The receptionist at the Imperial Palace Hotel was appalled.
"Do you know how much the buffet breakfast is? It's $20. You're only paying $30 for a room that's normally $160 and you expect to get breakfast as well?"
"I wasn't expecting it", I mumbled apologetically, "I just thought I'd ask."
After coughing up the cash for four nights in advance, she reluctantly handed over our keys. We hauled our dirty backpacks up from the plush casino carpet and headed off through the forest of fruit machines in search of our heavily discounted room.
We had originally intended to stay in a hostel, in the disreputable downtown area (the day before, the other driver of the van that we had travelled up from LA in, had been hit over the head while taking a passengers money - his mugger got away with $20.) After traipsing through miles of glittering casino, and surreally bland hotel corridors, we eventually tracked down our anonymous, comfortable and slightly dated double room. We dumped our backpacks and ourselves down in front of the television to watch the Imperial Palace gambling channel. Female impersonators from their stage show told us who they were being, before laying down the rules ("Hi, I'm Joan Rivers and this is Blackjack!"). We soon grew tired of this and decided to head out into the real life movie set that is the Las Vegas strip. Ten minutes later we were still trying to find our way out the massive downstairs' casino. They don't make it easy.
After a considerable amount of cruising up and down the strip, taking pictures of fake famous things, we eventually decided to try our luck in the casino (all the walking you have to do in Vegas will soon burn off the complimentary cocktails and subsidized buffet lunches). As we hadn't really been paying attention to the televised drag queens, we were far from confident with the rules of the table games. There was also a minimum bet of 5$ for blackjack or roulette, so you easily go through a hundred dollars within a few minutes. We opted for the cheapest fruit machines and soon struck it lucky (disappointingly, loads of coins didn't come noisily pumping out - when it was time to cash in your winnings, you just pressed a button and a credit slip was printed out). However, within a few minutes we had blown every cent of our 2$ winnings (it's so hard to quit while you're still on top). The other cheap option was Keno. This is basically bingo for Americans. Old people sat in rows of plastic chairs, gazing intently at their score cards. Now that we were experienced gamblers, we soon got the hang of it. We felt pretty confident when we won our money back on the first go. After that it all went downhill - we were soon $6 in the red. We walked away while we still could.