On my most recent trip to Las Vega$, I visited sixteen more casinos to evaluate how well each serves its chosen theme. The Desert Inn and the Bellagio are considered among the swankiest of the swank, so I've included their reviews together. The remaining reviews will be available at the Big Empire soon.

Where? North Strip
When visited? noon on a Monday
Whose? ITT Sheraton

Ostensible theme? Visitors can sample the luxurious lifestyle of pastel sportswear and unlimited leisure at this desert resort. This time-honored combination of gambling, golf, and tennis is geared towards the "Ensure" set.

Clientele: I spotted a passel of retired folks, with a sprinkling of portly executives. And, I'll never forget the Wayne Newton doppelganger.

Employee costumes: Dealers wear high-collared white shirts with black trim. The rather mature waitresses wear the Las Vegas uniform of choice- the black and gold mini-dress. Your great aunt Cookie would approve.

Carpet and other decor: The architecture of the hotel captures the lack of exotica implicit in the Sheraton name. However, the joint looks much more glamorous inside. The recently renovated Players Suites have a healthy dose of country club ritziness. It must be the Spanish tile and those huge mirrored windows.

The carpet in the casino features a pattern of green leaves and gold sunbursts. Green and gold are colors traditionally associated with wealth, so the combination is thematically appropriate. The gaming area is sumptuous- polished wood, an enormous chandelier, fake palms- but not laborious. Gilt is present, but kept well below lethal levels. Entrances to the hotel towers are named "Augusta", "St Andrews", and "Wimbledon".

The restrooms are where the Desert Inn really shines. They have a nice sitting area, marble floors, hair care products in case of coiffure emergency, lotion, fresh flowers and live plants, lots of towels, and framed botanic prints on the walls. The Desert Inn knows that rich people demand a lot from their restrooms; restrooms are expected to be comfortable havens with all the amenities.

Food: Can't you just imagine "ladies who lunch" wearing their cashmere sweater sets at the Terrace Pointe Cafe? But, of course, dah-lings!

Games: The Desert Inn sticks with the traditional games. When it comes to recreation, these folks don't play around.

Entertainment: Don Rickles keeps the blue-hairs in stitches. Kid Creole and the Coconuts rock the Crystal Showroom.

Services: Just like any highfalutin' country club, the Desert Inn has its own spa, golf course, ballroom, and an extensive pool area. The true proof of luxury, though, is the presence of several employees to sweep invisible motes of dust.

Did it work? The Desert Inn was renovated a couple years ago, and they did a fine job. They know how to show wealthy oldsters a good time and a fair amount of comfort. The Desert Inn is proud to be old school, so they don't dabble in themes; they specialize in a lifestyle... Burt Cohen's lifestyle.

Suggestions: The Desert Inn should host a German-American Mardi Gras next year! The attendees with their rowdy tavern songs and enormous hats and conga lines will show the Desert Inn a mighty fine time.

Where? Center Strip
When visited? 11 a.m. on a Monday
Whose? Steve Wynn

Ostensible theme? What, you've never toured the Italian lake country? Tut tut. Mr. Wynn shows you peons what you've been missing.

Clientele: Most of the folks I saw at Bellagio fell into two distinct categories: 1) gawkers and 2) people who like to impress gawkers.

Employee costumes: Dealers wear white shirts, red vests with gold trim, and bow ties. Waitresses serve beverages and depositions in lawyerly black suits and sensible pumps.

Carpet and other decor: The exterior resembles an Italian villa, complete with Mediterranean-style landcaping. I did not, however, see a single lake. The big pool with the fountains doesn't count, either. At the entrance, the "Benvenuti al Bellagio" sign is meant for everyone, except for people under 18 years of age.

The entrance has marble floors, which seems plausibly Italian to me, and once one enters the gaming area, a paisley design sprouts all over the carpet. The gaming room, with painted awnings draped from the ceiling, is somewhat reminiscent of Shakey's Pizza Parlours. Well, pizza is Italian, right? Admittedly, the seats at the machines are nice; they're upholstered with a soft leather-like substance and polished wood. Also, be sure to check out the manicured topiaries, a true Italian touch. However, the Bellagio strikes out with the light fixtures, which were evidently scavenged from a condo in Mission Viejo, California.

In the lobby, the ceiling barely contains an immense blown glass sculpture that resembles Dr. Frankenstein's nasturtium patch. The conservatory and the behemoth fresh flower arrangements provide a Technicolor backdrop and overpower the modest de Koonings that hang nearby.

The conservatory intrigues me, however; it's rare that any life can thrive in stunted casino air, but the tropical flora are hanging in there... so far. It looks nothing like the Italian style of gardening, though; I suppose Mr. Wynn considers orchids to be classier than trimmed shrubs and gravel. I will say that I like the mosaics of flowers and insects on the floor.

Restrooms are mostly marble and brass, with gilt-framed mirrors. There's not one comfortable chair, and none of the restroom luxuries I've come to associate with the moneyed classes.

Background music was mostly "classy" piano and tenor noodling.

Food: Bellagio has restaurants serving a range of cuisines, not necessarily theme specific. Steria del Circo serves fancy pizza, pasta, and seafood in the Italian tradition. "Sam's American" serves their burgers with "condiment caddies" and garlic whipped potatoes or polenta. If the theme was pretentiousness, Bellagio would fit its theme to a T.

Games: The same as everywhere, except that the machines have nicer casings. I did notice, however, that every single nickel machine was occupied. The Big 6 wheel has illustrations of the "lake village of Bellagio" with gilt and filligree accents.

Entertainment: "O" is a watery version of Cirque du Soleil; maybe they know where the damn lakes are. Out front in the pool, there are some huge thrusting fountains that do their thing to Broadway show tunes. Did Steve Wynn grow up really, really thirsty?

Services: High fashion boutiques peddle Armani, Chanel, and Gucci. The art collection costs bucks to see and you have to wait in a line of other folks who also want to breathe on some misplaced Monets. You're welcome to it. The Bellagio does share one trait with the Desert Inn- employees polishing the invisible scuffs off the walls.

Did it work? Mr. Wynn wants so much to be classy, arguably a futile aspiration in Las Vegas. However, his definition of "class" is synonymous with solemn consumption. This place may be fancy, but I didn't have any fun.

Suggestions: The restrooms definitely need to be swankier. What's the point of gawking at all that money, if a visitor can't even pee like a millionaire?

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