Today’s ‘high rollers’ take gambling outside casino


Outrageous. Scandalous. Deeply offensive. And entirely inappropriate for children.

No, not the last Republican presidential debate. It’s the high-end hookup on the Linq’s behemoth High Roller ride last month that managed to make a city known for its sexual pyrotechnics and marketing of the female form titter and blush like a school kid.

News of the liaison at the Linq encouraged some folks to wonder what direction family-friendly Las Vegas was heading: Slowly, seductively and counterclockwise, as it turns out.

Or at least that direction appears to have worked for tourists Philip Panzica III of Houston and his partner Chloe Scordianos of Hicksville, N.Y., who were arrested in February by Metropolitan Police Department and booked on charges of committing sex acts in public.

Sex in public is actually a felony in Las Vegas. Some tourists seem to think it’s a prerequisite.

The traditionally staid Las Vegas Review-Journal went downright commando and ran the arrest story on its front page alongside the New Hampshire primary results. Headline: “Couple charged with sex on High Roller.” It then reprinted Vitalvegas.com’s handy “11 vital tips for having sex on the High Roller,” presumably as a reader service.

Local television news crews went with live reports as if a couple getting all Barry White on a steroid-enhanced Ferris wheel were as rare as a Big Foot sighting. It was in the public interest, of course. Or was that the prurient interest?

Turns out the High Roller hijinks is an increasingly common event. The High Roller is the world’s tallest observation wheel, and it’s gaining a reputation as one of the planet’s tallest no-tell motels as well. Officials associated with the attraction shrug and admit that, yes, they have heard of something called the “High Roller Club” and the attraction does on occasion turn into an amateur pornography studio.

Not that they condone such actions, mind you. When Caesars Entertainment chose to market the ride as “The Happiest Half Hour in Vegas!” do you suppose this is what its executives had in mind?

On the night in question, the suspects were spotted on security cameras smoking and undressing in Cabin 16. Now, I know what you’re thinking: They were smoking before sex. Weird, right? Things could get singed.

Anyway, crack High Roller security personnel spotted the potential fire hazard and requested the couple put out the butts and put their butts back in their clothes. After appearing to cooperate, the increasingly happy couple proceeded to get naked and busy.

Talk about adult theater in the round. At the ride’s apogee, the glass-encased pods are hundreds of feet in the air above the Strip.

It’s still unclear just who was offended by a mostly private sex act. Certainly not the tourists in an adjacent pod, who used their smartphones to video the event.

Lynn Comella studies this sort of behavior for a living. She’s an associate professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at UNLV and has written extensively on the pornography and sex industries. She says Las Vegas, known in recent years for its wildly successful “What happens here stays here” marketing campaign, plays a role in encouraging such naughty behavior. From the look of the place, you’d never know that prostitution and public procreation were actually against the rules.

“Unfortunately, I think the sexcapade on the High Roller was just another example of tourists, unfortunately, drinking the Kool-Aid and buying wholeheartedly into the idea that anything goes in Vegas,” Comella says. “That’s not the case. … The marketing campaign is a double-edged sword that draws people to Vegas on one hand and also gets them into trouble because they’re led to think anything goes in Vegas. Those of us that live here and pay attention to the sexual politics of Vegas know, in many ways, it is actually a very conservative city.”

If it’s unclear what the High Roller hookup says about the direction Las Vegas society is heading generally, it does at least explain the couple’s mug shots.

They appeared to be smirking.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.