Lax Vegas: Gambling Capital of the Outer Hebrides

26 09 2020

In a change from our recent run of celebrity obituaries, here’s a bit of proper (made up) history.

In the 1930s, when the Stornoway Waterworks were being constructed and the town itself was in the grip of prohibition, unscrupulous Laxdale  ‘businessmen’ Alasdair Capon, Bugsy Seagull and Meyerybank Lansky decided to cash in on the workers’ appetite for drink, gambling and other vices.

Fortunately for the conniving maw-bsters, everything West of Bridge Cottages and East of Barvas lay in the desert state of Nev-àiridh, outside the jurisdiction of Stornoway Town Council. Nev-àiridh had very lax licensing laws and civic leaders were not opposed to the odd backhander (often in the form of a snèap or two, since the Governor and many members of the State Senate were sheep).

And so, shortly after a large brown envelope stuffed with pound notes mysteriously appeared in the inside pocket of a certain village elder’s church suit, a small casino appeared just past the track to the Waterworks. This first casino was called the ‘El Crofto Vegas’ and within days of opening had attracted clientele from as far away as the Tong junction.  

Very soon, the maw-bsters had taken a stretch of the main Sy-Barvas road (at this time a twisty single track with passing places) and turned it into a Leodhasach version of Nevada’s ‘Las Vegas Strip’, known locally as the Lax Vegas Staran. Dress code was strictly black bow ties and evening boiler suits.

Inspired by the huge ‘Welcome To Las Vegas’ neon sign over in the States, an equally impressive ‘Welcome to Lax Vegas’ sign was erected on a fence just past the Waterboard Houses. This sign was paraffin powered and only worked if it wasn’t raining. And unfortunately the letters kept falling off and being rearranged ‘Fawlty Towers’ style by wee bleigards. The sign said ‘All Ex Maw Goes, Cove’ for many years and ironically it was mostly ex country folk, now living in suburbia who frequented the casinos.

Over the years many Casinos appeared on the Strip, all making a lucrative return on the pack of playing cards purchased from Paddy Reid’s. The Casinos included: 

  • D*nnie Caesar’s Palace
  • The Lochmóranstàirr-dust
  • The Desert Sin
  • El Crofto Vegas
  • The Moorage
  • ExCalanBow
  • The Dounes
  • The TongSands
  • Planet Holy-Mood

The Casinos were run along similar lines to the nearby fanks on the Barvas moor. According to Bugsy Seagull this made a great deal of sense because “Them  suckers dat comes in here is just like a flock of mehhhags, see? They likes ‘gambolling’ and we likes to fleece ’em”.

To this end the Casinos of Lax Vegas  provided a variety of games designed to part the punters from their hard earned cash:

  • Rubha-lette – The big prize in this game was a fortnight’s holiday in Portnaguran (nobody ever admitted to winning this)
  • Stud Broker – Another game where all you could win was a trip to Point
  • 5 Cearc Brag (see how many hens you could explode in 5 minutes)
  • Backjack and Blackhousejack
  • The Gu-Sealladh-Ni-Math-Orm Bandits (Holy slot machines, where 3 pictures of a minister of the same denomination resulted in a cash prize big enough to form a splinter group and build your own church). 
  • A Craps Table was also provided but this was removed very swiftly when it became apparent that patrons didn’t fully understand its purpose

To keep the punters coming, the maw-bsters laid on cheap food, drink and spectacular entertainment. Many great showbiz figures who had grown tired of life on the road (the endless 3am drives from the YM to Shawbost hall to Ness and back, the cramped confines of the tour tractor) were tempted to play long-term  residencies in Lax Vegas so that their public could come to them. And those who displayed reluctance when asked were usually ‘persuaded’ by the mysterious appearance of a sheep’s head under their pillow (and a nice plate of brot ceann caorach for breakfast to help them get over the shock).

These showbiz legends included:

  • Fank Sinatra
  • Tomair Jones, (the boy from the Balallan Valleys)
  • Barbara Steinishquicksand
  • Leóbag-Archie (the flamboyant Tong fish salesman and piano accordionist, who always played with an elaborate silver cruisgean on top of his box)
  • Psalmmy Davis Jr
  • Dean MartinsMemorial
  • Elvis Presbyterian (following on from the success of his legendary ‘Communion Back Special’, Elvis became a regular performer on ‘the Strip’) 
  • Celine Geehonk (Famed for her hit ‘My Cearc Will Go On’)
  • Calum Kennedy
  • Costello

For reasons we can’t be bothered making up, Lax Vegas was also popular with several recently deceased celebrities who we haven’t got round to writing obituaries for. These included reggae pioneer Toots Habost from Toots and the Maw-tals, and multi-instrumental genius Ronald Bellsroad from chazz fank megastars Kool and the Grein. And of course the late Dame Diana Rigsroad, whose theatre work in the West Side meant she was often on the Barvas road, never went past the Lax Vegas road end without nipping into the Moor-age casino for a quick game of 2s and 8s.

Lax Vegas’s fortunes began to wane when the Turf Accountant’s premises opened in downtown Stornoway, and the city fell into disuse entirely in the early 1980s when the wagon wheel that had been the centrepiece of the roulette table in The Dounes was requisitioned for the Church Bus. 

But not to worry, ‘having a flutter’ was still catered for by the other well known, albeit slightly posher, home of casinos, Monty Carloway/Mawnaco. But that’s for another story. 

Today, nothing remains of Lax Vegas but a bit of old railway out on the moor. This is mistakenly thought to have been something or other to do with the Waterworks, or even Lord Leverhulme, but actually it’s all that’s left of one of Lax Vegas’s premier thrill rides. With steep drops, loop-the-loops and a double corkscrew, the world-famous death-defying Caoran Blaster was in its day, one of the most exciting combined roller coaster and peat transport systems on the planet.