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Slots, dice, cards ... tattoos?

Sep 28, 2004 11:28 AM

There is more to tattoos than meets the eye says Monica Rizzolo, the 24-year-old-manager of the Hart and Huntington Tattoo Company inside the Palms Casino Resort. "There’s a lot that goes on with tattooing," she says. "It’s very emotional."

For sure, it’s definitely not your grandfather’s tattoo parlor. Back in his day, tattooing might have been something done to drunken sailors by a short, paunchy, balding guy named Spike whose entire wardrobe consisted of T-shirts and whose personal hygiene was marked by bad breath, bloodshot eyes, a three-day growth of beard and a stubby cigar dangling out of his mouth.

These days, tattooing is done by technicians who would prefer to be called "artists" in an atmosphere that is meant to be reassuring and comfortable. Gone is the bare light bulb suspended from the ceiling and the furniture made out of milk crates that were so prevalent in the tattoo shop stereotype. Instead, at the Hart and Huntington Tattoo Company there is an ambience that is designed to calm jittery nerves.

The company is named for its original owners, Carey Hart and John Huntington. Hart is described in a company press release as a freestyle motor cross legend while Hart is touted as one of the country’s premier nightclub promoters. Rizzolo said Hart is the sole owner since Huntington moved on to other projects and sold his share of the operation.

All of the changes in the industry have meant that the price of a tattoo is something your grandfather wouldn’t recognize, either. The bill can run from a shop minimum of $100, with an automatic $18 hotel fee added on, all the way up to the $5,000 a local man paid to have his entire back done with dragons, snakes and the like.

There are several factors that go into determining the cost of a tattoo, Rizzolo says, including its size, the amount of detail and color and its placement on the body.

A really large, complicated tattoo will take several sittings, but on the average a tattoo at Hart and Huntington takes 30 minutes to an hour in a single sitting. The most frequently requested tattoos from the gaming world are dice, cards and horseshoes along with a variety of good luck symbols, according to Rizzolo.

The shop, which is open seven days a week, has three stations and eight tattoo artists, four receptionists and two helpers on its payroll. She says the company does not do piercings because it would need another license.

Since it opened last February, about two dozen people a day have walked through the doors, says Rizzolo, who started at Hart and Huntington as a receptionist and moved into the manager’s position about two months ago. Whatever they ask for in the way of a tattoo, the shop will provide unless it is racist or politically offensive to the artists, which means no swastikas. Some of the artists also won’t do iron cross tattoos, either, Rizzolo said.

There are also two areas of the body the artists won’t normally tattoo — above the neck and below the wrists — mainly because of the difficulty in accessing those areas by the artist.

She says about 60 percent of the shop’s customers are women, and some of them fly in from around the country to have the work done at the Palms. She says the shop doesn’t tattoo anybody under the age of 18 or anybody who appears to be drunk.

Hart and Huntington artists have worked on a number of musicians and athletes, including current basketball star LeBron James and former stars Dennis Rodman and John Salley. The artists have also worked on George Maloof, owner of the Palms and the Sacramento Kings basketball team, and some members of that NBA team.

In terms of how much it hurts to get a tattoo, Rizzolo says "it’s more annoying than painful. It’s very, very tolerable. It’s like a bee sting. It’s like being sunburned and scratched with a toothpick."

However, a lot of the work the Hart and Huntington tattoo artists do involves covering up an old tattoo, like a name, and Rizzolo says that the process can be painful, especially if the artist is working over an area that hasn’t completely healed from an earlier tattooing. She said laser removal of a tattoo can also be painful as well as expensive, with the cost running up to $500 a session.

Rizzolo said a lot her female customers ask for hearts, flowers or butterflies in the lower back part of their body while the guys seem to like tribal arm bands. Each of the artists has tattoo specialties and there is a big demand for customized tattoos, such as those that can be copied off of portraits.

The tattoo company has a couple of other features that would cause Spike to choke on his cigar, including not one but two web sites, and a line of clothing accessories such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, and for the women, booty shorts.

Spike, my man, your world has changed. These days, it’s about a lot more than just drilling ink into somebody’s arm