Details – January 2001

It is 9:30 on a Friday morning in Las Vegas. In his stocking feet, Steve Cyr is pacing the mauve-carpeted floor of his home office, a shrine to his success, its walls papered with photos of Cyr doing the shake-and-smile with Larry Flynt, Michael Jordan, and Baron Hilton. A photocopy of a $59,000 commission check has been framed, compensation for a record-breaking month’s work at the Atlantis Casino in the Bahamas.

Jutting from Cyr’s square jaw is the mouthpiece of a state-of-the-art-headset. He punches a series of numbers into his telephone keypad and stares down at a sheet of information procured from the online service Central Credit. The casino equivalent of TRW, Central Credit tracks the credit lines and losses of the biggest, fattest players around the world, a.k.a. whales. Tall, buff, and wearing a maroon sport shirt tucked into a pair of knife-creased black slacks, the 36-year-old has a dirty job: As a consultant on the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino payroll, Cyr is charged with blasting all other casinos out of the water.

A tight smile spreads across his face as a voice on the other end of the line answers. It’s male, Middle Eastern, cocky.

“Mr. M.? It’s Steve Cyr. I know you remember me,” Cyr says to a man he’s never met in his life. He glances down at the paper in front of him to get his facts straight: “I was in the pit at Caesars, on New Year’s Eve in ’97. You really fired it up that night!”

There is no response. That $30,000 reaming was the worst in M.’s twelve years as a gambler. He’ll remember it for the rest of his life. (Cyr says gamblers like to bond over their losses.)

“When are you gonna be in town again?” Cyr asks, shuffling around his office, punctuating the conversation with rhythmic jabs and right hooks. “I’m working with the Hard Rock now. I want to buy you dinner. And listen, not only do I have great seats for Don Henley, but because I’m the man, I’ll take you to meet him after the show.””Actually, I’m coming next month for the national finals rodeo,” says Mr. M. a bit cautiously.

“Wow, the rodeo is fantastic,” says Cyr, as enthusiastic as George W. buddy-buddying a rich rancher. “We’ve got third-row seats, right where the bulls come out.”

“You do?” says Mr. M., pawing the dirt.

“Yeah, but, shit,” – here comes the lasso – “you’ve got to stay at the Hard Rock to get them.”

“I already have commitments at the Mandalay Bay,” Mr. M. says, sounding disappointed. “That’s where I like to gamble.”

This is old news. Cyr got M.’s name from a mole working at the Mandalay who heard M. was poised for a visit. Cyr, a former vitamin salesman whose memoir Whale Hunt in the Desert will be published later this year by Huntington Press, maintains a network of 40 or so bartenders, dealers, go-go dancers, and hotel clerks. They happily trade just this sort of privileged information for gifts ranging from fight tickets to limo rides to four-star dinners. Cyr knew this was exactly what M. would tell him. Thanks to Central Credit, he also knows that M. generally loses something in the vicinity of $12,000 per visit to Vegas, that he maintains a credit line of $50,000, keeps more than$100,000 in his checking account, and has never stiffed a casino. In short, a 24-karat customer.

“I can give you 1,000 good reasons why you ought to stay at the Hard Rock,” says Cyr. In plain English, $1,000 in free gambling funds. His eyes grazing his cheat sheet, Cyr notes that M. has just turned 40.

“Plus you know that the Hard Rock attracts the best pussy in town. I guarantee you’ll have a blast here.”

M. hesitates for a beat, mulling things over. Then he mentions something about not wanting to let down his friends at the Mandalay. “Don’t worry about them, Mr. M.,” Cyr assures. “I’m pals with the guys at the Mandalay. I can call one of my buddies there and have him straighten everything out for you.”

“Fuck it,” says M. “I’ll stay with you.”

After a few pleasantries, Cyr hangs up, works out the necessary credit clearances, places a quick call to the Mandalay to cancel M.’s reservation, and smiles. He disconnects himself from the headset and saunters into his living room, which houses a half-dozen arcade games and a full-size jukebox – no sofas, no coffee table. Punching up Lenny Kravitz’s “American Woman,” he settles in for a dozen aggressive games of pinball on his Meteor machine.

