This is the time of year when players begin to gird their loins and check their wallets for the annual pilgrimage to the World Series of Poker at Binion's in Las Vegas. A few will be lucky enough to enjoy a free trip. The Grosvenor Victoria Casino in Edgware Road, London, is running a month-long series of tournaments, offering the winners a trip to Las Vegas and entry to a satellite (qualifying event) for the World Championship, starting on 13 May.

Records are broken every year. The total of players stumping up the $10,000 entry fee is likely to be close to 300. The winner takes (only!) $1,000,000 out of the pool, which means there will also be substantial prizes for the runners-up. The full schedule of events, which includes Hold 'em, Seven Card Stud, Omaha, High-Low and Chinese poker, runs from 19 April to 16 May. I can't afford $10,000 to play in the World Championship myself, but I wear my black satin Binion's jacket (ninth place in the free roll Press tournament) with pride.

Would you believe 840,000 people from Britain visit Las Vegas each year? According to the latest figures, 3 per cent of last year's 28 million visitors came from this country, with a further 3 per cent from the rest of Europe. The overall profile of visitors shows that by far the main motive was "vacation and pleasure" (72 per cent), as opposed to gambling (6 per cent), though 9 out of 10 people gambled (with an average budget of $513.)

These findings confirm the new style of Las Vegas. Americans will not gamble just for the sake of gambling. They want entertainment, as of right. This is why Vegas now offers such an extraordinary mix of shows and come- ons - from white tigers to jousting knights, from pirates' battles to light shows, from the Wizard of Oz to a Roman shopping mall - all for free. In coming months, new casinos are due to open on themes as varied as Bellagio, Monte Carlo and New York, the Millennium, Star Trek and a Stratosphere Tower - 36,500 new rooms at a cost of over pounds 7 billion. The place is continually reinventing itself. Catch it while you can.

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