Moving To Vegas: Expectation vs. Reality


A guest author shares his year of living in Sin City…the great and not-so-great…

Tommy Gun came to the United States to perform in the Aussie Heat male revue. Having lived the Sin City life before returning to his native Australia, he now reflects on his experiences and if they met his preconceived notions of Las Vegas.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                       Tommy (far left) with the cast of Aussie Heat…

We all have expectations. Let’s be honest. We all carry preconceived ideas about new experiences and sometimes they turn out fantastic. Sometimes it just really sucks. G’day everyone, my name is Tommy. I’m from sunny Australia and I lived and worked in Las Vegas for one year. I did as much as I could and experienced everything with an open mind.

“A little bit of everything” I said to myself, because after all it is Vegas, and you have to go ALL IN. When my working VISA was finalized for the USA, I couldn’t have been more excited. My initial thoughts of Las Vegas were fast food everywhere, casinos, flashing lights, millionaires on every corner, HOT weather and nothing to do but drink and gamble.

Boy, was I in for a surprise! Luckily for me, I worked as a dancer for the Aussie Heat show (then known as Aussie Hunks) inside Planet Hollywood Casino. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet many incredible people and experience the ‘real’ Las Vegas.

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       The luxury apartment complex I shared with other members of the cast…

The Food – 

Expectations:

My first thought was I would find it hard to eat healthy. I was concerned there would be junk food everywhere I looked, and eating out would mainly consist of burgers, chips, burritos and everything that is delicious yet naughty. I didn’t think I would find much cultural variety of food to be honest.

Reality:

Wow! What can I say? I’ve never been so wrong. Vegas had a little bit of something for everybody. If you dig deep enough and talk to the right people, you can find food gems!
I was able to eat healthy and also indulge in the naughty foods too.

I’m a “cheap and cheerful” kind of guy. I like good deals, delicious food and generous servings. Nothing too fancy, just a ‘good feed’ is what I love. So for me it was the 24/7 diners that really take the cake. I’m going to mention two of my personal favorites.

Ellis Island – Village Pub Casino Cafe
Just a five-minute walk off the strip, you will find a small casino that frequents the locals. It’s charming yet excessively noisy. The cafe has some of the best food deals you can get. I ordered the ‘NY steak and eggs’ special at least 4 times a week. It only cost $5.99 at the time (11 pm-11 am) and is an ‘off the menu’ deal that only locals know about. Thank me later!

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                          Ellis Island NY Steak and Eggs special is only $5.99

Silver Sevens Casino – Sterling Spoon Cafe
It’s not the most popular casino, but the cafe sure gives you a great deal on the prime rib. Service was okay. Atmosphere? Not that amazing. Do I care? Absolutely not! Like I said, guys, I just enjoy good, satisfying grub, and you can’t go past Silver Sevens with a happy appetite. Try the prime rib meal for only $9.99. It’s great value with good portions. Not the best rib you will ever eat, nor will it be the worst. It’s just a great bargain.

I’ll quickly mention a few other absolute winners you can find:

Holstein’s Shakes and Buns – for the best thick shake in Vegas (and I’ve tried many). Creamy, cold and smooth silky texture just melts in your mouth.

Samba Latte – If you’re a coffee lover like myself and enjoy a good latte, then there is no competition to this world famous cafe located just outside the Monte Carlo Casino. Expensive but worth it. (Editor’s note – Samba Latte is currently closed due to ongoing renovations at Monte Carlo/Park MGM)

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

The stylish interior of ‘Samba Latte’ adds to the hipster vibe of this successful cafe.

Quality of Life

Expectations:

The Millionaires’ Playground is what Vegas is portrayed to be in films. Flashing lights, glamorous girls, limousines, pool parties and lavish lifestyles. I expected to see a well-structured city with a stable economy and plenty of employment for everyone. Since it’s the world’s playground with millions of dollars flowing in and out every year, I thought the everyday locals would have a relatively comfortable income.

Reality:

I was shocked to see how the majority of Las Vegas people were living. Let me share with you a few stories of my experiences. Before our show moved to Planet Hollywood, we were based in the D Hotel Casino on Downtown’s Fremont St. On this particular day, we all had a few hours of free time before the show started so we decided to go work out at the gym.

