What Really Happens in Vegas: True Stories of the People Who Make Vegas, Vegas

Image of What Really Happens in Vegas: True Stories of the People Who Make Vegas, Vegas
Release Date: 
December 4, 2023
Little, Brown and Company
Reviewed by: 

“a breezy, nonstop narrative capturing the essence of a crazy, wide-open town where criminals and entrepreneurs have long thrived.”

“You’re selling fantasy. The fantasy of the Vegas experience,” says Sam, general manager of a Las Vegas gentlemen’s club. “Coming to town and getting the girl. Or winning the jackpot. Or just pretending to be someone you’re not.”

In What Really Happens in Vegas, we learn the fantasy often involves money, excess, sex, the garish and outlandish, and more. Here, saving you the time and money for a real trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, Patterson and Vanity Fair contributing editor Seal gather stories from scores of people—the dealers and croupiers, the outsized stars, the limo drivers and cabbies, the Elvis impersonators and the 10-minute wedding pastor—who make wild things happen in Sin City.

It’s all told in a breezy, nonstop narrative capturing the essence of a crazy, wide-open town where criminals and entrepreneurs have long thrived.

At the airport terminal, visitors are greeted by mammoth Rolex clocks and a quickie chance to play among some 1,400 slot machines.

At the Bellagio, they enter a lobby whose ceiling is covered by 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers.

At the Wynn Hotel, they walk into a surreal forest where huge flower ornaments dangle from Ficus trees adorned with twinkling lights.

The message is clear: think money, luxury, and still more money.

“I’ve driven clients who are sitting in the front seat next to me with bags full of money,” says Vegas chauffer Raymond Torres. “Billionaires. I’m talking like Louis Vuitton bags full of money. Staying at the Mansion MGM Grand for, like, a week.”

In the exclusive VIP wings of major resorts, “ultra-hospitable” hosts attend to the needs of high rollers. “They need things. Always needing things,” says host Eddie, who must charm more than a hundred regular clients. His job is to keep clients there, dining and drinking and gambling.

“The hosts don’t just arrange reservations at exclusive nightclubs or tickets to a Lady Gaga concert,” write the authors. “They often accompany their clients when they go out at night, partying with the high rollers before ushering them safely back to their VIP accommodations.”

A VIP high roller loses $1 million in a single day and vows: “Had a great time. I’ll be back.”

Not all gamblers are super-rich. One woman, down $3,600, approaches the “loudest and gaudiest” slot machine at Harry Reid International Airport. It is only minutes before boarding, and she proceeds to wager one-hundred-dollar bills she’s been saving to cover the cost of a babysitter at home.

She wins $302,000.

Some winners (and losers) come to take a chance on marriage. “No waiting period. To get married in Las Vegas, all you need is a license and ten to fifteen minutes,” write the authors.

They tell the remarkable story of Charlotte Danielson Richards, who arrived in Vegas in 1959, when mobsters still rubbed shoulders with cowboys, and many casinos had wild west themes. Before long, she was a “wedding hostess,” then became an ordained minister who would preside over more than 500,000 weddings over the course of the next 50 years.

“If Bugsy Siegel turned Vegas into the gambling capital of the world, it was Richards who found a way to capitalize on the gamble of love.” For a time, when marriage licenses were issued 24 hours a day, she would sleep in her chapel, making herself available to perform weddings at all hours.

Her biggest innovation: making ceremonies more convenient by sparing brides and grooms from getting out of their vehicles to marry.

“One of her sons broke down one of her wedding chapel’s walls and installed a window—and just like that, the drive-through wedding was born.”

The authors go on to relate the stories of casino owners, magicians, exotic dancers, chefs, and many others who all help keep the city’s fantasy heart beating. Always a bit much, their book is nonetheless a dazzling and fun account of America’s entertainment capital.