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THE planned relaxation of gaming laws has raised the prospect of a Caesar's Palace casino being built on the site of the new Wembley, bringing, we are promised, a touch of Las Vegas to England.

But why wait to see a replica of a city which glories in the replication of other cities when you can now fly direct from Manchester to Nevada's shrine to the neon light, thanks to BMI's new three-times-a-week service?

You are unlikely to be accompanied by an Elvis lookalike, as were we on the inaugural flight of a shade more than 10 hours. But Vegas's impact will be instant the moment you land – with the world-famous Strip's hotels visible from the runway, little more than a stretch limo's length away. This city is undoubtedly gaudy, glitzy and glamorous – but it was gaming, golf and gourmet food which were to absorb me during a stay of less than 48 hours.

My partner Shirley and I must have created some sort of record by staking a total of a miserly $2.50 in the casino of our hotel, the Luxor – and 50 cents of that was donated by a colleague prior to our trip. But with winnings of $4.75 in our pockets, a 110 per cent gain, we wandered the gaming rooms trying not to think too hard about how much our lives might be changed by such good fortune.

The slot machines bring in the most revenue in Vegas, fed a constant diet of coins and dollar bills by a silent and largely morose-looking gathering of worshippers. The machines' constant bleeping and flashing lights are reminiscent of the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, just before the aliens' message to earth shatters the terrestrial sound system.

Here there is only one message: give me your money; and we seemed to be the only ones able to resist.

While the slot machines produce a torpor, the craps tables are the casino's most animated attraction, with die thrower and audience alike hollering their approval or disapproval at almost every turn. Wagers seem to centre on 7 or 11 being thrown – or not thrown – but even an explanatory leaflet left me clueless.

It was a nonetheless appealing spectacle, although I declined an invitation to stay for the craps lesson on an adjoining table because the lure of a round of golf at the TPC Club at The Canyons – one of Vegas's 54 golf clubs – was calling.

I happily surrendered golf balls to this course's desert scrub land rather than dollars to the craps table, although 7s and even 11s threatened to feature at times on a championship-rated course made all the more difficult by winds gusting between 15 and 20mph.

The TPC, co-host to the US PGA Tour's Michelin Championship in October, offers the handicap golfer a telling perspective on how the top players make the  difficult look easy. My pitch at the par 5 sixth, Lone Mountain, for instance, appeared to come to rest three feet from the pin – but then fell back off the glass-like green and ran six feet behind where I was standing.

There will be easier courses among Las Vegas's 54, but it must rank as one of the finest for the handicap golfer to test him or herself against. In the Vegas visitor's guide the courses are marked on a map with no scale, giving the impression that there is a club around every street corner. Our night-time flight over the Strip with Sundance Helicopters breathtakingly dismissed the notion that this might be a small town.

Fifteen minutes seemed to pass in an instant as we flew above Vegas's illuminated  landmarks, among them Treasure Island, Caesar's Palace, New York New York, Paris with its fake Eiffel Tower, and the Luxor hotel's pyramid from which a laser light pierces the night sky, offering – our pilot claimed – a beacon to guide him home from Sundance's daily trips to the Grand Canyon.

This experience is a must-do for anyone visiting Las Vegas. But then so is going to a show, although that became a no-can-do because after our jet-lagged arrival we had only one night in Vegas, which was spent at leading American chef Charlie Palmer's Mandalay Bay restaurant Aureole.

Perhaps this was equivalent to taking in a show since Aureole's centrepiece is a four-storey tower containing more than 4,000 bottles of wine. Harnessed waiters known as angels ascend and descend balletically on a pulley system – in the mode of Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – to garner the drink of your choice.

It is not just the tower which pays homage to the hitech movie, for your tipple can be chosen using a computer tablet linked to a database formulated by Aureole's wine director, Andrew V Bradbury, creator of the eWinebook, the world's first electronic wine list. At the touch of an electronic pen the tablet will catalogue wines to complement your chosen course – or vice versa – showwhat is available and how much it costs, allowing wine connoisseurs to track down exactly what they are looking for and wine ignoramuses, such as myself, to avoid making fools of themselves.

The wines – which can be purchased, to take home, at the adjacent and breathtakingly contemporary 55 degrees Wine + Design shop – may have been wasted on me (while others got wasted on the wines), but the food was not: it was a sumptuous, sensuous offering whose taste matched its visual appeal.

Our one other dining experience during this brief flirtation with Las Vegas embraced not one but many films – at Planet Hollywood, found after a quick walk through the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace with their faux Roman architecture and permanently blue skies.

At Planet Hollywood you should leave yourself time not just to eat but to peruse all the memorabilia adorning the walls and ceiling from the worlds of TV and films.

We ate in the shadow of the cowl worn by Michael Keaton as Batman, but those made of sterner stuff might locate themselves near the model of the monkey's head from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (from which the eponymous hero was served the animal's brains).

My personal favourite was the endoskeleton from Terminator 2, one of the many movies in which Arnold Schwarzenegger intoned his catchphrase “I'll be back", which I shall now purloin since this visit to Vegas was all too short – and because I still have a $4.75 stake with which to seek my fortune on my return.

Las Vegas

Published: December 4, 2004

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