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The Best Bets in Vegas

A triumph of artifice or a gauche travesty?With Las Vegas, it all comes down to how you feel about indoor sunsets, headline entertainers you've never heard of (Danny Gans: Man of Many Voices) or had forgotten all about (the Everly Brothers) and golf courses thriving on the northern rim of the Mohave Desert, thanks to annual water bills that can push seven figures. A young bride in billowing white rolling her luggage through the hotel casino: Where else are you going to see this?A fifty-million-dollar layout that utterly and jaw-droppingly denies its desert setting: Where else are you going to see this?

Only in Vegas, thank goodness, and I was delighted to be back as I rolled down the Strip in my upgraded Town Car, aimed toward the venerable Desert Inn, home for this golfing holiday because I knew the place would be quiet and because the sto-ried golf course is the only one left on the Strip. The old Dunes layout now shoulders the weight of the Bellagio; the Tropicana eighteen, the MGM Grand. Long gone, in more ways than one, are the days when the main action out here was hard-nosed Texas Whip-Out.

However, this is no loss for me because I don't gamble. I don't enjoy that you-poor-sap look of the pit bosses. It's easy enough to poke fun at the slots players with their plastic cups, but actually they have the right idea. At least they can conceivably win a huge payout by wagering one coin, while I cannot get so lucky at the tables, where I'd need to hit an incredible run of luck hand after hand after hand, walk away and never come back for the rest of my life. Gambling is an embarrassingly transparent alpha-male display if you're so rich the money doesn't matter, or a pathetic pipe dream if you're not.

So I tossed and turned that first night in town. The absurdity gnawed at my sleepless soul. Then I realized, wait a minute: Golf is the same way, "flog" spelled backward, as we all understand. Maybe the biggest difference is that the casinos conspire to deceive us in many ways--my favorite is the resounding clank of the heavy coins spilling into the metal bins of the slots so that five bucks sound like five million--whereas golf courses, and desert layouts especially, are quite up-front about the deal: Here is the fairway, there is the desert, good luck! Driving into town from L.A., I had visions of driving the ball as long and straight as that brilliant white contrail traced across the pure blue sky. Alas, it didn't happen often enough.

Gambling and golf: For most of us, what's the difference?We're inveterate dreamers, and we're losing.

The Las Vegas Paiutes are a small tribe of only fifty-four members, some of whom live in the community of houses right across the Reno highway from the thirty-six-hole resort they own and operate about twenty miles northwest of the Strip. These natives of the land were officially recognized by Congress as a sovereign nation in 1970, and they were allocated four thousand acres of this desert in 1983. They also own two tribal smoke shops, one at the entrance to the resort, one on a twenty-acre parcel downtown that was deeded to them by a friendly rancher in 1911. This urban shop is the largest single retailer of cigarettes in the United States and one of the ten largest nongaming businesses in this state.

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