Penthouse Retrospective

by Tom O’Connell Originally Published: September, 2011

Vegas Variations on Volatility

Penthouse Magazine - September 2011Keeping the Peace in Vegas

You see the couple over there at the bar? They’re from, let’s say, Ypsilanti, Michigan, but here in Vegas, as many visitors understand it, anything goes. This duo is dressed for excess: she in hooker heels and he in an expensive-looking collared shirt with chest hair peeking out from under the gaudy gold chain around his neck. They don’t dress like this in Michigan. But they obviously get Jersey Shore. This is a big trip for them. Trouble is, at this point they’ve already peaked. You can tell they’re fairly fucked up. Look how she’s laughing hysterically every few seconds, while he’s starting to get a little aggressive with the bartender.

At some moment down the line, one of them is going to get pissed off at the other for some perceived slight. Then someone will start screaming and swinging. That’s when the guys in uniform who aren’t actually the police get called.

The free spectacles are part of the draw and all of the burden of working security on the Vegas Strip. You have a front-row seat to the show, but you seldom witness the best side of people. Instead, every single day you answer a call for domestic battery (which usually involves the woman flailing at the man), or contend with legions of zombie drunks causing various dustups, or deal with a paranoid case who’s done too much coke and trashed his suite. Other times, it’s a naked young lady wandering the hallways who was probably roofied the night before and woke up in a stranger’s room. And then there’s the constant stream of bloody fights and suicides. Most of it is — surprise! — alcohol — or drug-related.

“The biggest challenge we have is being rational with people who are in an irrational state,” says Big Mike (all names have been changed), a security guard and EMT for one of the major casino hotels on the Strip. Big Mike is a former biker who’s built like a bulldog and radiates a complete no-nonsense policy.

As charming and clever as many hard-core partiers fancy themselves to be at midnight in this town, many of them end up in the service elevator covered in their own puke, unable to be roused. And if they can be roused, they likely won’t know what day it is, what city they’re in, which hotel they’re staying at, or what their name is. Whatever sort of douche-baggery a person can get up to, the not-quite-police in the official-looking uniforms have witnessed it.

“Every single night you get people who don’t know their own name or other basic information,” says Mike. “It’s 1970, they’re in Pasadena, Nixon’s president. It’s annoying as shit. It requires a lot of patience to deal with somebody under the influence. You might find a moment when they’re lucid, they might just snap out of it for a second, and you try to take advantage of that time.”

Sin City has not been immune to the recession that began a few years ago. Hotels have cut room prices and airlines have slashed fares in order to drum up business — two developments that have changed everything about Vegas, according to the security guys who spoke with Penthouse.

“When a hotel is charging up to $400 a night per room, you get a certain quality of people who visit,” says Mike. “Now, as rates have dropped to a hundred and change, instead of getting the tipper-middle-class couple, you get ten twentysomethings from California, all chipping in ten bucks for a room.”

“The reality, according to the guards we spoke to is more Leaving Las Vegas than The Hangover. Suicide scenes are more common than goody high jinks.”

“It’s become a five-star service for three-star guests,” agrees Dapper Don, an elegant bastard in a spotless pressed uniform who has a vaguely European accent by way of Weehawken, New Jersey. Don is not your typical pituitary case earnestly shopping for a reason to punch your lights out. and that quality comes in handy because restraint is the name of the security game now that it has essentially become a customer-service position. The guests, who are quick to lodge a complaint or even sue, are keenly aware of this turn. “The clients are more irate and agitated and don’t give a shit about anything,” says Don. “Your opinion doesn’t matter. You’re just here to serve them. God forbid they have to wear a shirt in the casino, or I have to ask for their ID.”

“The frequency of the calls has gone up — fights, passed-out drunks, medical response — because of the type of people coming,” Big Mike tells us. “They’re not as respectful to the property and the employees. They’re really not here to gamble; they come because it’s so cheap. The whole atmosphere has changed.”

Gone are the days when couples dressed for dinner and a show before hitting the tables, or ordered lavish room-service spreads. Now, says Mike, you see obese Midwesterners bringing back McDonald’s bags and drugstore snacks to their rooms. Instead of tips of $5 or more, employees get a dollar, or no tip at all. The high rollers have left the building.

Of course, working security in Vegas has never been uneventful. On Mike’s first night on the job a few years ago, he got called to the casino’s nightclub for a guest in distress. She’d had only a couple of cocktails, but was feeling strange, and had approached security for help. Turns out somebody had slipped her some GHB, a date-rape drug — common practice at Vegas clubs, according to Mike.

“About ten seconds before I was on scene, she collapsed and stopped breathing, and that’s how I found her,” he says. “That was literally my welcome to the casino industry.”

Another story that stands out for Mike is the time he responded to a call in a hotel room and found a gentleman with a huge dildo lodged in his ass. Mike called paramedics, who put the fellow faced own on a gurney. He had a small tent pitched over his backside as they wheeled him through the casino. That story probably stayed in Vegas.

“That was one of those Wow, what kind of environment am I working in? moments,” says Mike. Meet Thelonius Mark, a hulk of a man whose massive bald dome perches like a hand grenade atop the battle-scarred Abrams tank that is his body. He could be a rugby player or an extra from Braveheart, and he admits that he doesn’t mind the occasional fracas. “It’s fun; it’s hilarious,” he says of the times the job becomes a full-contact sport. “It’s not so fun when you’ve got a transient covered in shit.”

Mark’s partner in grime is Raging Reginald, a former white-collar professional who changed careers to get in on the Strip action. He describes the time they were chasing down a pair of gypsies. One reached under her skirt for something. Gun? Knife? Not quite: It was an industrial-size tampon — and it was fully loaded, so to speak. “She pulled it out and swung it around like a lasso. It made this slimy sound,” says Reginald, who had to dodge the messy missile.

But what gets these guys’ blood pumping most is when the fists start flying. When you add alcohol and drugs to an already chaotic and testosterone-heavy environment, misunderstandings will follow and tempers will run hot. Mike describes one recent brawl in which two guys were ejected from the casino nightclub. They picked it back up with their crews outside, facing off near the valet stand. When the me lee among 20 or 30 muscle-heads really took off, the Metro cops arrived.

“Suddenly it was like Kent State,” says Mike. Police batons flew through the air, which became choked with pepper spray as bystanders ran for cover. Just another night working security in America’s neon fantasyland.

Another source of trouble for visitors is their set of preconceived notions, fed by pop culture, about Vegas. After The Hangover came out, for example, “people started going ape-shit,” says Reginald. “Trying to steal cars… We had one guy steal a street sweeper, take it into the guest garage, and do $15,000 in damage.”

Mark agrees: “You’re not going to get Mike Tyson’s tiger, and you’re not going to get to the roof of any of the properties, which are all highly secured. Everybody wants to be a part of the Vegas scene, and they feel like they can go above and beyond, and that’s when they get into trouble.”

The reality, according to the guards we spoke to, is more Leaving Las Vegas than The Hangover. Suicide scenes are more common than goofy high jinks. Big Mike talks of a recent episode that some associates at another casino investigated. A guy who was despondent over his gambling debts, which he’d tried to pay off by embezzling from his company, checked in to the hotel, had one last hurrah, and then jumped from the parking garage. In a video that captured it, you see the body bounce a few feet, and then, according to Mike, “This guy’s brain shoots out of his head like a cannon, clear across the street.”

Didn’t see anything like that in The Hangover.

Well, Leaving Las Vegas was a much better movie anyway, although Amazon Prime says you only have a week to watch it for free there. Sad. It should be a “Shue”-in for your movie history list.