In the desert, there is war. And it’s guys like Cyr, foot soldiers operating under the benign sobriquet “casino host,” who make it impossible for the sundazed gamblers and milk-fed tourists who have flooded Sin City this past year to duck the fusillade off amenities and diversions, the dueling star-endowed restaurants, the deafening nightclubs, the semi-legal skin trade, the sprawling, no-exit gaming halls, the post-Liberace circuses. What keeps them coming? Express elevators to high-roller floors at the Mandalay Bay. Waterfalls in the backyards of the Bellagio’s top suites. The personal attention hose-down (“Last week,” says Cyr, “I took a guy’s wife on a $10,000 shopping spree, buying her shoes, dresses, a Prada bag while her husband sat in the casino and lost $250,000″). Sometimes, for the right players, casinos go beyond what’s officially on the menu – but not for the reasons you’d think.

“If you’re a high roller and you want a girl for the night, some casinos will discreetly arrange that,” says Bill Thompson, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and an expert on casino management. “The last thing casinos want is for one of their comped to arrange his own company and become so infatuated with the girl that he spends all his time and money on her rather than on the casino.”

While Las Vegas has always been an up-for-grabs kind of place, the stakes are now higher than ever. The cost of opening a knockout 3,000-room casino on the Strip currently exceeds $1 billion, and each new joint is obliged to obliterate its predecessor.

Last year, after pompadour hotel honcho Steve Wynn was bought of his notoriously upscale Bellagio and Mirage operations, he purchased the quietly elegant 700-room Desert Inn – complete with tennis courts and a rare on-premises golf course. He immediately set about to strafe the guests and lay off the employees. It didn’t matter that the property had been renovated in 1997; everyone knew Wynn was reaching for the dynamite. Like the Aladdin, Sands, and Dunes before it, the D.I. will be rebuilt from the ground up.

While there are those who would criticize Wynn for desecrating a Vegas landmark, he’s not apologetic about this sort of thing. “Developers develop,” he says. “It’s a sickness, like with the problem gamblers. I’m a compulsive builder.” Jokingly, he adds, “As long as I take my medication, I’m not a threat to anyone except myself.”

WHILE THE DISNEYFIED ATTRACTIONS ALONG THE STRIP VIE FOR MIDDLE America’s affections, hotels with Old World conceits such as the Bellagio (opened in 1998), the Venetian (1999), and the hyper-discreet 29-villa Mansion at the MGM Grand (1999) fight for the high-rolling gamblers with private pools, Picassos, and terraces as big as standard hotel suites. Hipster havens such as the Mandalay Bay (1999), the Hard Rock (1995), and the Rio (1990) scrap for younger, with-it gamblers by offering live rock acts, outlandish swimming pools, an lounges that the town’s better-looking prostitutes and strippers tend to brazenly infiltrate after midnight. “People are coming more and staying longer,” says Jason Ader, senior gaming analyst at Bear Stearns. “Revenue growth is around 14 percent.”

The ceaseless bray of exhibitionism is inescapable. There are dealers in white-tie manning the Aladdin’s James Bond-style London Room. Wet bars and TVs in the poolside cabanas at the Bellagio. Twenty-two-telephone suites at Caesars. Aureole and the China Grill at the Mandalay Bay. The Luxor was all set to rent a real mummy from the Egyptian government for $2 million a year before a diplomat insisted it be placed somewhere more dignified than next to a craps table (a condition that cursed the deal).

Every casino wants to keep the new gamblers flowing like Petrus, but into its own crystal goblet. “If I find out that a guy I want is coming to stay at a competing hotel,” says one host with Borgia’s stomach for intrigue, “I will call that hotel and cancel everything on him – his room, his limo, his ticket for the fight if there is one that weekend. Then, when he lands at the airport, preferably after a long, disorienting flight, guess who’s standing there with a sign that has his name on it? I’ll tell him I’m taking him to my hotel. At this point, it’s difficult for him to say no. Once we get there, he’s suddenly being brought up to the best suite, a bottle of something is one ice, and in the middle of the living room, there’s a karaoke machine.”

What if he still doesn’t want to stay there?

“Well, he doesn’t have to stay here the whole time,” says the host. “I just want him to give me some action.”

And a spurt of action in one area or another can have enormous consequences. Vegas now has more annual visitors than Mecca – an estimated 36.7 million, according to the local convention ad visitors authority. Gaming revenues generated by those who filled the city’s 123,245 hotel rooms dropped $6 billion for the year 2000 through September, a large wad of which landed in the pocket of the reclusive Bert Lahr-look-alike mogul Kirk Kerkorian.

