June 4, 2004 -- WHO would have thought that a reality show about a casino (which is basically "The Restaurant" in a Las Vegas gambling joint) could be so riveting?
I say this because "The Restaurant," which was such a smash last year, tanked faster than the Andrea Doria this year. People, it seemed, were tired of real reality and were ready for fake reality of "The Bachelor" again.
But "American Casino" is a really, really good reality show.
I forced my family to watch the show with me (amid many moans and groans and "not agains") and within minutes everyone stopped complaining that they had to help me do my homework.
This Discovery Channel series is about the Green Valley Ranch (which sounds more like salad dressing) a "boutique" hotel/casino — which is what Las Vegas calls a place with "only" 200 rooms.
Small as Green Valley Ranch Resort, Casino and Spa is (compared to the other joints), it still is a $3 billion casino company — which seems like a gigantic boutique to me.
For the show, the cameras rolled 24/7 following the staff, who work for brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the COOs (along with Steve Cavallaro) and principal shareholders.
Green Valley, their newest operation, has grown from a business that their dad started in 1976 with one bingo parlor. The business now includes 12 casino/hotels and 12,000 employees.
The first two episodes are taken up by the power struggles — the corporate idiocy, the incompetence and super competence of the casino's staff, which is probably not much differect than every other corporation in the world.
There's Wayne Shadd, the PR guy who is worried about the new VP, Joe Hasson, who has to warn Shadd about hiring models for their huge Super Bowl blowout without seeing them first. Joe is scared what could happen. He should be.
There's James Fricker, the daring pastry chef and his staff. (Pastry chefs daring? You, er, bet.)
There's Michael Tata, director of hotel operations, who is like every awful boss you've ever had, and Ninya Perna, the hotel manager who gets treated like doo doo by Tata.
And there's the tension. When the pastry chef was building a gigantic sculpture resembling a large Venetian glass statue completely out of sugar (for an Epicurean event for all the other chefs in Las Vegas), we were all on the edge of our seats — especially after a giant crack develops.
When Tata tells Perna that basically her dogs would be better off dead if she has to go home for a half-hour to feed them, you want to smack the guy.
When the food doesn't show up at the casino's big slots tournament for the high-roller "slot sluts," we found ourselves cringing.
And when the second show ended and there wasn't a third show on the preview DVD, everyone in my house started moaning and groaning. Again.
This time, it was because there wasn't more to watch.