Upon arrival we discovered the gym was closed for some unknown reason. A bunch of Aussie blokes being our optimistic selves, made the decision to venture by foot into North Las Vegas suburbs to find a playground in which we could do pull ups, calisthenics, etc.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Walking through the suburbia streets, I have never felt so unsafe. We must have stuck out like sore thumbs because we got stares everywhere we went. The neighborhood looked like a scene from Boyz n the Hood. Broken windows boarded up, cracked roofs, rubbish in the front yard, old beaten-down cars, neglected lawns and doors barely hanging on by the hinges.

We found a park and exercised for about 30 minutes before a bunch of ‘gang-banging’-looking kids appeared from the shadows near the basketball court. It looked as though we might have intruded on their ‘turf’. It was at that point we all decided it was a good time to leave, and I’m glad we did because it certainly wasn’t a place we felt welcome.

The day we went for a photo shoot at a studio located near the Stratosphere Casino, I was stupid enough not to pack lunch with me. So during our lunch break I was forced to walk to the casino for a meal. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The houses around and just off the famous Las Vegas Strip were absolute dumps!

Not only was suburbia a shocking sight for us to see, but the poverty extends right next to the tourist hub. Every now and then I would walk past a house that was literally falling apart, yet the car in the driveway would be a brand new Ford F-350 (or something similar) with shiny new rims and tinted windows. If that isn’t a clear signal that a drug dealer lives there, then I don’t know what is.

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This apartment complex located right behind the LINQ Casino was on my walk to work every day. We all called it the “Kitchen Tiles Complex” because of the terrible exterior design.

Things To Do – 

Expectations:

To be honest, I didn’t think there would be much to do In Las Vegas besides drink, gamble and watch the odd Cirque show. My expectations didn’t really extend past there. I set the bar low, and I was genuinely worried I would be bored quickly because I’m not a drinker nor a gambler.

Reality:

I can happily say that I was never once bored during my whole year working in Las Vegas. That’s not an exaggeration…I literally always had things to do. Maybe It was in part due to me being in a show and surrounded by people in the entertainment
industry.

I personally think Vegas has a plethora of activities and entertaining things to do regardless. In my one year as a resident, Vegas surprised and invigorated me enough that I still miss the city to this day. We all know casinos have all kinds of entertainment, ranging from theater shows and shopping to themed bars. But there is a lot to be said about other parts of Vegas besides the obvious.

Brooklyn Bowl –

As a group of dancers, one of our favorite pastimes would be seeing live music at the Brooklyn Bowl. This modern venue which hosts live music, bowling, beer and food is the ultimate night out for those who want a little bit of everything. What I enjoyed most about this venue is the variety of music they had. On a Wednesday you might
see a soul band, Thursday a punk rock band, then on Friday a hip-hop artist. I found myself checking their website every week to see who was playing.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Lake Mead –

Sometime it’s nice to get out of the city for a little bit, and with the beautiful crystal clear Lake Mead only a thirty-minute drive from Las Vegas you can’t go wrong. Wake-boarding was my activity of choice, and when the average summer temperature can reach
104 F, there nothing better than the feeling of fresh cool water on your skin.

Sometimes the pool parties just won’t cut it, especially when you’re not in the mood to deal with drunk obnoxious people and overpriced drinks. There are also a host of other water activities to choose from and the scenic backdrop of the desert mountains just tops off the real American-style landscape you expect to see as a foreigner.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

A picture I took at Drai’s Beach Club, and a still from a video of my fiancé wake boarding at Lake Mead. Which do you prefer? Personally, I will take Lake Mead any day

ATV Tours –

As you can see, I’m a lover of extreme activities and outdoors adventures. So it’s no surprise I’m also advocating these super-fun ATV tours in the Las Vegas desert. Seriously, what better way to see the incredible Nevada landscape AND experience an adrenaline-rushing activity?

The more I Googled “things to do in Vegas” the more I found! I couldn’t have been happier with the variety of entertainment options for all kinds of people. So much for “only drinking and gambling”. It turns out Las Vegas has so much more to offer. If all you do is sit at slot machines when you’re in town, then you’re doing it wrong! You need to start living life!

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                    My fiancé and I on an ATV tour in the Vegas Desert.

The Grand Canyon –

I feel compelled to finish off my outdoor activity rant by advocating the incredible and vast Grand Canyon in Arizona. Yes, it’s nowhere near Las Vegas, and it’s not even in Nevada, but it’s something you HAVE to see! Words can’t describe how amazing this mile-deep geological wonder is.

