Thrifty Living: Rosie Millard
Camping En Famille In Vegas? A Gamble That Paid Off Nicely
Saturday 18 November 2006
Las Vegas. Home of gambling, twinkling casinos and Steve Wynn, the hotelier who is so wealthy that even putting his elbow through one of his Picassos didn't overly worry him. Not the obvious destination for Thrift Queen Millard, but I'm here, with Mr Millard, the Junior Millards and our nanny, on a travel commission, and it seemed a shame to bypass it.
However, we haven't checked into a grand hotel on the Strip - we are camping. Yes, camping in Las Vegas. We are living in a 30ft RV motor home, which Mr Millard gingerly backed into a parking slot behind Circus Circus, a hotel/ casino/theme park and, er, campsite. It's ideal! While other tourists are eating hydrogenated fat at Wolfgang Puck, here we are, cooking up spag bol in the motor home, while sightseeing helicopters buzz around overhead and giant trucks power past on the freeway.
There's a swimming pool, a bit of grass, and a tree around which the children play Grandmother's Footsteps. It's not quite the Vegas of Caesar's Palace or the MGM Grand, but experience tells me that if we venture into a commercial venue, the Junior Millards will turn into cheeping baby birds, mouths wide open for expensive treats. So, it has to be swimming and Grandmother's Footsteps.
Opposite us is parked a giant motor home, festooned with satellite dishes. It belongs to Mike and Michelle, a retired couple from New Jersey who now live most of the year in it. Perhaps intrigued by Grandmother's Footsteps - surely a first in Las Vegas - Mike calls us over. From a hot tub. With bubbles.
The tub is hooked up to the motor home, and Mike, who sports a grey ponytail and tiny Speedos, is sitting in it. Michelle, in a leopard-print swimsuit, floats alongside him. They explain that they live in this car park for seven months of the year. "It's worth it," explains Mike, rubbing his fingers together to express millions of dollars. "I spend about 40 hours a week playing poker. The rest of the time, I spend on my Harley."
Wow. Does Michelle play alongside him, I wonder. "Oh, no," she says, splashing playfully. "I just do the slots. I never win!"
But Mr Millard and I need to win. My credit card has just died on me (same old story) and we need some spending money before I get back to reality. So, that night, we leave everyone sleeping in the motor home and hit the casinos. With a balance of $100.
Standing behind a fellow-punter at the ATM machine in the Mirage Hotel is a sobering experience. He puts his card in and requests $500. It's declined. I've been there, mate. And we all know that you can't be overdrawn in America. Interestingly, however, he is offered something else: cash from a secret account, which requires a secret PIN. (Blimey. Maybe this is how Americans get around being overdrawn. I wish the Clydesdale Bank offered such a facility.) He taps in his secret PIN. "Are you willing to pay a supplementary fee?" asks the machine. Yes, he is. He wants to hit the tables with $500 in his pocket. "You will be charged an additional $105," says the machine. Twenty per cent extra! I'm now grateful the Clydesdale doesn't offer such a facility. But our friend taps in "Yes" and waits. The machine responds. It declines again. Defeated, he walks off.
Meanwhile, Mr Millard and I ventured towards a poker table. Naturally, neither of us has a clue about how to gamble - we met while working at the BBC, remember. However, adding up a bunch of cards to 21 looks about right for our entry level, so we settle down at the 21 Table.
The croupier shuffles her cards and flips them down on to the baize. We gingerly push forward a stake of $10. It's hardly high-rolling, but I just couldn't bear the thought of actually losing money I don't really have in the first place. I know that in maths, a double negative makes a positive, but I doubt very much whether it works the same way with my current account.
Amazingly, however, we start to win. And keep on winning! This is more like it. Money for nothing. I start to pile up our chips: $100 for our original stake, and the rest is pure profit.
After about an hour, we have made $67, which seems alright to me. It's the cost of the campsite. So we pocket our winnings and walk out into the night, where the lights are burning so brightly, it is like day.
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