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The Sporting Life in Las Vegas
By Ron Kapon, Contributing Travel Editor

New York, NY - When I mentioned that I was off to Las Vegas for five days, the first thing people asked was "Do you like to gamble?" Then it was "What shows are you planning to see?" Lastly, it was "Where are you eating, and what wines will you be drinking?" But, I had to tell everyone that my planned "Las Vegas Overtime Guaranteed Tour" was all about sports and the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino was my specific destination for four nights and, to get it started, I thought It best to unwind in their spa, steam room, sauna and whirlpool. Is that really what George Clooney does when he gets there? Ah, what the heck...it is a city born of dreams and imagination anyway so why not dive right in? I did. My nest thought, given the purpose of my excursion, as to "let the games begin."

John Hinkin
John Hinkin is the Competition Manager for the USA Seven Rugby Championship Tournament at Sam Boyd Stadium.
By the time you read this the USA Sevens Rugby Tournament & Fan Festival will have taken place at Sam Boyd Stadium, the home of the University of Nevada Las Vegas football team, which was converted into a field for the largest Rugby event ever held in North America. There are 16 international teams competing and Rugby Sevens feature seven players per team rather than the 15 players often used. There are two seven-minute halves and a new match starts every 20 minutes. According to John Hinkin, the Competition Manager for USA Sevens, the Rugby World Cup is surpassed in attendance only by Soccer's World Cup and the Olympics. Why do I know that you are not dashing off to Google to find out more about rugby and where you can go to watch some matches soon? Understood but, like anything else outside of our own baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer, it exists and there is little room for it within our own lives...so far.

Moving along on my hurried sports discovery expedition, while not a golfer myself, I enjoyed having lunch with Brian Hawthorne, the director of golf at Wynn Las Vegas and learning more about the game and course built on the site of the old Desert Inn, 18 holes of golf just afew steps from the The Strip with 11 of the holes having a water element...something the more knowledgeable golfers among you will understand. More than 800,000 cubic inches of earth were moved to create the elevated fairways and the course's location enables high rollers to play their 18 holes and not have to spend hours going to and from courses located outside of town.

Johnny Avello
Johnny Avello is the Director of Race & Sports Operations for Wynn Las Vegas.
All the fancy and fast cars are not dashing down The Strip in the wee hours of the morning. Penske/Wynn has an authorized Ferrari/Maserati dealer showroom right in the hotel where most visitors are dreamers and their "basement" is a museum of sorts for exotic cars, but the good news is that you can buy a car and drive it off the showroom floor here. Quick, get out the credit cards.

Staying at Wynn Las Vegas I visited Johnny Avello, the Executive Director of Race and Sports Operations and, even for a professed non-gambler, he is known as the dean of all Vegas betting authorities and not the first to lay claim to that title. Gamblers can watch the action on one of 37 plasma TVs and three 12x12' big screens. All of those wagering on racing have Interactive Personal Terminal machines at their seats, allowing them to place bets on horse races without having to go to the betting windows. Nice and it gets the job done...get them in, make them comfortable and keep them there.

One of my planned stops was the Palm Casino Resort (owned by the Maloof brothers who also own the Sacramento Kings NBA team). When I walked into their Hardwood Suites impressive would be an understatement. While I love drinking and writing about wine, my other passion is basketball. This is the only suite in the world with an indoor basketball court and it covers 10,000 square feet on two floors, with a locker room, scoreboard and pool table. For the kids, there are three NBA-sized Murphy beds on the basketball court, NBA memorabilia, a large dining area, living/media room, Jacuzzi tub, and 42" plasma TVs. It was hard to get our crew to leave as chefs sent what they laughingly called snacks and a half-court basketball game soon broke out. Great place for a bachelor party with a lot more than bachelors in attendance.

After a change of clothes we headed out for a tour of the MGM Grand's Race & Sports Book. It is a 5,300-square-foot betting arena with seating for 104 guests, thirty-six 60" plasma TV's and twenty-four 42" plasmas. There are six electronic display boards and 17 separate race and sports betting counters. Most of the main floor seats are outfitted with individual 15"colorTV's, allowing guests to access worldwide racing and sporting events. This is the first Race and Sports book in the industry to offer "Skyboxes" available for eight to ten guests and each contains 42" plasma TV's and great views of the Race & Sports Book.

