Las Vegas Hotels
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, Nov/Dec 00
(continued from page 3)
In a sense, the transformation of the Hilton to a middle-class property marks the end of an era. Hotels used to fly in high rollers on chartered jets, press their clothes upon arrival, even provide pliant women. Frank, Sammy and Dean thought they were living well on the Strip, but it was nothing compared to what the top gamblers were given, according to Payne.
All that generosity had a purpose, of course. "The player knows they're going to lose some money, but if they can go home and say 'I knocked 'em over in Vegas, I stayed at this fabulous place and they gave me this and that and the other,' then the whole thing seems worthwhile," he says. "They say, 'I had it for free.' Of course, they wrote a $49,000 check for the gambling, but they don't think of that." That mindset still exists, but players have become savvier. They know precisely what they're spending, and what they get in return. "I'm glad I'm out of it," Payne says. "It's different now."
Nevertheless, a classier form of the good life lives on at the Bellagio, which is controlled by the business-oriented Kirk Kerkorian. Instead of the Hilton, I checked into one of the nine third-floor villas that Steve Wynn built two years ago for his most devoted customers. My two-bedroom suite contained a full kitchen, including a drawer of Christofle silver. It had a rain-head shower and Hermès cologne in the bathroom, and sinks finished in 24-karat gold.
The suite had its own sauna and exercise room, stocked with a treadmill, stationary bike and massage table. It had cedar-lined closets, hand-carved marble and a formal dining room that seated eight under a chandelier of Murano glass. It had a 3,500-square-foot terrace with soothing green pine trees, a small but perfectly appointed private pool, and a canopied sitting area complete with cool-water mist at the push of a button.
I gazed out through French doors at the pool and the pine trees. I touched a screen and saw a television rise from the cabinet at the foot of my bed. I accessed hundreds of channels of DirecTV and a menu of six dozen music channels. Another button on the screen turned on the waterfall that flowed over marble in my courtyard. Propped up against my plush pillows, I could see it there, cascading into the pool. Above it loomed the top third of that Eiffel Tower.
Three floors below me were some of the finest restaurants in the world, temples of gastronomy like Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Prime, Julian Serrano's Picasso and Sirio Maccioni's Le Cirque, but I couldn't bring myself to leave the room. An elevator just outside my front door led directly to the center of the casino, but I wasn't even tempted. I nibbled pitted dates from a bowl in the living room, filled the suite with soaring arias, and covered two walls of bedroom windows with blackout shades with a single touch. Gambling was fun, but this was better.
And wasn't that a problem? Didn't the Bellagio want me out of my room, feeding the dollar slots until all hours, asking for a hit with a pair of nines, risking a month's pay on a National Football League exhibition game? I asked Lanni, the chairman of MGM-Mirage, the Bellagio's parent company, if my reaction to such overwhelming splendor worried him.
He smiled. "People are looking for quality," he says. "If they have a great experience, they'll stay longer and they'll play longer, and that's what a casino is looking for. And they also understand why they've been invited to the suites. It's because they spend an average amount at the table, and they play for a certain length of time. They know that if they don't live up to that, they won't be invited back. And they want to be invited back."
For many whales, the kick is bragging rights. They know the best addresses in town, and they want to boast to their high-roller friends that they're staying at them. For me, that wasn't a concern; I had no one to brag to. And neither was getting invited back: I wouldn't be.
So as the afternoon sun started to mellow, I set up by my private waterfall on a chaise longue, found Sinatra on the DMX system singing about baubles and bangles, and made myself utterly comfortable in the best hotel room I knew I'd ever encounter. I was staying put until they kicked me out.
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