Shimmering from the desert haze of Nevada like a latter-day El Dorado, LAS VEGAS is the most dynamic, spectacular city on earth. At the start of the twentieth century, it didn’t even exist; now home to two million people, it boasts eighteen of the world’s twenty-five largest hotels, holding flamboyant, no-expense-spared casinos that lure over thirty-five-million tourists each year.

Las Vegas has been stockpiling superlatives since the 1950s, but never rests on its laurels. Many tourists expect the city to be full of kitsch places to visit, but the casino owners are far too canny to be sentimental. Yes, there are a few Elvis impersonators around, but what characterizes the city far more is its endless quest for novelty. Long before they lose their sparkle, yesterday’s showpieces are blasted into rubble, to make way for ever more extravagant replacements. A few years ago, when the fashion was for fantasy, Arthurian castles and Egyptian pyramids mushroomed along the Strip; next came a craze for constructing entire replica cities, like New York, Paris, Monte Carlo and Venice; and the current trend is for high-end properties that attempt to straddle the line between screaming ostentation and “elegant” sophistication.

While the city has cleaned up its act since the days of Mob domination, it certainly hasn’t become a family destination. Hit hard by the recession, however, just as the massive new CityCenter development increased its capacity yet again, it is perforce becoming a cheap destination once again. Two main companies, MGM Resorts and Harrah’s control colossal swathes of the Strip and much as they’d like to keep room rates at their former levels they’ve had to let them drop. The fact that you can get a high-quality room on the Strip for well under $50, at least on weekdays, means there’s less to gain than ever in spending your time in the ailing downtown and dining and entertainment prices too are more reasonable than they’ve been for years.

Although Las Vegas is an unmissable destination, it’s one that palls for most visitors after a couple of (hectic) days. If you’ve come solely to gamble, there’s not much to say beyond the fact that all the casinos are free and open 24 hours per day, with acres of floor space packed with ways to lose money: million-dollar slots, video poker, blackjack, craps, roulette wheels and much, much more.