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If you decide to go, see it either when the sun rises or the sun sets. It’s simply a magical experience when the light captures all the crevasses and ridges of the canyon as the sun moves across the horizon.

The drive to the Skywalk is only roughly two hours. The entrance to the National Park where you can test yourself with a day trek is only a four-hour drive. If you don’t like to drive, there are many helicopter companies that offer tours over the Canyon at affordable prices.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                      Taking in the beauty of Grand Canyon national park.

The People

Expectations:

Having not known much about Las Vegas, I expected to see mostly white people…overweight and very loud. Why? Because in my experiences with Americans in Australia, that’s usually what I saw. It was more of a subconscious expectation and not something that I premeditated.

Reality:

Much can be said about people anywhere in the world. There is good and bad everywhere you look. I would like to talk about one aspect of the Las Vegas people that genuinely surprised me. The variety was astonishing.

There were people from all walks of life. I discovered that Las Vegas not only had white people, but also a huge Latino population, African Americans, Asians, Europeans and even Islanders. I may seem naive to you, but I did not expect this magnitude of cultural variety. Las Vegas seems to to bring people from all over the world, and I think if you live here long enough you are blessed to see, meet and talk to many people with all different views on life.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Being part of the Aussie Heat show’s cast, I had to opportunity to mingle with the audience after the show and get photos etc. The thing I enjoyed most about this was meeting the people from all over America. I was learning about people from North Carolina to Oregon. From all different backgrounds, religions and cultures, I learned that America is such a diverse place.

I believe many people in Australia fall into the trap of generalizing the people in California as ‘all of America’ because that’s usually all we see from Hollywood films. The truth is, the people from Texas to New York couldn’t be any more different!

Casinos

Expectations:

Having seen films such as The Hangover, Ocean’s Eleven and What Happens in Vegas, once again I had the Hollywood perspective of casinos. I expected lavish lights, cocktail waitresses, fancy interiors and the lure of the ‘High Roller’ lifestyle.

Reality:

I have mixed emotions here. There are some things I love, and some things I hate about the main attraction to Las Vegas tourists. Yes, the films were pretty, accurate in my opinion. The casinos really are an adult’s playground with a little bit of something for everyone, but there are definite drawbacks.

I simply couldn’t get enough of the Cirque du Soleil shows. Simply amazing…jaw dropping. I clapped until my hands hurt. If I had enough expendable income I would have seen every Cirque show, but alas I could only see two – Zumanity and . Tickets are expensive, but when you witness the amazing performances and life-threatening stunts, you understand why.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

              Backstage with the cast of KÂ. I’m at the back, trust me!

Most casinos boast successful shows, millions in revenue from gambling and shopping, amazing decor and nightclubs packed to the brim. You would think these places make a killing, and they do! However with all the millions of dollars in revenue, there are certain casinos that charge for parking! Say what?

At this point do you really need to suck every single cent out of your loyal (sometimes gambling-addicted) customers? I think it’s sad. And I would think if parking was free (like it is in most places), your customers would appreciate it and return more often (resulting in better profit over the long term).

With that aside, I LOVE the attention to detail in the aesthetics of both the interior and exterior of the buildings, with special mention to Venetian, Caesars Palace, Bellagio and New York NY. They represent the intended themes perfectly. Having personally traveled to Venice, Rome, Lake Bellagio in Italy and New York City, I can safely say that the decor did each location justice. I didn’t feel as though they were a cheap rip-off, but more of a homage to the intended locations.

 

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                             The fabulous New York NY casino exterior… 

However, once inside, my spirit became a little dampened by the people occupying it. I feel as though Las Vegas, while fun for adults, should not be a place to bring your children on holiday if you are gambling. Let’s be honest here, most parents coming here are spending lots of time on the casino floor.

Imagine taking your beloved dog to the beach, but instead of letting him swim and run around playfully in the waves, you keep him on a leash and sit on the walkway chair texting on your phone. Bringing your kids to Vegas is just as bad.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

     The ‘Pitbull’ concert I attended at Planet Hollywood – he did an amazing job!

I’m glad I chose to work for one year in Las Vegas, It’s been one of the best choices I have ever made. All in all, Vegas really surprised me and taught me lessons I would never have learned otherwise.