As the majority shareholder of the recently christened, publicly traded MGM-Mirage – which own six Vegas hotels, including Strip leaders the Mirage, the Bellagio, and the MGM Grant – Kerkorian has emerged as the kingpin with the best castles. “One of the most important things you can do in Las Vegas is capture the wallet,” says Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Andrew Zarnett. “If you have a customer who wants to leave your hotel for an evening but you can send him to one of the other hotels you own rather than to a competitor’s, you have succeeded at doing what you want to do: You’ve taken some of tat person’s wallet.”

MGM-Mirage controls 25 percent of the rooms in Vegas and attracts 50 percent of the high-end play, says Zarnett. All it cost Kerkorian was a precisely timed $6.4 billion offer last March, as Steve Wynn was reeling from his star-crossed gamble on a glistening new Mississippi casino. The semi-hostile takeover landed MGM at the top of the Vegas hotel heap even as it eradicated MGM’s most serious competitor.

Wynn won’t talk about the takeover. But that doesn’t stop bystanders from weighing in. “Steve was treated unfairly by Wall Street,” says Zarnett. “When everything was going great, he was the smartest guy in the world. Then, following a few hiccups, all of a sudden he could do nothing right. What nobody can deny is that Steve Wynn is a great innovator.”

Ader at Bear Stearns points out that with the ritzy restaurants, art-spackled public spaces, and spas, it was Wynn who made non-gambling Vegas more appealing to a broader segment of the market. Wynn made a Desert Inn financing proposal to Deutsche Bank that just wasn’t attractive, says Ader. Now he is working with pachinko- machine magnate Kazuo Okada, who is trying to secure a casino license: “I don’t think Wynn likes Wall Street. He feels like Wall Street doesn’t understand the business,” Ader notes.

“If you’re a high roller and you want a girl for the night, some casinos will discreetly arrange that,” says Bill Thompson, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and an expert on casino management. “The last thing casinos want is for one of their comped to arrange his own company and become so infatuated with the girl that he spends all his time and money on her rather than on the casino.”

While Las Vegas has always been an up-for-grabs kind of place, the stakes are now higher than ever. The cost of opening a knockout 3,000-room casino on the Strip currently exceeds $1 billion, and each new joint is obliged to obliterate its predecessor.

Last year, after pompadour hotel honcho Steve Wynn was bought of his notoriously upscale Bellagio and Mirage operations, he purchased the quietly elegant 700-room Desert Inn – complete with tennis courts and a rare on-premises golf course. He immediately set about to strafe the guests and lay off the employees. It didn’t matter that the property had been renovated in 1997; everyone knew Wynn was reaching for the dynamite. Like the Aladdin, Sands, and Dunes before it, the D.I. will be rebuilt from the ground up.

While there are those who would criticize Wynn for desecrating a Vegas landmark, he’s not apologetic about this sort of thing. “Developers develop,” he says. “It’s a sickness, like with the problem gamblers. I’m a compulsive builder.” Jokingly, he adds, “As long as I take my medication, I’m not a threat to anyone except myself.”

WHILE THE DISNEYFIED ATTRACTIONS ALONG THE STRIP VIE FOR MIDDLE America’s affections, hotels with Old World conceits such as the Bellagio (opened in 1998), the Venetian (1999), and the hyper-discreet 29-villa Mansion at the MGM Grand (1999) fight for the high-rolling gamblers with private pools, Picassos, and terraces as big as standard hotel suites. Hipster havens such as the Mandalay Bay (1999), the Hard Rock (1995), and the Rio (1990) scrap for younger, with-it gamblers by offering live rock acts, outlandish swimming pools, an lounges that the town’s better-looking prostitutes and strippers tend to brazenly infiltrate after midnight. “People are coming more and staying longer,” says Jason Ader, senior gaming analyst at Bear Stearns. “Revenue growth is around 14 percent.”

The ceaseless bray of exhibitionism is inescapable. There are dealers in white-tie manning the Aladdin’s James Bond-style London Room. Wet bars and TVs in the poolside cabanas at the Bellagio. Twenty-two-telephone suites at Caesars. Aureole and the China Grill at the Mandalay Bay. The Luxor was all set to rent a real mummy from the Egyptian government for $2 million a year before a diplomat insisted it be placed somewhere more dignified than next to a craps table (a condition that cursed the deal).

