Las Vegas celebrates 100th birthday with giant cake - Thursday 12th of May 2005

Las Vegas kicked off its 100th birthday celebration with a "Helldorado" party and what organisers claim to be the world's largest birthday cake. Some 600 volunteers assembled the cake to organ music in a hangar on the outskirts of the city, after seven semi-trucks hauled in the 43 tonnes of cake and 15.5 tonnes of icing.

"That's 23 million calories," Brian Averna, executive chief of Sara Lee Foods company and leader of the volunteers, told AFP.The cake measures 31 metres (102 feet) long, 15 metres (52 feet) wide and 50 centimetres (20 inches) high.Organisers expect the Guiness World Records to confirm the record-setting cake within weeks.Elsewhere, rock music blared out, Elvis Presley impersonators crooned, show girls danced, fruit machine levers cranked all night, police did their best to keep prostitutes under control. There was plenty of temptation for the estimated 20,000 people at the opening party.But Jeremy Coronado and his "Sister in God" Gail Stravsky stoically positioned themselves on the corner of Fremont Road and 2nd Street in the centre of the Nevada gambling resort holding up a placard beseeching the masses not to succumb.

"There's nothing wrong celebrating the centennial of a city. But it's Sin City. We have to warn the inhabitants they risk the wrath of God, like Sodom and Gomorrha," he said sombrely.Coronado, 27, positions himself at the same place every weekend warning the hordes who pack nearby casino hotels such as the "Horseshoe" and "Golden Nugget".Around him giant screens show nearly naked dancers interspersed with video clips of singer Celine Dion, an established Vegas performer, and adverts for casinos."Jesus Christ is angry with the wicked everyday," said Coronado, who insisted that "God already warned us on 9/11" -- the devastating Al-Qaeda strikes on New York and Washington.His pleas go unheard by most passers-by. Some just laugh.

Some walked by drinking beer from a can, one of the many infringements of local laws that are tolerated in Las Vegas, particularly for events such as this.Some residents agree with the Coronado and Stravsky, though for different reasons. "Most think they can do what they want, but they just cause disturbances," said Tracy, a 22-year-old lifetime resident of the city, complaining about many of the 38 million people who visit Las Vegas each year.Sunday will be the high point of virtually a year of often raucous celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas, which was born as a railway outpost, became a city in 1905, though for most people it only rated a mention from 1941 -- 10 years after the Nevada legislature legalized gambling in the state and when El Rancho Vegas Hotel-Casino became the first major hot spot on what is now The Strip.It was followed in 1946 by the Flamingo, built by Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, the Los Angeles Mafia boss who was gunned down in Las Vegas a few years later.Big business has now taken over gangsters as the owners of the casinos. Most need huge financial resources. Gambling tycoon Steve Wynn needed 2.7 billion dollars for his new megaresort opened this month.Las Vegas now boasts 18 of America's 20 top hotels.

Its quickie wedding chapels meanwhile also make it the country's nuptial capital, with around 120,000 marriages each year. But Sheriff Bill Young is having a tough time with his own campaign to clean up the streets of Sin City. Lurid free sheets advertising prostitutes and sex services are everywhere, despite a legal ban, even brazenly stacked outside the windows of the Sheriff's downtown office itself. Taxis are covered in advertising for strip joints. "It's an embarassment to this community. Most of the residents here are ashamed with that," Young said, one of many officials embarrassed by the successful city slogan "What Happens in Vegas stays in Vegas".

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