If you haven’t been to Las Vegas yet, you simply must go at least once. It’s a city full of surprises.

Tommy Gun has returned to his native Australia and now operates his own entertainment company – Gold Coast Male Strippers. You can visit his website for more information, pictures and videos. 

Photos: Tommy Gun

 

 

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Vegas Don’ts: “What Was I Thinking?”


A YOUNG MOTHER SHARES HOW TAKING HER CHILD TO SIN CITY RUINED HER LOVE FOR LAS VEGAS…

Not long ago I struck up a conversation with a staffer at my orthodontist appointment (in Salem, Oregon where I moved from last fall). When asked what I do for a living, I described my column and how it offers unfiltered reviews/advice/news on all things Vegas. Her reply was an unpleasant “Ugh…Vegas!”.

Obviously there was a story behind her response. “I went to Vegas recently” she offered. “It’ll be a long time before I go back…if ever.” It turns out that she and her husband had decided to take their eighteen-month-old baby for a few days in Sin City. “What was I thinking? It was a miserable experience”.

As a person who cringes at the sight of little children being dragged around Vegas at all hours (and in truly inappropriate locations), I was eager to explore this young mother’s experiences. But more importantly, I had to find out what would ever possess her to take a baby there in the first place.

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“I used to hear that it was a cool place for kids. Lots of fun things for them to see and do – animal attractions, amusement rides, neat stores and lots of things to look at. I figured we could stick to those sorts of activities. And if one of us had the itch to do something more “adult”, my husband and I could trade off watching the baby”.

Well, let’s be honest and take a look at that last statement…doing something “more adult”. That’s the REAL reason any grown-up heads to Las Vegas – for things you can’t experience in your everyday life. But don’t some parents want to have their cake and eat it, too?

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                Check this out, kids. Can you say “Gentleman’s Club”?

Carrot Top frequently disses Vegas-bound families in his comedy show. “What the #&*! is it with all the kids on the Strip?” he asks. “Drugs, booze, gambling, and prostitutes. Yeah, bring the kids!” he intones. And he is so very right.

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The fact is that there is absolutely NOTHING family-oriented in and around the Strip (excluding natural attractions like Red Rock Canyon) that can’t be done cheaper/better/funner somewhere else. Your kids want a rollercoaster ride? There are family parks all over the nation. Animal attractions? Same thing. And those places aren’t surrounded by “porn slappers”, suggestive billboards, inebriated revelers, homeless beggars and adults doing grown-up things with a drink in their hand.

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Then there’s that small matter of temptation. All the things that parents want to do when the kiddies aren’t around are suddenly within reach 24/7. Sure, parents can trade off, leaving one adult feeling left out and completely eliminating the opportunity to do things together as a couple or family. Or little Bobby can stay with a sitter in the hotel room while you get your groove on. And that circles right back around to “Why did you bring your children here in the first place?”. Could it be absolute and utter selfishness?

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  Another role-model mother lavishes attention on her brood at Fremont Street…

That selfishness manifests itself in another significant but frequently unmentioned way. Having your children around in an adult playground completely disregards the fact that many if not most Vegas tourists come here to GET AWAY FROM KIDS! A screeching, bawling baby on the casino floor at 2 am is hardly what somebody wants to hear when they’re about to roll the dice.

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Who feels like watching their language and behavior when they’re strolling around with a cocktail in their hand? I’ve encountered situations where entitled parents have scolded revelers both on the Strip and at Fremont Street with a stern “Watch your mouth, there are kids here!”.

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    Family outing to Budweiser Beer Park at midnight. Nothing wrong here…

Alrighty, mom….that’s your fault, not theirs. Thanks for displaying your self-importance and driving a stake through other peoples’ good times. Nobody wanted to stumble over your rugrats on their way to the bar. Put them in bed or leave them at Grandma’s house…where they belong.

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  Little Sally loves dancing in the streets….right next to that stumbling drunk…

While these parents are here spoiling fun for others, they also make it difficult for our service employees to do their job. I’ve witnessed a mom and dad arguing with Golden Nugget security to allow them to bring their stroller out onto the Fremont Street Experience after midnight on New Year’s Eve, despite the fact that 1) it was an over-21 ticketed event, 2) there were thousands of drunk people crammed into that tiny four-block area, and 3) their baby didn’t even have a blanket over it and the temperature was below freezing.

