A Tale of Three Cities: Las Vegas

New York City may be my “home town,” but Las Vegas is my home away from my home town. Ooooo, the dazzling sight of beautifully dressed women slowly passing in the night, their stiletto heels tap-tap-tapping an irresistible rhythm on the casino floor. Okay, the floors are carpeted and there are also a lot of handsome men. But I try not to pay attention to any guy who is better looking than I am. Unfortunately, that includes just about everyone except maybe for Carrot Top . . .

Then there’s the phony ding-a-ling of the slot machines, which is actually a recording piped over loudspeakers to fool us into believing that the one-armed bandits are paying off. Last but not least, there’s alcohol-fueled energy of the world-famous Strip crowded with midnight revelers. All these sights and sounds call to me so plaintively that I cannot resist. Okay, I’m overstating things. The fact is that Las Vegas is what New York City would be if the Big Apple could only remove that giant rubber stopper from its rectum. Las Vegas is gun country.

The trajectories of New York and Las Vegas have sometimes coincided and sometimes converged. When I used to visit my money at the Flamingo, the Stardust and similar venues in the ‘70s, New York City’s streets were run by the Mob. Everybody was on the take, and I mean everybody including the cops, the city council, a mayor or two, some of the security personnel at Air France and Lufthansa and the bellboys at the Hotel St. Moritz. There was one scandal after another.

Las Vegas was also owned by the Mob, or at least the casinos were. The Chicago, Milwaukee and New York outfits controlled the Stardust, Fremont, Marina and Hacienda and a whole lot of others. Prior to the Hughes Corporation buyouts of a bunch of the casinos, almost every casino was either controlled or influenced by the Mob.

Nobody really gave a damn except the Gaming Control Board and Howard Hughes. Those burly, bent-nose wiseguys from the east and Midwest had built this city from a desert sinkhole to an international destination, the money was flowing, and Las Vegas needed it. Crime? Outside of skimming the casinos, there wasn’t a lot. Crime was bad for business, and the mob needed business to be good. And wonder of wonders, the games were honest, meaning they weren’t rigged any more than the law allowed. Which was plenty.

Every casino game is stacked to favor the house. The “house percentage” for some games is marginal, but mostly it’s astronomical.  The house percentage is legal and enjoys the full sanction of the gaming authorities and the full knowledge of the players.

The Mob learned two vital lessons from their banker, Meyer Lansky, and his sophisticated joints in Florida and Cuba. First, share the wealth. Lansky once wrote checks for the population of one casino town to help residents with their real estate taxes. He also had the entire police department on his payroll. Both investments paid off in a big way.

The second lesson was that when the house runs an “honest” game and treats its customers well, the suckers will come back again and again. And, boy, did we – oops, I mean, did they – ever. It was paradise for the Mob, which is apropos since most of what we now know as the Las Vegas Strip is actually located in the town of Paradise.

An old friend of mine was a gambler, and a bad one. I’ll call him Harry, since his actual name has been lost to me in the dim and swirling mist of memory. Harry never wagered a dime on the turn of a card or a roll of the dice. His weakness was horses. When it came to the ponies, Harry was a degenerate who had mastered the art of losing more often than the ’62 Mets. The guy was so bad that the only time he ever wagered on Secretariat, the legendary red colt was embarrassed in the ’73 Whitney by a second-rate wagon puller named Onion.

Six weeks later, the same two horses met up again in the Marlboro Cup. Predictably, Harry bet on – you know what’s coming – Onion. Just as predictably, Secretariat exploded out of the gate to set a new world record. Big Red dominated the field so easily that the other race horses might have been pulling plows. Onion had a great view, waaaaaaaaay back in the fourth spot, beaten by about the length of a soccer pitch. It was a vintage Secretariat performance, and an all too typical Harry performance.

Harry came to Las Vegas a lot, sometimes with me and sometimes with Mrs. Harry, but he didn’t come to gamble. No, he came to get away from gambling, if you can imagine that. The first casino race book wasn’t opened until 1974, which meant that Harry could avoid the temptation to gamble, which to Harry meant watching a horse run while dragging poor Harry’s earnings behind it like a boat anchor. Harry came to Las Vegas for the food and the booze and an occasional trip to the Mustang Ranch. Oops, I meant to say the pool, not the Mustang Ranch. What was I thinking of?

At the time, buffets only cost about a deuce. Really. And sometimes the buffet was free, which is exactly what Harry wanted to pay. Cocktails in the lounge were dirt cheap. At six-one, Harry was about two and a half bucks of buffet-busting, booze-swilling girth. He could have lost his car betting the slots and still have come out ahead on the food and the liquor. So he drank, ate and returned to New York fortified after abjuring gambling for three or four days.

