Venturesome and intrepid Cooper (Pinochet and Me, 2001, etc.) becomes an embedded correspondent in a modern Xanadu designed to entice Kubla Khan, Hunter Thompson, and anyone with a spare buck.
In 1947, as the mob was taking charge of the place, legendary reporter John Gunther characterized Las Vegas as “very show-offish.” Maybe the town isn’t as mobbed-up as it was, but Vegas is still show-offish, as Cooper nicely demonstrates. Mind you, there have been changes. The Desert Inn has been demolished, gambling is called “gaming,” the Rat Pack is gone, and—who was Howard Hughes, again? Mega-corporations, bigger than Steve Wynn, control the Strip’s mega-hotels, where the comps for meals and shows are fully computerized. The New Vegas is a place where big gamblers (the whales) are courted scientifically, where gaming profit (the drop) is precisely analyzed for greater yield, where clunky one-armed bandits are supplanted by TV and computer screens, where there are professors of gambling, where the blackjack shoes hold more and more cards. Yet you can still find full-service lap dancers and made guys alongside the inevitable tourists. Positioning Vegas as a destination for jolly family fun is a loser, though: kids don’t gamble . . . yet. Maybe blatant jingoism will play better. To complete his winning guide to the New Vegas biosphere, Cooper leaves the Strip and the Fremont mall and turns a dark corner to find abject homelessness. The city’s blemished history, arcane politics and artful politicos, owners, and workers are all considered in his testimony about a sleazy, campy, and transfixing place where people make a good living from the leavings of the suckers. Incidentally, Cooper is partial to blackjack.
True Americana from an in-your-face town that is growing faster than any other in the US.