From there, it is easy to walk across the bridge over Las Vegas Boulevard to dinner at The Sporting House Bar & Grill in New York, New York Hotel & Casino where there are 130 high-definition televisions and interactive games to play here.

Karim Hussain and David Perisset
Karim Hussain & David Perisset; Co-Owners of the Exotic Racing School.
Hard to believe that was all crammed into one day but it was. Day two began with a drive to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Exotics Racing School ... if only the name meant what you are thinking. It did not. Once there, you have the opportunity to drive one of their fleet of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Porsche or Audi cars on a racetrack. There is one-on-one coaching from instructors but you are doing the driving. It is priced from $199 to $299 for 5 laps around the track and there was a half-hour classroom instruction before we split up and met our instructors. I chose a ride in a Corvette Z06 and its 505 Horse Power 7.0 Liter V-8 engine. I don't know how fast we were going in the two laps around the track but my driver told me that the speed reached during all the driving necessitated a change of tires every hour. By chance, I ran into David Perisset (former investment banker) and his partner Karim Hussain (former race car driver), two interesting guys involved with the school who have expanded their operations to California and will add several more locations in 2011.

City Center had just opened the last time I was in Las Vegas and, as you likely are aware, it is huge with retail, residential, entertainment and three hotels ... The Mandarin Oriental, ARIA Hotel & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa. With some time to spare, I visited the Skybox Sports Bar at ARIA for lunch and tasted what was billed as "the spiciest burger in America ... The Firecracker Burger." One bite and it had my vote as possibly the spiciest in the world.

The evening was devoted to dinner at Blondie's Sports Bar at Planet Hollywood, located in the Miracle Mile Shopping area with, you guessed it, the Vegas trademark of 40 TV screens ranging in sizes up to 12 feet.

After dinner there was still time for a few hours of Vegas after the sun goes down and I headed to downtown where they now have a zip line that takes you over Fremont Street at a cost of $20 although I was told daytime "fly time" is somewhat less. An elevator up five floors to launch does portend second thoughts but, once up there, you just step off into space and relax. That simple? Not really, but close. It is an adrenaline rush and worth doing

If you are in town over a weekend, try to schedule Sunday brunch at B.B. King's at the Mirage. If the man himself is there on that one Sunday during the year when he performs you caught the gold ring. If not, still worth it.

With some time to spare, I made it over to The Palazzo and Lagasse's Stadium to watch some football. Lagasse's Stadium combines Emeril Lagasse's cuisine with more than 100 HD TVs, including a 9-foot x 16-foot main TV, luxury boxes, plush stadium-style seating, billiard tables and an outdoor patio. It was a great game day experience and ranks with the top sports bars anywhere.

I was winding down with a visit to Caesars and a look at "the Rainman Suite" (part of the movie was filmed here). That was when I met 26-year old Todd Fuhrman, Caesars Race and Sports Book Analyst. Candidly, not I am not sure how someone so young could reach his position but time did not permit a background check nor family connections in a town that thrives on same. But, after speaking with him for awhile and touring the back of the Sports Book I realized he was "the man." The Race and Sports Book at Caesars Palace offers 65 private booths and each one contains its own individual 12-inch flat screen TV. It also features six 12-foot by 15-foot oversized screens and a dozen 50-inch plasma screens to view live horse racing from around the country.

A nice way to close out any trip to Vegas is a first class dinner and mine was at Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace, where you will find great food and excellent wine. Pricing? Not exactly that of a fast food establishment but worth the price of admission and a lasting memory of the trip. If done correctly, a visit to Las Vegas at a time when prices are fluctuating more than a thermometer in Chicago in the dead of winter is not a gamble if you do some homework and check around. It can be a sure thing.




For more information on Ron Kapon, please go to www.RonKapon.com or email him at VinoRon@yahoo.com.