Every casino wants to keep the new gamblers flowing like Petrus, but into its own crystal goblet. “If I find out that a guy I want is coming to stay at a competing hotel,” says one host with Borgia’s stomach for intrigue, “I will call that hotel and cancel everything on him – his room, his limo, his ticket for the fight if there is one that weekend. Then, when he lands at the airport, preferably after a long, disorienting flight, guess who’s standing there with a sign that has his name on it? I’ll tell him I’m taking him to my hotel. At this point, it’s difficult for him to say no. Once we get there, he’s suddenly being brought up to the best suite, a bottle of something is one ice, and in the middle of the living room, there’s a karaoke machine.”

What if he still doesn’t want to stay there?

“Well, he doesn’t have to stay here the whole time,” says the host. “I just want him to give me some action.”

And a spurt of action in one area or another can have enormous consequences. Vegas now has more annual visitors than Mecca – an estimated 36.7 million, according to the local convention ad visitors authority. Gaming revenues generated by those who filled the city’s 123,245 hotel rooms dropped $6 billion for the year 2000 through September, a large wad of which landed in the pocket of the reclusive Bert Lahr-look-alike mogul Kirk Kerkorian.

As the majority shareholder of the recently christened, publicly traded MGM-Mirage – which own six Vegas hotels,including Strip leaders the Mirage, the Bellagio, and the MGM Grant – Kerkorian has emerged as the kingpin withthe best castles. “One of the most important things you can do in Las Vegas is capture the wallet,” says Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Andrew Zarnett. “If you have a customer who wants to leave your hotel for an evening but you can send him to one of the other hotels you own rather than to a competitor’s, you have succeeded at doing what you want to do: You’ve taken some of tat person’s wallet.”

MGM-Mirage controls 25 percent of the rooms in Vegas and attracts 50 percent of the high-end play, says Zarnett. All it cost Kerkorian was a precisely timed $6.4 billion offer last March, as Steve Wynn was reeling from his star-crossed gamble on a glistening new Mississippi casino. The semi-hostile takeover landed MGM at the top of the Vegas hotel heap even as it eradicated MGM’s most serious competitor.

Wynn won’t talk about the takeover. But that doesn’t stop bystanders from weighing in. “Steve was treated unfairly by Wall Street,” says Zarnett. “When everything was going great, he was the smartest guy in the world. Then, following a few hiccups, all of a sudden he could do nothing right. What nobody can deny is that Steve Wynn is a great innovator.”

Ader at Bear Stearns points out that with the ritzy restaurants, art-spackled public spaces, and spas, it was Wynn who made non-gambling Vegas more appealing to a broader segment of the market. Wynn made a Desert Inn financing proposal to Deutsche Bank that just wasn’t attractive, says Ader. Now he is working with pachinko- machine magnate Kazuo Okada, who is trying to secure a casino license: “I don’t think Wynn likes Wall Street. He feels like Wall Street doesn’t understand the business,” Ader notes.

Huntington Press’s Anthony Curtis, a card counter turned gambling-book publisher, says revenge is the rocket fuel in Wynn’s tank: “When Wynn creates this next thing at the D.I., that will be the Bellagio’s nightmare. Wynn will do everything in his power to make his new place better than the others. He will take dead aim at what he created himself.”

IT’S BEEN A GOOD NIGHT FOR THE MALOOF BROTHERS, GEORGE AND HIS brother Gavin owns the Sacramento Kings with three other siblings. They just spent the last couple of hours in front of a television in the Vegas Hilton watching their team decimate the Orlando Magic. Now they’re huddled around a craps table at the Paris Las Vegas casino, finding it impossible to lose. Gavin, 44, flashed his driver’s license and was handed $25,000 in chips. George, 36, bought in for $5,000. Underneath the make-believe sky with furry white clouds, the roller has been making numbers for the last half-hour, and the table is seething with greedy energy.

“Cry, Paris! Cry!” one bettor screams as dice bounce off felt bumpers, another number hits, and the entire table wins. George has pretty much doubled his money. Gavin has a $40,000 profit in front of him. He’s got another $50,000 in bets scattered around the table when the shooter finally tosses a seven and craps out.

Besides being known around as big gamblers – so big, in fact, that the Bellagio tried to win points with Gavin by handing him a surveillance tape that captured his two-hour hot streak at a table there – the Maloofs are also casino owners. They recently parted with their Fiesta Casino-Hotel (a locals’ joint far from the Strip that was built and run by George) for 185 million, pocketing a profit of $110 million after just six years of ownership. They are now in the process of building something far more ambitious: the Palms. Set to open in December, the Palms will squat just behind the Strip and will cater to Generation X and Y gamblers. This hotel will catapult George Maloof into direct competition with Mandalay Bay, the Rio, and the Hard Rock.