Please don’t share this little secret with my hosts at the hotel where I am presently staying, but I no longer come here to gamble either. I come here for the world-class food, my love of the desert and the great entertainment. Which includes shooting.

“Open carry” on the Strip means one of two things. First, one can openly carry an adult libation while walking (not driving) down Las Vegas Boulevard where the hotels are arranged thick, one aside the other like sequoias in the forest. Whatever your drink of choice, from a can of Bud to a yard of ale or one of those frozen umbrella drinks, you’re welcome to chug-a-lug while you walk the Strip. Try that on Fifth Avenue in New York sometime and see what happens.

The second kind of open carry is the one that we debate to death right here on TTAG. You can openly pack heat here, with no permit. Try that on Fifth Avenue in New York sometime and see what happens. I’ll visit you on weekends in Sing Sing. That’s a promise.

Nevada is an open-carry state. There have been some run-ins between open carriers and the po-po on the Strip, but after a couple of well-publicized blunders the cops got religion, and the training to go along with it. The Jefe of the Metro PD recently “re-educated” 3000 of LVs finest on how to approach law abiding folks openly carrying, because even though it’s perfectly legal to do so, a lot of the cops didn’t know the law. Imagine that.

Having been properly trained, the Metro cops now boast of being professional, respectful and knowledgeable about OC, which are three things we have come to expect from police everywhere. But there’s a rub. The only time I’ve ever seen anyone in mufti open-carry on the Strip was on TV, and “Bad Boys” was playing in the background. So OC is legal, there are people who do it, but not many and not often and rarely on the Strip. Not even at High Noon, when I snapped the picture above. Cell phones we got. Guns not so much.

I recently ran into about 50 Air Force noncoms chowing down at the Gold Coast Hotel buffet. And it struck me then and there that if anything untoward were to occur, I’d have to protect them since none of the airmen were armed. They’re soldiers, they’re defending our country and they were unarmed during wartime. I think that’s crazy, especially in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is part of Clark County, where over 47% of all homes have at least one legal gun inside (take that, Josh Sugarman). Taking into account certain neighborhoods where “legal” and “guns” go together like peanut butter and dill pickles, I would say that there are maybe sixteen adults in Clark County who are unarmed. Three of the sixteen are having their oxygen tanks recharged at this very moment.  The other thirteen are in the rectory.

You’d think that gun country would have a lot of places to shoot, and right you are. Shooting has become a major tourist attraction in Las Vegas. Plenty of private indoor ranges are near the Strip, if you like that sort of thing. I counted ten before I ran out of fingers. Shooters can BYO or rent just about anything for their shooting pleasure. Uzis, AK-47s, Tommy Guns, Grease Guns, 9 mm submachine guns and other full autos abound. You will pay handsomely for your fifteen seconds of full auto trigger time, but heck, you’re worth it.

I find shooting indoors to be an experience that I can take only in doses. Ah, but the outdoors! We were meant to enjoy shooting under the sun and sky, like hunters, plinkers and soldiers and weekend warriors have done since the invention of the gun. Shooting outdoors used to mean a trip into the trackless desert in my Hertz rental. Now it’s a trip to Clark County Shooting Park in my Hertz rental.

The park is located at the end of North Decatur Boulevard about 40 minutes from the Strip. It will be a 30 minute trip once the roads are finished. Note that if you haven’t updated your GPS in a while, you need to do so because the area is so new, it’s off the older maps. There’s nothing quite as bizarre as your GPS screen going stupidly blank, but if you keep heading straight on North Decatur, you’ll eventually come to the Park.

The Shooting Park covers about 178 acres in the midst of 2900 acres of former BLM desert land, and it’s beautiful. The rifle/pistol range features 60 covered and lighted shooting points out to 200 yards. There’s pro shop, training center, convenience store and restrooms. Needless to say, this ain’t your traditional desert shooting experience, dodging snakes and peeing al fresco.

 

I’m not a trap or skeet guy, but shotgunning clay birds is a big deal in Clark County and the lovers of the over-and-under will not be disappointed. There are 24 ultra-modern combination trap and skeet houses. The area wasn’t functioning when I visited (I think it’s going live shortly), so I snapped this photo of the towers standing like a row of mute sentries defending our border for Janet Napolitano.

A 90-meter archery center and a sporting clays area are scheduled to open later this year. Gun rentals? Yeah, they got that, but only for shottys and .22 rifles. An on-site café? Yeah, they got that and a couple of self-service cafeterias, too. Women-only programs and youth programs? Yeah to both. 500 yard rifle shooting range? Coming. You won’t find much missing from this modern shooting center. Visit the Rifle-Pistol, Shotgun, and Archery Centers Wednesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They’re closed Monday and Tuesday.

