With the push of a button, Las Vegas comes to life — or goes dark

The new-and-improved Mirage volcano in November 2009.

Ask about power on the Las Vegas Strip and you’ll likely hear about casino executives, pit bosses and county commissioners.

Though their roles might be pegged to running this spectacularly lighted and ever-energetic desert city, you can’t ignore the power hidden in complex control rooms — under buttons and switches.

From the volcano of the Mirage to the Bellagio’s fountains and the assembly lines of major slot manufacturers, buttons and switches play a vital role in keeping Las Vegas alive.

Here’s a look at some of them:

    • New York-New York: Roller coaster

      Green means go.

      When the ride attendant of New York-New York’s roller coaster presses this green button titled “Station Advance,” a string of yellow cabs zips down the track. Riders peak at 67 mph and as high as 203 feet off the ground.

      If one of the cab’s urethane wheels spontaneously melts or explodes (the resort spends about $70,000 a year on new wheels) the attendant can jam the “Emergency Stop” button, which locks up the wheels and stops the ride.

    • Mirage: The volcano

      To get to the Mirage volcano’s control room, you have to hop on an all-terrain vehicle and buzz through about two city blocks of underground tunnel. At the end, you’ll arrive at a sprawling pyrotechnic playground.

      Run by an eight-man team, the volcano gets its power from a control room. Inside you’ll find a flat, touch-screen computer attached to a cabinet full of circuits, wires and manual buttons.

      With the touch of a button, an attendant can raise and light the volcano’s 152 fire shooters, launching fireballs for the duration of the five-minute, 40-second show.

      If something goes wrong, there’s an “Emergency Stop” button. If there’s a gas leak — indicated by the smell of rotten garlic — the system is disabled.

    • Luxor: Sky beam

      Hidden on the fourth floor of the Luxor, across the hall from a cluster of hotel rooms, there’s an office anchored by a Dell desktop, circa 1995.

      The ancient machine, rigged with a flying star screen saver, controls the Luxor’s iconic beam.

      Using the mouse, you simply click a digital button labeled “All Systems ON/OFF” to activate about 20 gas lights the size of a medium watermelon. On special occasions — such as when a famous Las Vegas celebrity passes away — the pyramid’s 39 lights shine at once.

      At the bulbs, which run from sunset to sunrise, the temperature often passes 500 degrees.

      When repairing the bulbs, workers have to wear Kevlar vests and blast helmets to prevent injury from exploding bulbs. They quit before 11 a.m. due to the heat.

    • Bally Technologies: Assembly line — Bermuda Road warehouse

      The assembly line in Bally’s Bermuda Road warehouse pumps out about 150 slot machines a day during business -- more than 20,000 a year.

      Three buttons set the whole operation in motion, forcing warm-blooded workers to keep up the pace of production.

      More than 50 workers follow the machines through the rolling process — from empty cabinet to functioning machine. A supervisor hits each of three buttons once a day — to start, to break for lunch and to end the day.

      Arranged in rows around the assembly line, the finished slot machines are tagged for shipment to places such as Washington, England and Puerto Rico.

    • Fremont Street: Experience canopy

      The first thing they tell you in the Experience’s control room is this: Don’t mess with the green buttons.

      A panel of about 30 illuminated green buttons controls the electricity running through the Experience’s canopy 90 feet above the sidewalk.

      The four-block long canopy is made up of 12.5 million red, blue and green LED bulbs. The $17 million digital display features live-action music videos set to top-40 pop tunes, such as Heart’s “Crazy on You.”

      If you accidentally — or purposely — tap one of the green buttons, that particular panel is killed. To turn the panel back on, it’s not as simple as tapping the button again.

      You have to head to the roof.

    • Fremont Street: Casino facades

      When it’s time for the elaborate light show at the Fremont Street Experience, a two-man production team has to dim the casino lights. All that power lies in a button the size of the nail on your pinky finger.

      The button turns off the facade lights to the Fremont, California, Main Street Station, The D, Four Queens, Golden Gate and Golden Nugget.

      The show runs every hour on the hour from 8 p.m.-1 a.m.

    • Bellagio: The fountains

      The journey to the button that runs the most iconic show in Las Vegas is a long one.

      It takes a quarter-mile walk through the Bellagio's electrical grid and air ducts, between the first and second floors, and a climb up a half-story ladder to reach the control room, a perch overlooking the Strip and fountain rings in the water.

      The control room’s panel features a yellow turn switch labeled “Lake Devices.” Switched to “Enable,” a green button lights up, ready to go.

      “Start Show,” the button says.

      When the attendant presses the button, a computer starts the music and the show begins. A collection of 1,200 water-shooting devices rises from the water. The extreme shooters launch water 460 feet in the air — as tall as the Bellagio — at a speed of 140 gallons per second.

      Of course, there’s a “Graceful Abort” button — just in case an enamored onlooker falls in the water, which is 17 feet at its deepest point.

    • Stratosphere: Top of the World restaurant's rotating floor

      Hidden behind a picture frame, a rectangular switch box controls the movement of the Top of the World.

      Flip a switch to “start” and the floor begins to rotate, taking dinner guests on scenic, 360-degree trip.

      Depending on the speed, which never exceeds a mile an hour, the floor takes between 60 and 80 minutes to complete a rotation.

    • Stratosphere: The Big Shot

      Looking to take the edge off after a long week’s work? Forget whiskey or beer.

      Strap yourself into the Big Shot atop the 1,081-foot Stratosphere tower. An attendant will check your rig, step back, smile and gently tap a giant red button, perhaps the biggest red button in Las Vegas.

      The push launches 16 riders 160 feet in the air at 45 mph. If you close you eyes and let go, you meet the sensation that comes with flying.

      When riders fall back toward earth, riders barely have time to catch a breath before the ride catapults them toward the heavens.