“Start spreading the news, I´m leaving today, I want to be a part of it, Las Vegas… ” If only it sounded better on the ear, because this is the town Sinatra should´ve been singing about. It was Vegas that made ole Blue Eyes. And if any town deserves a song written about it, it has to be this one. Nowhere in the world is there a place more entwined with murder, the mob, high rollers and prizefighter showdowns. It all began when Nevada became the first state in the US to legalise casino-style gambling, although not before it became the last western state to, reluctantly, outlaw gambling, only weeks before.
At midnight, October 1, 1910, a strict anti-gambling law became effective, even forbidding the western custom of flipping a coin for a drink.
The Nevada State Journal newspaper reported: “Stilled forever is the click of the roulette wheel, the rattle of dice and the swish of cards”.
Forever turned out to be less than three weeks. It was this legislation that was to build what would become the biggest gambling and sporting showcase city on earth.
In the 1940s infamous Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky was the first to realise that an area with legalised gambling offered far more profits than illegal casinos.
It was this “dream” that started it all and in partnership with Bugsy Siegel and a bankroll of over six million dollars in Mafia money, they built the Flamingo Casino in 1946 that became the most famous casino of all.
Vegas grew like a tumour and became the new hotspot for anyone with Mob connections, and by the 1950s also became the place to be seen by the rich and famous.
Sinatra was the star most synanmous with the town, and the Mob for that matter. He first performed here at the Desert Inn in 1951 and last performed at the 5000 room MGM Grand in 1994. He also alledgedly had a gun put to his head while staying in town by a mob hitman who thought he was going to rat on him to police.
Las Vegas fortunes
Many fortunes have been made and lost in this town of opportunity. Australian Joe Hachem was a big Australian winner, claiming $10 million in prizemoney at the 2005 World Series Of Poker No Limit Hold’em Championship at the Rio Las Vegas.
Poker was never a big Vegas game, edged out by favourites like Blackjack, roulette and craps, but has now undergone a resurgence in demand with the prizemoney and prestige of the World Poker Championships.
You can chance your hand at the Rio, Harrah’s Poker Room at the Las Vegas Casino or Binnions’ Poker Room at Binnions Las Vegas Circus.
As a spectactor sport, it sure beats the slot machines, although don’t expect to see too many cowboys, slick city businessmen now favour the game.
Vegas is the ultimate game of chance, Kerry Packer was once famously rumoured to have dropped $10 million in a day, dealers dressed as your favourite Hollywood starlet can deal your cards and the drinks come free of charge all day and night.
High rollers can be found everywhere, over here they call them ‘whales’ because they do everything big.
In Vegas you can’t be considered a whale unless you drop at least $500 000 an hour on the gaming tables. Whales stay at the Las Vegas Hilton which has the most expensive suites in town or MGM’s The Mansion and gamble in both these hotels.
Next on the list is Bellagio’s and Caesar’s Palace. You might want to start your gambling if you’re a novice by attending free lessons on a variety of games that most casinos offer.
Also watch the game you’re interested in playing to gain insights and don’t be afraid to ask the dealers questions. Always remember to check the table limits for the minimum bet to avoid embarrassment.
Las Vegas boxing
Las Vegas’s emergence as the world’s most significant boxing destination also started around the 40s and 50s.
The first Vegas fight promoter was either an eternal optimist, or some might say, a downright liar. American Archie Moore had moved up a division to take on Cuban heavyweight Nino Valdes in May, 1955.
Promoter Jack Doc Kearns claimed more than 14 000 people would watch the outdoor fight. He talked hotels into offering money to stage the bout but fell well short with just 6000 viewers.
Nevertheless it paved the way for other promoters to follow suit and before long the biggest fights in world boxing were staged here.
The MGM Grand and Caesar’s Palace became the world’s most famous fighting venues, bearing witness to some of sport’s most glorious, and inglorious moments (you can watch the weigh-ins at both hotels even if you’re not lucky enough to nab hotly contested tickets).
It was here Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear in 1997 in perhaps the most infamous night ever in boxing history, it was also here fans saw the final decline of the great man himself, Muhammed Ali in 1980.
Ali fought eight times in Vegas over 19 years, an era that began in 1961 when he defeated giant Hawaiian Duke Sabedong pronouncing famously that he would be the greatest boxer of all time, to his sad demise against Larry Holmes.
LA rapper Tupac was gunned down on September 7, 1996 as he exited the MGM Grand after Mike Tyson knocked out Bruce Seldon. He died hours later.
It was also the site of one of our own biggest sporting controversies when Jeff Fenech was denied his rightful WBC Super Feather Weight title against Azumah Nelson. Every title fight is an occasion in Vegas and is the best time to visit.
If star gazing is your thing, you’ll never see more stars in one city. Invited by the venues themselves to up the excitement factor, stars such as Jack Nicholson, Owen Wilson, Puff Daddy, Woody Harrelson, Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Vaughan, Christina Aguilera and 50 Cent are given the choice of any room in the house with ringside seats by the MGM Grand or Caesar’s Palace.
Five Biggest Fights in Las Vegas
1. Muhammed Ali vs Larry Holmes, 1980
After a two year retirement from the sport and at the age of 38 Ali’s attempt to win his fourth world heavyweight boxing championship ended when he couldn’t answer the bell for the 11th round. Fans that night knew they’d seen the last of arguably boxing’s greatest ever fighter, he retired with his next fight.
2. Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield, 1997
It will be go down in history as boxing’s most infamous night of nights. A rejuvenated Tyson was hotly tipped to win this WBA Heavyweight showdown on the night of June 28, 1997 at the MGM Grand but by the third round it was clear Tyson was in trouble. As he hang on desperately he bit off part of Holyfield’s ear. When he repeated the act, the referee had no choice but to disqualify him.
3. Jeff Fenech vs Azzumah Nelson, 1991
Perhaps the greatest sham in the history of professional boxing, Fenech was denied the WBC Featherweight title when judges declared the fight a draw despite Fenech destroying Nelson in numerous rounds, particularly the twelfth when Fenech almost won by knock out. In the aftermath Fenech accused promoter Don King of rigging the fight and vowed never to fight in America again.
4. Muhammed Ali vs Leon Spinks, 1978
Again it was Ali who provided the memories, although again it was his defeat that will be long remembered at Vegas. Ali was pitted against a much younger opponent in Leon Spinks on February 15, 1978, and looked to have him covered for most of the bout. The fight went the distance and the crowd was divided as to had won, although sentiment was with the champ.
5. Oscar de la Hoya vs Felix Trinidad, 1999
De la Hoya lost a 12 round majority decision against unbeaten IBF Champion Felix Trinidad in what was dubbed one of the best fights in Vegas history. The two boxing superstars fought a close fight before Trinidad took the fight with a series of straight right hand punches to come from behind in the final four rounds.
Read more about these matching destinations in Canada and the USA.