The cost? $7 bucks a day for rifle, pistol or archery with your equipment and ammo. You can also go whole hog and park your RV in one of 80 full-service sites for $20 a day. Bring the family, have fun and blow shit up. Who could ask for anything more?

Glad you asked. Since this is a government project, there are a few, uh, quirky rules. Here’s one thigh-slapper: B-27 targets are, shall we say, frowned upon. Juniors cannot shoot at a human silhouette target, period. Adults other than LEOS are discouraged from using them, although I did see a couple of B-27s being plugged full of holes by non-LEOs on the pistol range. Due to Harry Reid, political correctness rules, but the rule is not supreme.

Trainers like our Rabbi, along with sporting groups and clubs, can form and register “User Groups” for events and training. Which is great, except there’s another one of those “quirky” rules: no force-on-force training is permitted, except for LEOs. There will be a state of the art training center for the po-po, including force-on-force training that the boys and girls in blue love so much and seem to forget about it once the force turns real. There are all kinds of static training programs for the rest of us, so we won’t feel left too out.

Personally, I’m incensed by the difference in treatment that we receive. Cops have all the fun. LEOs get to carry guns openly with nary a glance, train force-on-force to their heart’s content and shoot people on a regular basis, although it’s discourage during training. We regular folks can’t do either of the latter two. How unfair is that?

After a lengthy tour of the premises, I wanted to get back to the Rio in time for the spectacular (free) floor show in the Masquerade casino before enjoying the seafood buffet. But feeling a little peckish, I just had to stop at this roadside eatery on North Decatur Boulevard. I guess that there are just some things we can never get away from, even in gun country.

comments

  1. avatar miforest says:

    Sounds like a fun place, you guys who have been there should put together a ” must see’ for the armed intelegensia when visiting Los vegas.

  2. avatar TTACer says:

    Lansky was my great-grandmother’s landlord. If you don’t count all that organized crime he was a very nice guy and always looked after her.

  3. avatar Aaron says:

    >I come here for the world-class food, my love of the desert and the great >entertainment. Which includes shooting.

    Full agreement. You nailed everything I love about Vegas, including the desert part.
    It’s a great “gateway” point from which to go see Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and the starkly beautiful terrain contained within the rest of Nevada.

  4. avatar Brad Kozak says:

    I used to make a pilgrimage to Vegas, once a year, for the COMDEX (COMputer Dealer EXpo) show. That show’s now history, and so are my trips to Sin City. As COMDEX was held in November, I can share a baker’s half-dozen factoids about my time there:

    1. Las Vegas has no drainage system for their roads, because it so seldom rains.
    2. It always rained (at least ONE monsoon) during COMDEX.
    3. The cabs and busses can’t handle a show as big as COMDEX, in the rain.
    4. Vegas hated COMDEX, because computer nerds are notoriously cheap.
    5. All the good/expensive shows would go on hiatus that week, to save money.
    6. The coolest thing in Vegas (an indoor skydiving place)
    closed due to fear of injury lawsuits.

    1. avatar Brett Solomon says:

      But if you switch to CES Brad, you’ll now know where to go!

  5. avatar Martin Albright says:

    Salt Lake City also has a very nice public outdoor shooting range on the West end of town near Magna.

    Sadly, even though the greater Denver metro area measures roughly 150 miles long and 50 miles wide (if you go from Fort Collins to Pueblo), and is home to almost half of Colorado’s 4.5 million residents, (plenty of whom own guns) we have only the most meager of public shooting facilities.

    1. avatar Bob H says:

      Here in Northern VA, there is only one “public” shooting facility (that I know of). If by public you mean somewhere where you can walk in off the street and shoot. That is the NRA 50 yard indoor range at their national HQ. Foghorn may know of others. To the best of my knowledge it is 100 miles from my house to a state operated outdoor “range”.

  6. avatar Mike Lussem says:

    I served on the planning committee for the CCSP and moved to Texas before it was a reality. It’s turned out to be an amazing facility, but not quite what we had envisioned. Politics, I guess. With all the praise for Vegas & Clark County, don’t forget that all those Las Vegans are required to register their handguns…the only city/county in the entire state of Nevada that must do so.

  7. avatar Struss says:

    i took my CCW class at the CC Shooting Park, and it was great and waaay out there. i’ve lived in Vegas since ’73 and it was indeed interesting then. the Mob ran legal and honest games and got really, really upset when a customer cheated. they were straight on this and fully expected their customers to be, too. or hands got slammed in doors…
    thanks.

  8. avatar mikeb302000 says:

    Thanks Ralph for a wonderful post about Las Vegas. I lived there in the 70s and visit fairly regularly. Half my family is there.

  9. avatar Jake says:

    You must really hate your family then because remember! At least some of them must be hidden gun nut criminals!

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