Las Vegas. The big lights, the strip, the shows, the CASINOS! It’s quite the city – quite a unique place on this Earth. Sure, there are other cities with a reputation for the high rollers – in Europe Monte Carlo, in Asia Macau, even in the States there is Reno and the like, but Las Vegas is a city built on and around casinos.
Here in Melbourne we have our Crown Casino. It’s been in business since the mid-1990s when it was opened. In fact, before around that time Victoria had a ban on many types of gambling. We could bet on horse races and I think other sporting fixtures – the country’s most famous race is after all the Melbourne Cup, held on the first Tuesday of November, but you couldn’t find a slot machine – or as we call them in Australia, ‘Pokies’, anywhere. They were illegal as were casinos and the like.
In a push to turn the state’s flagging economy around (along with cost cutting measures) gambling was legalised across the state. The Crown consortium bid for the only Melbourne casino licence and won. Across the state pubs and other venues either opened up or added pokie rooms.
Today, well yep a lot of lives have been ruined by gambling. The biggest thing going around these days in the gambling industry is live betting on sports. And as cigarette advertising was phased out, it was replaced by adverts for alcohol and now gambling.
But I digress because again, this is not meant to be a political post. It’s about casinos and tourism, and I came about to write this post because this year I have visited the Crown Casino a number of times. Sure, once was just for the parking (if you go to the right carpark, they have the cheapest parking in the city’s Southbank area and you walk straight into the casino from there), but other times I have been with a friend who likes to play roulette.
And it’s been a very interesting experience. There are plenty of pokies in the casino too, but frankly there is nothing interesting about the pokies. But the roulette wheel has a little romance and excitement about it I guess. The players, some of them at least, seem to have plans and methods. Spreading chips out on the corners of the numbers so as to cover as much of the board as possible is generally what many seem to do. And your chances are greatly increased but you outlay a lot more and very probably don’t win it all back.
It’s interesting to theorise on how to win at various games. But at the end of the day, it still comes down to fair bit of luck. One thing I did notice at Crown was that most of the people on the roulette tables (like 90 percent) appeared to be tourists, and also I noticed that almost no-one playing, bar a couple of nice old ladies, was smiling or seemed to be enjoying themselves.
I doubt that anyone comes to Melbourne just to visit Crown Casino, but I think it’s very interesting to see that it does seem to be a place that attracts tourists. I’m sure there are high rollers out there who do visit cities for the thrill of winning. And if you were to watch a James Bond movie it looks like there’s a great deal of fun associated with gambling. However, the reality is not quite that way. Not that that surprises me or should surprise anyone.
The Crown Casino complex is I think the biggest in Australia, and it has at least one hotel, cinemas and a huge array of eateries inside as well. You can see shows too. The restaurants range from a pretty ramshackle and disappointing food court (actually there are two and sadly the one with the typical fast food joints – McDonald’s, KFC etc seems to be the better one) to some of the cities most expensive and exclusive restaurants. There are a lot of Chinese options, ‘Nobu’ which I think is one of the top Japanese restaurants in town, and there are French, Italian an other cuisines covered as well. There is even the restaurant of celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.
But then Crown can’t compare with Las Vegas – nowhere can. And the difference, I feel, is that people come to Las Vegas for the experience, the lights, to see the casinos, not necessarily to gamble. I mean, sure, a heck of a lot do, don’t get me wrong, but the scale of the place means that in of itself it is a tourist attraction. In fact, there are a number of free shows, generous but well priced buffets, and options to head out to the desert or the Grand Canyon from there.
And obviously, there are a large number of casinos, where as Crown is just the singular even if it is like a little mini-city inside. I like to visit a place like Las Vegas – I think I put aside a WHOLE TEN DOLLARS for gambling whilst I was there – because I do like variety in my travels. Cities, mountains, beaches… although Las Vegas is obviously a city, it is also unique. Crown Casino, Melbourne, well parts of it are quite nice, but I couldn’t imagine I’d visit it as a tourist to Melbourne. There’s just nothing about it which says it is quintessentially ‘Melbourne’.
How about you? Are you drawn to casinos? I’ve visited so few. I wonder what others are like sometimes. And then I remember I don’t really travel with the wardrobe to visit them… Please do comment! And May the Journey Never End!