Land is at a premium near the Strip, and Maloof worked hard to acquire his 32-acre plot as quietly as possible – lest a competitor snatch up a neighboring parcel and build an adjacent, parasite casino, a dive filled with slot machines that would act as spoiler for even the most modestly upscale operation. “People didn’t realize what I was doing until it was too late,” says Maloof, Southwestern handsome with his cleft chin, longish, curly hair, and Euro-stylish array of Zegna shirts. In contrast with the most recent crop of Vegas hotels, the Palms will not be deploying a heavy-handed theme. With only 470 rooms and a budget of $265 million, it will distinguish itself by being Las Vegas’s first boutique hotel. Sparely chic rooms will be rigged with high-speed Internet ports, guests will be provided with monogrammed bathrobes, and there’ll be a drive-through window for sport betting “just like the one at the bank,” says Maloof. “We’ll even give you a sucker on your way out.”

Maloof hopes to attract pilgrims with a three-story spa, sixteen movie theaters, and special events featuring the Sacramento Kings. The top floor of the garage can be converted into a basketball court; a call to the team boss, brother Gavin, is the ticket to a shoot-around with team players. Paul Steelman, a Vegas-based architect who has designed hotel-casinos around the world, thinks he sees the Ghosts of Vegas Future checking into a slicker new kind of hotel, much like the Palms, with in-house follies and entertainment but without themes: “It will be smaller and more intimate, but still service-oriented. Because it’s all about extending the day in your casino instead of letting customers be stolen by some other place down the Strip.”

Maloof is importing Paris’s bionically energetic Buddha Bar even as he sets up local branches of Ghost Bar (Chicago’s super-trendy cocktail lounge) and Nine (One of the Windy City’s more stylish steak houses), both co-owned by Michael Morton, brother of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino CEO Peter Morton. Aiming for the same market speared by the Hard Rock, the Palms will house Michael Morton’s new nightclub Rain, which will offer cabanas with water beds and skyboxes overlooking the dance floor. Maloof’s association with Michael Morton raises the question of why Morton’s talents aren’t going to his brother at the Hard Rock. Peter Morton explains that he and his brother have both been involved in a Vegas nightclub, Drink, but generally, they prefer to keep things separate. “It got too complicated,” says Peter.

“He does his own thing and I do mine,” adds Michael Morton. “It’s healthier for our relationship. Look, any time you go into a market like Las Vegas, it’s very competitive.”

J. TERRANCE LANNI WORKS OUT OF A SWANKY OFFICE STILL TAILORED TO the measure of its former tenant, Steve Wynn. The walls are paneled with the same burled wood used in Rolls-Royce dashboards, the desk is as imposing as an aircraft carrier, an the room is awash in Wynn-curated old masters: Renoir, Rubens, Rembrant. (They’ve since been put up for auction.)

Sitting on a velvety sofa, the 57-year-old Lanni is a charming man with a pinched smile, stylish in his Zegna pinstripe suit. He crosses his legs and casually notes that if we were in an Arab country, it would be high offensive for him to aim the sole of his shoe in my direction – important to know if one’s likelihood depends on indulging Middle Eastern potentates.

Rival hoteliers snipe that Lanni bought his way to the top (with Kerkorian’s money, or course) by acquiring established hotels rather than by having worked to make them great – as Wynn did with both the Mirage and Bellagio. Now, they say, he’s got something to prove, one of the Bellagio’s $1,000 chips on his shoulder.

Besides it’s fabulous high-roller suites, MGM-Mirage’s strength lies in presenting one-off events like the recent Bruce Springsteen concert (he sang “Via Las Vegas” twice) and in hosting a roster of perpetually sold-out shows. “If you want to see Barbra Streisand [to whom the MGM reportedly paid $10 million for a single performance] or Tina turner or Cirque du Soleil’s O, you’d better be staying at one of our properties,” crows Lanni, making it clear that the best seats go to his most valued gamblers. “Or else you’re going to need an oxygen mask and very powerful binoculars.”

IT IS THE AFTERMATH OF A HEAVYWElCHT FlCHT AT THE HARD. The bulldozer Hasim Rahman has just scored a technical knockout a shamblinR has-been named Frankie Swindell, whose retina hemo lowing a series ofbrutal blows.

