Having landed in McCarran International, it took one witty soul a full two seconds to let fly: "Vegas, baby!" If anyone cared to dispute the sentiment, the barrage of slot machines at the arrival gate were impregnable proof - we were in a special place.
Even before landing, cuddling seatmates ironed out Vegas wedding plans - with time-permitting trips to the craps tables. From the air, the city looms ridiculously - a glaring neon sign in the middle of the desert. "Desert," as in: "Should be deserted."
As the third week of the WSOP begins, it seems well past time to find out what makes "The Meadows" (yep, check your Spanish-English dictionary) so special. What was it that brought us all here - for weddings and martinis, prostitution and dice, buffets and the universe's greatest poker contest?
Roll back the clocks 300 years and you will discover a different patch of dirt - a part of the trip to Los Angeles that Spanish traders called the "jornada de muerte," or "journey of death (okay, that's it, you can put your dictionary down now)."
The discovery of a valley with water and - yes - some patches of grass made Vegas a key point for desert travelers - another early name for Sin City? Part of the "Mormon Corridor" between Salt Lake City and San Bernadino. Funny, you so seldom see it called the "Mormon Corridor" nowadays.
Around that time Las Vegas became a city and outlawed gambling. Yes, OUTLAWED gambling, along with most of the nation. How did the nation react? You know it as the Great Depression. We know it as the Big Poker Hissy Fit.
Looking to boost failing mining and farming output (farms in the desert - how could they fail?), Nevada re-legalized gambling in 1931, and never looked back. The only question is - what was the rest of the country thinking? It took Atlantic City until 1976 to cash in and Tunica until 1990.
Even with gambling - pardon us, "gaming" - back on the menu, Vegas was kind of a hole. It needed an extreme makeover from society's visionaries, those gentle fairies who bring color to the sand and fill the desert night with music. We're talking of course about the mob.
X marked the spot for Bugsy Siegel, the man who did for Vegas what Tarantino did for Travolta. While in town working on a national bookie wire system - we owe this man so much - Bugsy decided this was the place to build a money-laundering profit-skimming hick-fleecing paradise - or, "resort hotel."
It was the project that would kill Bugsy, but the Flamingo Las Vegas birthed the city as we know it. Sprawling and lavish, the Flamingo led to bigger and glitzier hotels, the biggest on the planet - and no, we're not just saying that - to form the landscape we know and love.
Some parts of Vegas history, however, make even less sense than "Because Bugsy said so." Prostitution, for example - why was it never banned in Nevada, as it was in all states (except Rhode Island of all places) during the puritanical prohibition-era purges?
Divorce and marriage are also inexplicably easy here - the earliest Strip hotels were set up around 1911, when new laid-back laws required visitors to spend six weeks in town before getting an official split. Weddings are even quicker; but most figures show divorce is the popular choice (at about 1.5:1 for you Vegas oddsmakers).
It was in this land of liberal laws and gaming palaces that casino owner and poker lover Benny Binion set up the WSOP. It started as a public five-month feud of the felt between Johnny Moss and Nick the Greek - but when Benny saw the crowds gather to watch Johnny's triumph, he got all historical.
A few years later, Benny - now owner of Binion's Horseshoe casino - invited six of poker's best to compete in the World Series of Poker and vote on the best player. Johnny Moss got the vote and a little trophy. The next year, Benny introduced a new freeze-out elimination format and birthed history.
Not much has changed since then - a few events added and subtracted, a few thousand extra entrants (Benny dreamed of the day he would see fifty contestants) attracted by low buy-in satellites; and in-depth coverage provided by the slickest mothers on the Internet. That's us.
Enjoy it kids - it may seem strange swimming in the desert, elbowing past palm trees on the way to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino Amazon room, but once you get there, you know Vegas is the only place big enough, crazy enough and hot enough to hold the greatest tournament known to pokerkind.