There are four tall towers of chips rising off the surface in front of me like skyscrapers.
A small crowd has gathered to watch the result.
The croupier spins the wheel and then rolls the ball around the track. All I need is black.
The anticipation is unbearable. The ball loses momentum and falls onto the wheel.
It bounces around and then eventually settles in its final resting pocket.
There is a gasp from the onlookers. My heart sinks. It’s red! It all happened so quickly.
Before I knew it Las Vegas had seduced me, sucked me in and bled me dry.
I had won and lost my fortune in the blink of an eye.
One moment I was on top of the world and the next I was crying in my beer.
Like many punters before me, greed was my downfall. Damn you, Vegas!
Ye Olde Vegas
From underground illegal gambling dens to the boom of the glitzy mega-resorts, punters have always been attracted to Vegas like a moth to a light bulb – and there are plenty of bright lights to be dazzled by.
Even when Nevada tried to outlaw gambling in 1910, unauthorised games were quickly set up for those who liked a flutter, and patrons who knew the password continued to joust day and night with Lady Luck.
Authorities turned a blind eye and gambling flourished until 1931 when it was legalised again.
Today, tourists flock to the city not just to gamble, but also for the fantastic entertainment, world class restaurants and the chance to drop in on one of the wonders of the natural world, the nearby Grand Canyon.
It’s one heck of a playground.Disappointed by my roulette loss, I reluctantly exit the Golden Nugget and stroll onto Fremont Street. My mood’s instantly changed by the electric atmosphere.
This stretch is home to legendary casinos, free entertainment, old-fashioned gambling hospitality and a party atmosphere.
On any given night you can expect to see famous bands, strolling showgirls, celebrity impersonators or amazing street performers.
The most obvious and largest part of the Fremont Street Experience is the Viva Vision canopy and light show.
The canopy towers 90-feet above the ground and spans the length of five football fields, while the screen contains 12.5 million synchronised LED lamps, making its projection surface the largest screen in the world.
Each night on the hour the show features tributes to Bon Jovi, Queen, Kiss and other rock legends and, best of all, thrill-seekers can breeze right beneath the Viva Vision canopy on a zip line.
Before I know it, I’m being strapped into a harness suspended from cable wires. After a tension-building countdown, I launch from the platform and soar underneath the colourful laser light show.
At the bottom of the ride, I bump into an Elvis busker singing Viva Las Vegas, naturally.
Impersonators are a dime a dozen here but this guy has the voice, hair, costume, dance moves and even real sideburns down to a tee.
After his song I flip him a few coins, hoping karma may bring some winnings my way.
In an authentic Elvis accent he replies, “Thank you. Thank you very much. I hope you win your jackpot.” “Thank you.
Thank you very much,” I drawl back. “I need all the luck I can get.”
A grand flight
For those (like me) who gamble away more money than they care to lose and need to regain their mojo, the Grand Canyon is the perfect place to escape the crowds and bright lights.
Thankfully, there isn’t a casino in sight.It’s easy to see why the Canyon is the most popular natural attraction near Vegas.
More than 450km long, 1.8km down at its deepest point and almost 30km across in some places, this natural wonder of the world will impress even the most jaded of travellers.
The rising of the Colorado Plateau combined with six million years of erosion has created one of the planet’s deepest gorges, which can be admired from the air (via plane and helicopter) or after a long drive from ‘the strip’.
Sitting in the comfort of an air-conditioned chopper I enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, extinct volcanoes and the Grand Canyon.
The sight is, of course, magnificent, and I find the sheer scale of the place, with its ancient rock formations and intricate patterns heightened by the bright sunshine, utterly mesmerising.
During the flight however, the effects of sleep deprivation – jet lag and late Vegas nights – are taking their toll.
I slip into a series of micro sleeps, awaking each time I headbutt the window.
As we disembark the chopper the pilot reassures me that I’m not the first person visiting Vegas to fall asleep during the world’s most amazing flight. Sin City certainly takes its toll.
After my day of clean living, I’m back in town and ready for another night out.
The choice of entertainment can be overwhelming: magicians, singers, comedians, strippers, live bands, dancers, musicals, circuses but I go for a Vegas institution – a celebrated burlesque show.
The setting for X Burlesque is the intimate 180-seat theatre at the Flamingo Casino.
Edgy choreography, creative props and six beautiful dancers combine to form one of the sexiest shows on the strip.
The show allows for a lot of up-close-and-personal interaction with the dancers, who venture out into the crowd and perform on a stripper pole in the centre of the room.
There is nearly a riot when the girls, dressed as flirty flight attendants, invite one lucky “passenger” to go on stage and join their “mile high club”.
Every male in the audience jumps off their seats hoping to be chosen.
To the tune of Lenny Kravitz’s Fly Away, the leggy dancers provide the strip tease of the century to the lucky man.
The smile on his face says it all – he didn’t need slot machines to win today’s jackpot.
However, when mid-show comic Nancy Ryan takes the stage I stop drooling and sink back into my chair, eager to be targeted.
Not everybody escapes the wrath of Nancy’s brutal wit.
Straight away she heckles a couple of young men sitting together in the front row – the verbal onslaught is brutal and hilarious. I’m just glad it wasn’t me.
Food, glorious food
Vegas is more than just gambling, shotgun weddings, neon lights and glamorous showgirls. Believe it or not, it also houses some of the best chefs and restaurants in the world.
But in keeping with the spirit of excess, it’s for the resorts’ all-you-can-eat buffets that Sin City dining is really known.
For food lovers, a Vegas buffet, which typically features piles of everything from lobster claws to smoked salmon and enchiladas to pizza, is a great culinary experience, including dishes from diverse cuisines all on one spread.
For others, it’s simply a great way to eat yourself through a hangover and generally make a pig of yourself.
I’ve been doing the latter at eateries across town such as The Spice Market in Planet Hollywood, The Bellagio Buffet and Rio’s World Carnival Buffet.
For better or worse, the piles of cheap casino grub of yesteryear are long gone so prices are around the £25 mark – still not bad for as much gourmet fare as you can stuff down.
And everything here is excessive, so it’s totally acceptable to leave the buffet feeling like a beached whale.
On my final morning I literally roll out of bed and land on the floor. Vegas has lived up to every expectation, but I’m exhausted and I have little memory of the night before – which could be a very bad thing.
I anxiously peer under the bed and see stacks of casino chips scattered about on the floor. Cha-ching!
After spending days on the tables trying to pile up the pennies I’m ultimately in the black. I can’t help myself.
I dance around and scream that old Vegas victory cry I‘ve been longing to shout since the moment I arrived – “Winner winner chicken dinner!”I’m finally content to leave Vegas.
When to go: It’s pretty much high season year-round in Vegas – the weather is always warm or hot and most activities take place indoors anyway.
March-May has the most comfortable temperatures, in the mid-20˚Cs, while in the hottest months, July and August, the mercury often hits 40˚C+.
Currency: £1= US$1.60
Accommodation: Golden Gate is a vintage casino hotel on Fremont Street, stuffed with quirky Vegas-themed Victoriana, such as antique slot machines, Double rooms start from £20pn.
Grand Canyon helicopter tours cost from £175pp with Grand Canyon Tour Company
Tickets to X Burlesque cost £35pp
Planning a trip to Sin City? Look no further than TNT Tour Search!
Photos: Thinkstock; Getty