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RED- HOT POKER; LAS VEGAS: IT'S THE HOME OF.

Byline: DARREN BOYLE

FLYING through the Grand Canyon at 150 knots in a helicopter, with Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries blasting through your headphones, is an experience of a lifetime.

Sitting in the confines of the Eurocopter EC 120, it is the ideal place to see the damage the Colorado River has caused over the past million years.

Taking off from Sundance Helicopter's base near Las Vegas' world-famous Strip, the chopper soon passes over Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and Mojave Desert.

Stopping off at Eagle Point, it is possible to take the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which allows you to walk 70ft out into the canyon on a clear glass panel - with the Colorado River 4,000ft below.

Walking out on the glass takes a bit of bottle, but if you are lacking that steel in your constitution, you probably should avoid Las Vegas altogether. Apparently it would take you more than a minute to hit the ground if you tumbled over the edge.

The Grand Canyon tour makes an interesting interlude for any trip to Sin City, the world famous Mecca for gamblers.

From Caesar's Palace, the Bellagio and the Venetian, many of the locations have a distinct Italian ring - possibly something to do with the town's links to the Mafia in the 1950s.

On one afternoon, in an attempt to disprove the saying 'what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas', I sat down at a lunchtime Texas Hold'em tournament at Caesar's Palace.

With plenty of time until the show that had been booked for that evening, I eased into the tournament, keeping the wise words of Kenny Rodgers close at hand.

Like all other casinos, there are no clocks at Caesar's Palace so with the chips multiplying and the time passing it was rapidly approaching 8pm.

But with 30 other players battling their way to the final table and a $3,000 top prize, I had to take "a rain check" on the theatre.

After securing a birth in the final three - shortly before midnight, a top-class meal would make up for any disappointment on the behalf of the dearly beloved.

With just three players left and a large chip lead, I committed the fatal mistake which the bearded troubadour had warned about in his song The Gambler... "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run, you never count your money when you're sitting at the table ..." I had already mentally spent half the $3,000 on a buy-in for the big tournament the following morning, while the rest was for a present for my dearly beloved for squandering $1,500 on a tournament.

The next line of The Gambler wisely advises "... there's time enough for counting - when the dealing's done."

Less than half an hour later, I was out in third place, taking home $1,000. Half of that was allocated for a trip to the Top of the World Restaurant, which revolves more than 800ft above the strip at the Stratosphere Hotel. It has unrivalled views.

French-born chef Claude Gaty's food is a delight while Michael the Maitre D's service is superb.

Any trip to Vegas would not be complete without a trip to a show and the spectacular Phantom Of The Opera in The Venetian is certainly worth taking a break from the green felt for.

But for the hard-core poker player there is only one place on this earth where they want hear the words: "dealers, shuffle up and deal" - Binions in the old town.

Squeezing in one last tournament before the flight home, I sat down in the same venue where Noel Furlong became the first Irish winner of the World Series of Poker main event in 1999 when he won $1 million.

Sitting at my last final table in Vegas just two hours before I was due to get up to catch my flight home, I was sitting beside Peter Flynn from Crossmolina, Co Mayo. Also there was a Vegas native straight from central casting. Luckily with just half an hour before my alarm call was due to go off in the hotel, the Vegas guy busted out of the tournament in third place, with myself and Peter splitting the money between us.

So with a nice roll of dollars in my pocket it was good to show that not all that happens in Vegas stays there, as my improved credit union account can attest.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is charged with marketing Southern Nevada as a tourism and convention destination.

For more information about what is hot and happening in Las Vegas, go to www.visitlasvegas.com or call the Dublin office on 01 6319640.

CAPTION(S):

Name up in lights... Caesar's Palace dominates the Las Vegas skyline while our man Darren (right, inset below) and opponents get ready for more poker table action Mind the gap... the awesome view of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, whether from land or air, is one the world's most popular must-see spectacles Vroom with a view... Darren and fiance Margaret take a birds-eye look at the Grand Canyon during their flight in a Eurocopter EC 120
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 7, 2010
Words:871
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