As the blood-spattered ring slowly empties oftrainers, fighters, and on, something strange happens: Overhead, lights start to flash, a deejay cuts a stuttery beat, and go-go girls in leather hot pants gyrate sedu elevated pladorms. Steve Cyr can be seen rising from one of the rin With him is a man in his mid-thirties wearing a sport jacket andje applies a gentle finger to the guy’s elbow and pilots him out a side toward the Peacodc Lounge, a sequestered gaming area with high-limit “Let’s go get your gift,” he says, knowing that this will stop the play heading into the arms of a rival tonight. The “gift” is $2,000 in chips, petty cash for this whale, who plans to risk somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000 before he leaves the Hard Rock.

Tonight’s event is yet another marquee attraction geared toward gamblers. “We’re using boxing to bring in the guys who’ve been s cigars for two years rather than twenty years,” says Jim Hunter, who coordinated tonight’s fights. This crowd of affluent Gen Xers and Yers–wearing designer clothing, drinking Belvedere Cosmopolitans, paying full freight for their rooms upstairs, and ordering omakase meals at the Hard Rock’ Nobu restaurant–is Vegas’s manifest destiny.

“You’re not gonna come here and see some old Texan in a cowboy ha young bimbo on his arm,” insists Jimmy Tipton, another Hard Rock h resembles a younger, slimmer Tony Soprano. “We get the yuppies. We dot-com crowd. We get guys like Dennis Rodman, who came down to one night in his bathrobe. I told him he was okay as long as he had a shorts on under there.”

Initially the province of the Hard Rock, more recently a prime marke Mandalay Bay, and now in the crosshairs of the Palms, this group will courted by the omnivorous Terrence Lanni.

Soon after completing the deal to buy the Mirage casinos, Lanni glanced down at his Cartier tank wristwatch and suddenly announced that it was time to focus on gamblers in their twenties and thirties. A 55-acre property near the Bellagio came with the Mirage deal–it’s currently the site of a down-market Holiday Inn casino called the Boardwalk, and Lanni vows to build a hotel here like none that Vegas has seen. “Generation X has not yet been addressed,” he declares. “We’re going to have a young management team. The rooms willbe minimalistic in design–that crowd really wants to be out partying. And”–here’s what really juices a casino executive–“they spend money. They’re not gullible like my generation was, feeling guilty about the people who are starving in China.”

When asked what will make his new, as yet unnamed place so hip, Lanni reels a bunch of vague buzzwords: interactivity, immersive entertainment, bowling.

Bowling?

“I don’t know if you know this,” he says pedantically, “but bowling is very big for these people in their twenties. There are a couple of bowling alleys in Manthattan that are booked solid. And the shirts? These retro bowling shirts sell for a fortune.” Asked if he thinks the Hard Rock will give him a run for his money, Lanni allows a distasteful look to cross his face. “I’ve been to the Hard Rock a few times,” he gingerly acknowledges. “What I see there are a lot of guys husbanding drinks at the bar, trying to find a member of the opposite sex. People without a lot of money. Not necessarily something you want in the casino business. We’re going to draw a more upscale crowd.”

Lanni intimates he’s going to steal the highest rollers fromthe Hard Rock and the Mandalay Bay. But how?

“By hiring people Like me,” Steve Cyr gamely offers in a later conversation. Hosts are the ones who take care of players, and gamblers are more loyal to their hosts than they are to the properties.”

Peter Morton, who works out of Beverly Hills and is somewhat removed from Vegas’s infighting, greets this news with characteristic sangfroid. “It was bound to happen that people would start going after our market,” he notes unemotionally. “Before I came here, everybody was building these monolithic properties and catering to the polyester crowd. That they’re now looking at my customers proves that my instincts were correct all along.”

A day after the boxing match, over lunch at the Hard Rock’s funky-by-design Pink Taco restaurant, Schad Brannon, the Hard Rock’s marketing director, is less restrained than his boss. “Yeah, the Gen X hotel,” he says wearily when asked about the new MGM proj ect. “They have deep pockets, but will they really get it! They’re trying to buy their coolness. And it’ll be bogus. You can’t buy it. You have to live it. It has to come from an organic place.”

Or does it? Las Vegas is without a doubt the most bogus city on earth. Hardly anything here, from the faux- Tiepolos in the Venetian to the tundraborn pine trees at the elite golf courses to the languid surfside vibe right here at the Pink Taco, is remotely organic to the place.

Vegas’s very charm is built on a kind of fakery that presents well in the fluorescent haze of the town’s window -and clock-free casinos. But even as the endless cycle of demolition and reinvention continues without pause up and down the Strip, the war for hotel supremacy is sure to remain one of the realest things in town.