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      Don’t worry, kids. Security only comes around every 30 minutes or so…

Another common thing I see is parents allowing their children to sit at slot machines, which is blatantly against the law. After security comes and orders them to get up, those irresponsible moms and dads tell them “Okay, he’s gone. You can sit back down now”. What a way to teach your children right from wrong, eh?

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How about that time I spotted Dad sitting down with his two boys at the LINQ Sports Book. Or the Mom that settled in with her babies at the Art Bar of Downtown Grand for a little story time? Again they had to argue with security when informed that they weren’t allowed here. It’s a scenario that just gets repeated over and over and over….

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           A model mother reads to her children at downtown’s ART BAR…

“Kids in Vegas” is one of the hottest and most volatile subjects on any Vegas message board. I’ve gotten into many a heated discussion with those of dissenting opinions. My stance is that your children should vacation in places meant for children. A tourist destination promoting “sin” is not that place.

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The most frequent defense that people use for being pro-kids is “My parents took me to Vegas and I turned out alright”. But did you really? There are plenty of parents who would contend that deliberately exposing children to the dangers and excess of Las Vegas is anything but “alright”.

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   I watched this inspirational family hop the monorail gates without paying…

The classic Vegas of a few decades back is long gone, my friends. Mobsters notwithstanding, the Strip and Fremont Street are much grittier and more dangerous now than ever before. Visits here are no longer classy affairs filled with evening gowns, elegance and lounge singers.  

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I’m cutting straight to the truth at this point. Contemporary Vegas is the worst place for a caring parent to take a kid. It regularly sees violent crime in the streets, casinos and sidewalks. Shoot-outs, robberies, murders, police stand-offs and a deliberate attack on Strip pedestrians by a motorist have filled headlines in recent months. I could also bring up the deadliest massacre in modern American history if you’d like, but if you haven’t gotten my point by now you’re never going to.

Then of course there are the rapes, muggings, pick-pocketing, suicides, drug overdoses, etc. that go unreported or unpublicized. You’re unlikely to encounter any of that with your family at Magic Mountain or Lego Land.

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Here are a few sobering statistics to consider before packing  a suitcase for the little ones:

The overall crime rate in Las Vegas is 37% higher than the national average.

For every 100,000 people, there are 10.73 daily crimes that occur in Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas you have a 1 in 26 chance of becoming a victim of any crime.

Las Vegas is graded an F for crime compared to all U.S. cities.  (Source – areavibes.com)

Another popular argument from parents who bring their families to Vegas is “The kids wanted to go”. Did they, really? If so, ask yourself where their information comes from. Surely your precious little ones haven’t been allowed to watch The Hangover or CSI. So they must be hearing how fun Vegas is from Mom and Dad, right?

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It’s doubtful that parents share the true Vegas experience with their kids. Those descriptions get sanitized and romanticized, leading kids to envision the city as one big carnival. Somewhere along the way, details about drinking, gambling, smoking joints, three-ways and lap dances got left out of the story. So don’t blame the kids if you’ve made Vegas sound appealing to them.

Remember that bizarre 90’s attempt to rebrand Vegas as family-friendly destination? It’s now viewed as ill-advised phase, if not downright embarrassing. Most of the rides, attractions, free shows and kid-friendly casino themes have been scaled down or stripped out altogether.

Back then, the MGM Grand had a theme park and the hotel itself was designed as a replica of Emerald City. But Dorothy and the Munchkins are long gone, and with good reason. The concept didn’t work.

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Let’s circle back to the mom at the beginning of this piece. She told me that bringing her baby along truly spoiled the love she and her husband felt for Vegas. “We couldn’t do anything we wanted to do. I felt guilty – just awful – for exposing my baby to that kind of environment. It made me second-guess what I loved about going there, and it’s unlikely that we’ll be returning before my daughter grows up”.

She paused to think for a moment, then offered a final bit of wisdom that stuck with me…and inspired this article.

“You know, we’re the ones who wanted to be parents. Nobody forced us to take our child along. We chose to do that ourselves. Only one of those decisions was a mistake…and we won’t be making it again”.

Other sites give you a glossy vision of Sin City…you won’t find that here. Get real.

 Photos: Sam Novak