“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, or so the old axiom goes – the Nevada gambling mecca has a hard-earned reputation as a den of vice where almost everything is permissible as long as you have the money, and secrets are well hidden in casino vaults, behind the closed lips of discreet hotel staff, or in the occasional hastily excavated hole in the desert, to reference Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s Casino.
It’s not really like that anymore, of course. Frank, Dino and the rest of the Rat Pack are long gone, while the mob, synonymous with the resort city since Bugsy Siegel took over The Flamingo Hotel for the Syndicate in 1945, were forced out by the mid ‘80s. But Las Vegas is still a party town, and The Secret World of Las Vegas looks at the never-ending rager from the point of view of both those who are there to enjoy it, and those whose job it is to ensure its smooth running.
To this end, we follow a number of different people as they go about their day-to-day – and night-to-night – routine. Perhaps our most typical subject is a Texan high-rolling gambler in town for a flutter. His gambling strategy isn’t particularly interesting – he plays roulette exclusively – but his accommodations are: he’s staying in the Bella Suite of The Venetian Hotel, the largest standard suite in the entire city. Coming in at some 700 square feet, the Bella boasts luxury appointments, a private outdoor pool and garden, and a $15,000 a night price tag (for that considerable amount you also get your own personal butler for the duration of your stay in the form of Valentino Crespo, a world-renowned valet and a Las Vegas character in his own right, who is dedicated to giving his guests a pinnacle experience).
Another Las Vegas character, theatre impresario David Saxe, is, according to his own words, the heir apparent to Las Vegas’s storied tradition of live entertainment. He oversees two theatres, 15 different shows, and claims to have run nights in every casino and hotel in town, but the crown jewel of his operation is ‘Vegas! The Show’, the last Vegas stage spectacular to actually feature Las Vegas showgirls.
A hands-on producer, show business is in Saxe’s blood: his father was a saxophone player and band leader for the Rap Pack, while his sister Melinda is a stage magician feted as ‘The First Lady of Magic’ – Saxe began his career producing her show. These days Saxe is known as ‘The Simon Callow of the Strip’ and we stick with him as he takes in the latest round of auditions from hopefuls who have flocked to Vegas for a shot at the spotlight.
Of course, others come to Las Vegas for love, or some facsimile thereof, and that’s where Roland the Mobile Minister comes in. For decades, Vegas has catered to those looking to get hitched and unhitched alike, the latter thanks to lax divorce laws back when “no fault” wasn’t really a thing. As his professional name suggests, Roland August is a celebrant on the go, officiating over eight different weddings on the day we spend with him and changing costumes in his car between gigs. Roland, who might officiate as Elvis at one time, and King Tut the next, is aware that he’s running a volume business and that some may see his schtick as tacky, but he’s also a big believer in love – after all, it keeps the lights on.
And that’s just in the first episode. Las Vegas may not be the glamorously dangerous mob town it used to be, but it’s still a thriving and surprising city. With the world as it is right now, our opportunities to become one of the town’s 41 million annual visitors may be limited, but The Secret World of Las Vegas offers us the next best thing.
The Secret World of Las Vegas airs Tuesdays 9.30pm on SBS VICELAND. Episodes are available at SBS On Demand after they air. Start with episode 1: