With Siegfried and Roy pulling down eight figures a year, David Copperfield levitating on the cover of Forbes (I'm guessing camera trick), and Vegas competing with Anaheim for the family-vacation market (if Treasure Island = Pirates of the Caribbean, and Excalibur = Cinderella's Castle, Mr. Toad's Wild Hotel and Casino must be next), magic is running a close third to Elvis spin-offs and female breasts as entertainments in Vegas.
According to December's Magic magazine, there are nine major shows in Vegas that are either full-tilt magic acts or feature magicians big. But that's an underestimate, because it doesn't count Vegas regulars like the Pendragons (husband and wife magicians and body builders -- it had to happen). Nor does it count the acts that play the celebrity rooms several weeks a year, such as Harry Blackstone Jr., David Copperfield and, yes, Penn & Teller. Then there are the close-up guys who sit at your table and do tricks and jokes right in your and your date's collective face -- like the amazing Mike + Skinner. Throw in all the comics making condom jokes while sticking needles through balloons at the brick-wall comedy clubs, and you probably have two or three dozen magic acts working Vegas as I type.
What you need to know: Siegfried and Roy, two nuts from Germany, are out of their wealthy little minds. They live in a mansion whose ceiling is painted like the Sistine Chapel, with either Siegfried or Roy (who can remember?) in place of Adam. Roy has a "meditation chamber" (the rest of us have dressing rooms) furnished with a mystic rug and cages for his tigers. They wow the crowd with heavy machinery and endangered-species eugenics. I love S&R. They march to the beat of a different drum machine.
Speaking of selective breeding, Lance Burton, who does one of the finest dove acts in the history of the bulging vest, has actually married Melinda, "the First Lady of Magic." They have joined their hearts and lives but still have separate, competing shows in Vegas. Melinda, who has the best hair in magic next to mine, floats in the air while talking about Jesus. (If it really were Jesus holding her above the stage, would it have to be lighted so carefully?)
There's more coming. Caesars Palace plans to open Caesars Magical Empire, with no fewer than three theaters. What's going on? Elvis died, and it takes a platoon of rabbit tuggers to fill his jumpsuit? I think the answer is pretty simple. People go to Vegas to see something they can't see back home. They can see comedians at the mall, celebrities on TV, singers doing hit songs repeatedly in whatever-VH-1-is videos.
But magic doesn't really work on TV. Miracles have to be seen live. You can't bet on things that are in the can; horse races, boxing, keno -- they all happen in real time. And in a city where getting 97 cents back for every dollar invested is advertised as a good return, you're going to want willing- suspension-of-disbelief by the truckload. The casino oligarchs figure you will start by believing you saw a hanky transformed into a pigeon, and be on the road to believing it really is your lucky day. If that nut can turn into a white tiger, I should be able to roll another seven, easy. If you don't believe in a little bit of magic, you don't gamble. And if you don't like magic and you don't gamble, you're better off in Branson.