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You Come Out For The Lines -- Vegas -- Part One...By Nelson Lardner

Hanging out in the last row of the racebook of the gargantuan Las Vegas Hilton's book Saturday, I was keeping one eye on the races, and the other on the opening moves in the Michigan/Ohio State to-do.

Following the successful conclusion of the Wolverines' sparkling opening drive, a friend sitting behind me at one of the open slot machines relayed the appropriate wisecrack for the moment: "Bo's not dead. The story's just another motivational ploy. After Michigan wins, he'll probably appear midfield, waving his cap."

Funny . . . funnnnnyyyyy. Like much of Vegas, the quip incorporates generous portions of cynicism and bad taste -- the very foundations of the City of Lights. By no means does this induce us to love her less. She is what she is -- a painted lady who victimizes virtually all who venture into the pits, but who can provide rewards for the sharpest of those operating on the fringes.

An upgrade into a reclining BusinessFirst seat was the lone saving grace of my flight out, which "featured" a 3 1/2-hour weather delay, and arrived at our downtown hotel minutes before midnight. I wasn't dragging anyone along who I needed to impress, so cleanliness and reliability were our primary rest-stop objectives. Good thing. The town was -- as is the norm -- packed, no surprise in the nation's fastest-growing population center of some two million souls. Traffic is frequently brutal, especilly on I-15 (paralleling the heart of the Strip), on Las Vegas Boulevard South, itself (which I managed to avoid, virtually the entire trip), and on the key cross streets (Tropicana and Flamingo, primarily) in close proximity to the strip. Allow considerable leeway if you MUST be at a specific Strip location at anything resembling prime time, not to mention potential valet-parking disappointments at any major strip hotel where you don't happen to be a registered guest. Money talks -- and the underprivileged will find themselves doing plenty of walking.

Did considerable football price-shopping on Friday. The usual online Vegas odds feeds are of great help here (though a deep, experienced vanguard of on-foot soldiers are a useful adjunct, for many), especially when referenced in conjunction with knowledge of prevailing Vegas tendencies. All those who have noticed that the most size-accommodating with favorable vig deals are also the most hypersensitive to steam moves and the opinions of popular touts (and I don't just mean Dr. Bob, the current flavor of the month) will find Vegas a haven. Many larger Vegas stores do not move as aggressively as the weathervane offshores, and anyone paying a modicum of attention should find satisfaction in terms of reasonable vig on popular sides -- though getting down in size at a single outlet can be problematic.

Caught up with a new-business crony at Friday-night dinner at Hugo's, at the Four Queens, a two-block walk from my hotel. Hadn't been there for a decade or more, but it's a wiseguy haven for a multiplicity of reasons. There's enough room between tables, the service is unsurpassed, and the touches are hard to beat -- item-by-item approval of salad ingredients, sorbet to cleanse the palate prior to the main course, and the filet is sublime. Wasn't too proud to take a table at the 5 PM open (both of us having miles to go, before we slept), and was wholly satisfied with with what remains as one of the top city dining experiences.

Since I was in town, decided to check out the Leroy's Money Talks Invitational live at the Silverton, that evening. Tight accommodations and crowded conditions make it a much better radio listen than an on-scene shot, though the concept's first-rate, the field's solid, and kudos to Leroy's and Jimmy Vaccaro for making it happen. Have long liked the Silverton -- they've done a helluva job on the remodel, the food's always a pronounced positive, and the people are nice -- though was amused by VP guru Bob Dancer-approved banks of video-poker machines tucked away in one corner. Capped at a nickel (a whole quarter locks in that $200 royal possibility), they're but a curiousity and a training ground.

Later . . . the weekend . . .

Nelson Lardner

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