Las Vegas isn't a city, it's a mad, bad neon metaphor that's high on cocaine and looking for some action. It's Vegas, baby, Vegas. It's the American Dream and nightmare, a Disney World for adults filled with high rollers and low taste; it's heaven and a wildly fun hell.

As you can tell I love the place, and I've never even been there. Yet somehow (like New York) Vegas seems to exist in excitable imaginations as much as it does in the Nevada desert.

It's really no wonder writers - and, of course, Hollywood - love the place. And anyone with half an interest in popular culture can easily name a dozen films, books or TV shows in which Vegas is more like a character than a prime location.

Would The Hangover, Casino, Ocean's Eleven or Swingers have been half as good if they'd been set in Reno? Pah, why am I even asking the question?


So of course when Prime announced, with some excitement, that it had a show called Vegas (Thursdays, 8.30pm), I was somewhat excited too, particularly given the cast - Michael Chiklis (the excellent The Shield), Dennis Quaid (from Enemy Mine to Far From Heaven) and Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) - and the involvement of Casino screen-writer Nicholas Pileggi.

However, if the cards seemed pretty good as they were dealt, as the first four episodes have played out, I can't help feeling this is more of a busted flush than a blackjack (apologies for the mixed gambling metaphor).

Set in 1960 before Vegas was truly Vegas, the show's thematic set-up is about pitting the old Nevada against new: the opening scene had an airliner buzzing a herd of cattle.

Quaid is Ralph Lamb, a widowed cattle rancher (and ex-World War II army MP) who is - with remarkably little protest - roped in to being Vegas' sheriff after the previous incumbent goes missing and later turns up dead. Lamb is no lamb: he's tough, smart, old-fashioned and honest. On his team are his brother Jack (not so smart) and son Dixon (the family playboy) as sheriff's deputies.

Lamb's enemy - though equal - is Chiklis' Vincent Savino, a Chicago mobster who's been sent out to Vegas to manage the Savoy, a casino that could do better.

On Savino's team is Mia Rizzo, the under-boss' daughter, and Anthony "Red" Cervelli, Savino's right-hand man.

Team Lamb wants to keep Vegas honest - as if! - while Team Savino is there for the money. The former likes to touch its hat when passing ladies; the latter has a profound understanding of that old Stalin dictum: remove the man, remove the problem.

All of this is, on paper anyway, a match-up with potential for tasty drama with the guy in the cowboy hat and boots, Lamb, facing down the guy in the sharkskin suit, Savino.

Unfortunately, this showdown has been peripheral in every episode so far.

Once a dead body turns up - as it inevitably does in the first 10 minutes of Vegas - the show becomes a predictable by-the-numbers police procedural.

Inevitably the Lambs' investigation passes through the Savoy and Quaid and Chiklis will share a scene and Lamb will spit something tough at Savino. In the first episode it was "I am the law here Mr Savino and I will decide who's breaking it".

It's a nice line, even if I've got a feeling I've heard it somewhere before. In any case the script is too short on such zingers, while the set design and production values lack the wow factor. It's missing the sheen and gravitas of something like Boardwalk Empire, which, although set four decades earlier, plies much the same territory but with greater skill.

But the main problem, I reckon, four episodes in is that, although Sheriff Lamb may have plenty of balls, the show is missing at least one. Vegas takes no risks at all.

And in Vegas if you don't gamble, there's no way to win.