LAS VEGAS, April 2014—What is the promise of Las Vegas? What are people looking for in this place in the desert? What are they selling that brings people across the oceans, the mountains, the parched wasteland? Sure you can see a pop star belting out your favorite movie anthem, eat food from Bobby or Emeril or Jimmy Buffet. There’s the Cirque de Soleil thing, or the Blue dudes. And there’s money. It’s always possible—however remotely—that you’ll leave Vegas with more money than you came with.

But that’s not why you come here is it, you filthy pig?

You come here because Las Vegas promises, with a wink and a nudge, that “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” That’s what Vegas has always promised, implicitly—or explicitly, as when Nick Tosches asked his hotel manager if he could smoke in his room.
“Buddy, you can kill your wife in this room,” was the response.

That promise of Vegas confidentiality is not true by the way. Maybe when the mob ran things, or when an act of indiscretion might lead directly to a hole in the desert. Or when Vegas truly was a company town.

That’s what they’re selling with a catch phrase like that. Dark dreams. They’re saying: “Come! Behave badly! In fact, behave really badly! We won’t tell! Gamble money you probably should be using to pay off your loan! We won’t judge you! Enjoy the services of our fine prostitutes! Make bad decisions you won’t remember! Please! Your boss will never know. Your wife will never know.

“Your hideous urges, repressed all the rest of the year, your most unlovely appetites, your secrets are safe with us.”

We know, or we suspect, how the winners live in Vegas, the terrible things they do behind the doors of their comped suites, the alleged benefits of being a valued customer, a whale gambler. And I thought I’d take a look at that—the kind of ultra-luxury available only to those who can afford a private jet into Vegas, who think nothing of leaving a few million dollars on the tables after a night of gambling.

I knew I’d need a companion, a trusted friend, for perspective—someone well-known to security staff and local law enforcement. Someone for whom “The Evil That Men Do” holds no mystery, a man well-acquainted with both the high life of the Vegas Strip and the dank odor of a holding cell.

So I reached out to Michael Ruhlman.

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