often construction on the strip. If you’re writing a novel or short story, you might want to do some research and make sure something existed on the strip in your story’s time.
The buffets are as great as they are cracked up to be.
Eating at a buffet is a tradition in Vegas for a good reason. Most of the food is as good or better than what you can get at a traditional restaurant. You can walk into any of their casinos, ask for the buffet, and choose from a mind boggling number of dishes for a fairly reasonable price.
Buffets in Vegas function pretty much like buffets anywhere else. You get in line, pay a set price for your meal, and then help yourself to whatever food you want to eat. A buffet attendant will bring you your drinks and bus your table when you leave. Unless your character is self-centered or completely naive about the ways of the world, have them leave a dollar or two as a tip for the buffet attendant who waits on them. And if you visit Vegas for real…leave a small tip for the person who brings you your drink and cleans up after you. Yes, you had to get up and get your own food. But they spend their whole shift on their feet, are not exactly paid like rock stars, and have to clear all three of the plates from the moments when you couldn’t decide if you wanted Italian, Chinese, or burgers tonight and got two bites of food to try on each trip. Leave the tip.
You can enjoy the Vegas strip without “partying.”
If you’re setting a painting, poem, song, novel, or film in Vegas, gambling, drinking, and other behaviors we associate with “partying,” are probably going to be a part of it. The strip truly is set up for people to party. But that’s not all there is to do there. Caesar’s Palace contains a huge shopping mall. Luxor has an exhibit of artifacts from the Titanic, and is now home to the “Bodies” exhibit, a scientific museum featuring the systems of real human bodies. (That one’s not for people with weak stomachs.) It would be entirely reasonable to have a character who is not into the party scene wander away and enjoy a tamer time on the strip.
Moving from one casino to another is commonplace.
Each of the large casinos on the strip will have a buffet, a hotel, a showroom or other performance venue of some type, and a casino. But unless someone buys a package, they do not always stay in one place. Characters checking into Caesar’s Palace, going to gamble at The Bellagio, seeing a show at Aria, and eating at the buffet or a restaurant at Wynn would be perfectly reasonable.
Casinos all follow the same basic layout.
The casino floor is one big loop. Some may wind more than others. There may be separate rooms for Poker or other games off to the side. There will be huge neon signs telling you where to go to play certain games. But the gambling area is going to be fairly accessible from one area to another. The building will only dead end at the restaurants, the buffet, and the hotel.
Creating your own fictional casino is easy with a simple formula.
Choose a theme. Places are common. Luxor is patterned after Egypt. Caesar’s Palace is Italian themed. New York New York and Paris are modeled after the cities they’re named for. There is also Circus Circus, modeled after…obviously…the circus and the film themed MGM Grand. Anything you like will work. Give the casino a catchy name that’s easy to say. You want your Vegas strip casino with an upstate New York theme to be called “The Utica,” not “The New Hartford New York Mills” or “The Mohawk Valley Vault.” Name the buffet and a few restaurants in honor of the theme you chose. Add a hotel. You can add a mall, a museum exhibit or two, a nightclub, a wedding chapel, and a performance venue if you wish.