Susan Dalgety: There are big losers in Las Vegas... and not just at the tables

A seediness lies behind the surface glamour of Las Vegas which greets casual visitors ' behind the attractive sheen lies a dangerous darkness
A seediness lies behind the surface glamour of Las Vegas which greets casual visitors ' behind the attractive sheen lies a dangerous darkness
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The scream echoed around the large room. “Y-e-e-e-s-s-s-s! Y-e-e-e-s-s-s-s! 
Y-e-e-e-s-s-s-s!”

It could only mean one thing. Someone had scooped the jackpot. And sure enough, three rows ahead of me was a middle-aged Mexican woman jumping up and down, delirious with joy.

“Gracias Dios! Gracias Dios! 
Y-e-e-e-s-s-s-s!” she yelled, kissing the screen of the slot machine.

A neon sign flashed up, “Jackpot $1,011.50”. Perhaps not the biggest sum won in Las Vegas. Last year, a California man won $11.8 million for a three-dollar bet on a slot machine. And in 2003, a lucky gambler took home $39.7 million.

But she was happy. Very happy.

Then, just as she started to calm down, a Mariachi band started up, blasting out the Mexican national anthem. The noise was deafening as hundreds of punters joined in.

“Mexicanos, al grito de Guerra el acero aprestad y el bridón,” they roared.

It was Mexican Independence Day and it seemed that half the country was here in Vegas celebrating.

Outside, a pair of almost naked showgirls, resplendent in red, green and white feathered headdresses, posed for selfies with hordes of excitable Mexican blokes.

Drunk young women, waving plastic glasses of lurid yellow and blue cocktails, weaved their merry way from shopping mall to casino to nightclub, oblivious to the fact it was only three in the afternoon.

Even the crinkled old women, propped up by their walking frames, looked ready to party.

There was a carnival atmosphere on the Strip. But not just because it was Mexico’s national day. Every day is party day in Vegas. And every party lasts 24 hours.

The city in the Mojave Desert draws people from all over the world, tempted by the chance of winning a fortune. Billions are spent every year on high stakes games like baccarat and poker. Billons more poured into garish slot machines, one dollar at a time.

A lucky few go home with cash in their pocket. Most, like us, leave with less money than we arrived with, but with a horde of cheerful memories.

I laughed out loud as we wandered through St Mark’s Square in the Venice Hotel and Mall. Marvelled at the ancient antiquities in Caesar’s Palace. Gazed in wonder at the Eiffel Tower and the sun bouncing off the Trump Tower hotel, clad in gold.

All fake of course. Everything in Las Vegas is fake. Except for the profits to be made from gambling, sex and live music.

Even so, Sin City was hit hard by the 2008 crash. Unemployment peaked at 14 per cent in 2010 and house prices fell by 62 per cent from their 2006 high.

Trump’s former economic adviser and ex-Goldman Sachs banker, Gary Cohn, even went so far as to blame Las Vegas workers for the recession.

Speaking earlier this week he asked, “Who broke the law? I just want to know who you think broke the law?”

“Was it the waitress in Las Vegas who had six houses leveraged at 100 per cent with no income, was she reckless and stupid? Or was the banker reckless and stupid?”

Some questions do not deserve an answer.

Ten years on, there are still big losers in Vegas, and not just at the black jack tables. In downtown Fremont Street, an obese, late middle-aged woman sat defiantly in a wheelchair, her pendulous, naked breasts on full display, save for a pair of black tassels modestly covering her nipples.

She held a sign that read, poignantly, “Retired, broken-ass stripper. Tips greatly appreciated.”

A few hundred yards from where she was begging sits the Mob Museum, housed in a tasteful Art Deco building that looks out of place in this city of neon and plastic.

It tells the story of America’s gangsters, from their early days in the mean streets of New York running protection rackets, to today’s international criminals who make their fortune from drugs, sex-trafficking and money laundering.

Organised crime was once big business in Las Vegas. The first casino on the Strip, the Flamingo, was opened by celebrity Mob boss Bugsy Seigel in 1946, and for decades the Mafia controlled the city’s main sources of income, gambling and girls. And where the Mafia goes, the FBI are sure to follow.

The legendary Bureau of Investigation was established more than 100 years ago, Federal was added in 1935. It has grown to be the most famous law enforcement agency in the world. It is also one of the most controversial.

The agency’s longest-serving director, J Edgar Hoover, was a phenomenon who held the post from 1924 until his death in 1972, just before the Watergate scandal broke.

He bullied politicians and gangsters alike and had a particular hatred for communists. Harry S Truman once declared that all congressmen and senators were afraid of him.

Former head James Comey was controversially sacked by Donald Trump only four months into his presidency.

But the man who is likely to go down in history as the most famous FBI chief of all time is Robert Swan Mueller III, a role George Clooney is destined to play in an Oscar winning movie some time in the next decade.

Mueller took over the agency at a critical time in its history, one week before 9/11, and he carefully steered it through the aftermath.

He now heads the federal investigation into whether President Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russians, and then attempted to obstruct justice in a clumsy cover-up.

President Trump loudly proclaims his innocence at every opportunity. Even as his campaign chair Paul Manafort agreed a deal with the FBI to tell all, the White House press secretary declared, “the President did nothing wrong”.

During the 1980s, John Gotti, the flamboyant head of the Gambino crime family, protested his innocence three times in high-profile trials. And three times the man once dubbed Crazy Horse was found not guilty.

But in 1991 the US Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Justice took charge. He took a huge risk and cut a deal with Gotti’s number two, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, a man who had admitted to killing 19 men.

The Bull kept his side of the bargain. He talked. And talked. And his evidence was enough to finally convict Gotti, who died in prison in 2002, a broken man.

And the Assistant Attorney General? Well, he went on to head the FBI and is now in charge of the federal investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Robert Mueller, the upright, Purple Heart winning, establishment man took a huge gamble with Sammy Gravano and it paid off, big time. My money is on Mueller to win again.