My Dad’s Happy Place – Bob Stupak’s VEGAS WORLD, Baby!

I had meant to write this as kind of a Fathers Day tribute, but I am a few days late. But whatever, my dad has been dead for years, so he isn’t going to criticize the timing. He actually used to joke that everything I did was on “Tanya Time”, so if there were a voice from beyond, it would probably be along the lines of ‘Oh yeah, right on schedule!’

My dad took my brother and I on a family trip to LA / Tijuana for a couple of years, and we loved it. Then one day my dad was reading a Playboy magazine, as you do, for the articles, and came across an advertisement. The advertisement was for Bob Stupak’s Vegas World, and offered a “virtually FREE Vegas Vacation”. I could, and should, give a lengthy background on this, but will describe it here in a nutshell because I am lazy. (However, this article is the best and most accurate thing I have read about Bob Stupak and Vegas World (my brother sent this to me a few years ago), and explains it better than I ever could:

Anyway, the gist of it is that Bob Stupak, who was a super shady, almost Donald Trumpian Vegas character, was attempting to build a giant tower at his casino. This tower now exists as the Stratosphere, but at the time it was still just a dream.

In order to finance construction of the tower, Bob was offering “VIP Packages” at his Vegas World casino. VIP packages cost something like $400.00 and would get you two nights lodging in the hotel, but also came with two free (unlimited!) drink cards, $ 1,000.00 in chips to gamble with, and $ 200.00 in slots, plus some really tacky gifts. I think one was like a cubic zirconia ring, and maybe a shitty watch or something. The point is, unless you are incredibly bad at gambling and have absolutely no self restraint (which I suppose fits the bill for most people, or it would not have worked), this was a hell of a deal.

My dad was not only notoriously cheap, but he was also a PHD in math and enjoyed number games. He realized that he could take my brother and I on a vacation that would pay for itself, and maybe even earn money. He announced one day “This year we will be going to Vegas instead of LA”. And then he started practicing counting cards for his upcoming blackjack sessions. I believe he also started schooling my brother in blackjack and counting cards.

I will admit, I was a little disappointed. I loved the LA trips. But he seemed so excited. And I think my brother was too. But it still seemed kind of iffy, beings as my brother and I were both still in high school and you have to be 21 to be on the gambling floor of a casino…..So…, how was that going to go over?!

But, it was dad’s time to shine. He had been footing the bill and putting up with his two teenaged children getting robbed in Mexico, vomiting in the car, and all sorts of crap, so the last we could do was say “Fuck yeah, let’s go to Vegas!”

We embarked on our journey and drove to Vegas. I remember the day we got there just being kind of overwhelmed. The entire casino was festooned with a spaceship theme. Although, even though I knew right well it was tacky, it was still kind of cool. Bob Stupak’s picture was everywhere, and he was NOT a hot piece. The smell of alcohol and cigarettes was impressively present. We took a seat at the bar to take advantage of our free drink coupons, listen to the live band, test the waters and gain our footing. Just two teenagers and their middle aged dad, nothing to see there….

The cocktail waitresses definitely gave a few raised brows to my brother and I. I believe I was only 16 at the time. But somehow, since we were with our dad, they let it fly. Once or twice I thought they might refuse to give us drinks, but in the end we got them. (Now I wonder if they weren’t watered down, because I don’t remember getting outrageously drunk,… but I do remember relaxing quite a bit?)…

One of my favorite memories of all time was the next day. I woke up and asked my dad where my brother was . “Oh, he went to the casino. He wanted to go by himself. He borrowed my sports jacket and I think he is pretending he’s James Bond”….”oh, I see.”, I said. My dad then went off to do his own thing while I stayed in the room, ever the angelic one, and read a book or something. (no really, that’s true). A few hours later, I look up from my book because I hear someone frantically trying to get into the room. Finally the door unlocks, and my brother RUNS in and makes a beeline for the bathroom. Which, okay, he needs to go to the bathroom. But then, suddenly, there is the sound of the shower turning on….hmmmm….. “DID YOU SHIT YOUR PANTS?” I yelled. Sadly, it turns out he did. I guess the James Bond experiment did not go well.

There were so many other delightful family times there. We of course saw an Elvis impersonator. Back then everyone also just wanted to get you in their respective casino, and the food deals were outrageous. You could get an early bird special of steak and eggs after midnight for 99 cents. Prime rib specials for just a few dollars. From what I understand, Vegas is no longer anywhere near that – it’s a food capital and they are charging what one would expect rather than bargain basement prices. But I honestly have not been to Vegas since these trips so many years ago.

We went to this little rinky dink casino one night because they advertised a full chicken dinner for some ungodly cheap price – like ten cents or a quarter or something – like, crazy cheap….. But we had to leave because a customer had just died on their floor minutes before. God, we were classy.

All good memories though. My dad was always very happy both with the trip, and proud of himself because he had figured out a way to give us a Christmas vacation for free. He would brag that he always broke even, if not a little better. Bob Stupak’s crazy VIP package paid for our gas, food, lodging, and alcohol – for three people!

My dad used to joke about how one day when he was old, my brother and I would take him to Vegas and plan and pay for it ourselves. We were actually going to do so not long before my dad died – we talked about it and began planning, but somehow it fell through. That has always been one of my bigger regrets. But I did tell my dad what we had been up to, so I know he knows it would have eventually happened.

Addendum: I get that some people will frown upon my dad’s parenting skills and think he is irresponsible, but I think it’s the opposite. He always treated us like people. Not kids, not inferior beings, just people. equals. And there is a lot to be said and learned from that. He let us make our own mistakes and figure stuff out for ourselves. I think I turned out fine, thanks. And my dad is better than yours.

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