By simply uttering the words, "The Strip," most people automatically think of casinos, bright lights and, of course, dancing showgirls. While showgirls still perform all around Las Vegas, many of the shows today are worlds apart from what they once were.

In fact, shows like Cirque du Soleil's "O" aim to take viewers to a completely different world - a water world. The show, which premiered at the Bellagio resort in October 1998, is a celebration of life, love and death.

"O" pays tribute to the magic of theater, where the drama of life plays itself out. Written and directed by Franco Dragone, the title "O" comes from the French word for water, eau. In the spectacle, a cast of 75 performs in, on and above water. Combining gymnastics, circus art, acquatic stunts, dramatic choreography and aerial acrobatics, the show features a 1.5 million-gallon, 25-feet deep pool measuring 150 by 100 feet.

Tickets for "O" are $100 and $90 (plus tax), and are on sale up to 28 days in advance. Hotel guests of Mirage Resorts Inc. may purchase tickets up to 90 days in advance. For more information call (888) 987-6667 or visit www.bellagiolasvegas.com.

Also by Cirque du Soleil, "Mystere" is playing at Treasure Island. Acrobats, dancers and musicians take "Mystere" viewers on a journey to the edge of human potential. The production features performances like the aerial cube, the hand-to-hand act of the Alexis Brothers and a high-flying group of amazing acrobats who perform a breathtaking aerial high bar act. "Mystere" audiences will witness the dangerous Korean Plank and Bungee artists performing an aerial ballet from high above.

"Mystere" tickets are $75 (plus tax) and are available at the Cirque du Soleil ticket offices at both Treasure Island and The Mirage, or by calling (800) 392-1999 or (702) 796-9999.

Show audiences who enjoy mystery might also want to see Siegfried & Roy. The two master illusionists were recently named Magicians of the Century at the brotherhood of magic's International Magicians Society's (I.M.S.) Millennium Merlin Award ceremony. Visitors can see the duo five nights a week at the Mirage resort. For more information, visit www.themirage.com or call (800) 627-6667.

During the ICSC Spring Convention, Peter, Paul & Mary and Air Supply will perform at the Orleans hotel. For more information on these shows, visit www.orleanscasino.com or call (800) 675-3267. Following is a list of other specialty shows playing in Las Vegas:

* Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance New York-New York

(800) 693-6763

www.nynyhotelcasino.com

* Jubilee Bally's

(800) 634-3434

www.ballyslv.com

* "The Improv at Harrah's" Harrah's

(800) 427-7247

www.harrahs.lv.com

* Comedy Club Riviera

(800) 634-6753

www.theriviera.com

* Forever Plaid Flamingo Hilton

(800) 732-2111

www.hilton.com

* EFX starring Tommy Tune MGM Grand

(800) 929-1111

www.mgmgrand.com

* Viva Las Vegas Stratosphere

(800) 99-TOWER

www.stratlv.com

* Tournament of Kings Excalibur

(800) 937-7777

www.excalibur-casino.com

For information on these or other shows and events, contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority at (702) 892-0711, or visit lasvegas24hours.com.

Jean Scott might not look like an expert gambler. But the 59-year-old retired English teacher is nationally known for her mastery of casino "comp" policies. The author of the best-seller The Frugal Gambler (Huntington Press, 1996), Scott once stayed 191 days in casino-hotels without paying for rooms or food. SCW asked Scott for a few tips on how to win free stuff in Las Vegas.

SCW: Can people who want to gamble only a small amount of money earn comps?

SCOTT: Certainly. My focus is that most of us aren't high rollers who stay in free luxury suites like James Bond. Nonetheless, we can get comps, too. For example, anybody who even looks like they're playing a slot machine can easily get free drinks. The waitress will come around and say "cocktails" and all they have to do is get her attention. The low roller sitting at the nickel machine can get the same drinks as someone betting thousands at the black jack table.

SCW: What's your advice for a beginning gambler?

SCOTT: Don't play anything until you've joined the slot club. Just ask somebody where the booth is and sign up. Comps are based on how much money you gamble. The slot clubs give you a card that you put in the machines and it records how much you play. If you don't have a slot card, you usually won't get any comps.

Beginners also need to understand that when I say "put money through the machine," that's not the same as losing money. Each time you put money in a machine, the card records the amount. But remember, every time you win credits and choose to gamble those credits, the slot card also records that. You could be lucky and spend $10 in a machine but gamble $50 in credits that you've won. In that case, you'd win a whole bunch of comp points. If you're a table player, you should either give your card to the pit boss or just ask to be rated. That way, your average bet and how long you play will be recorded and you can earn comps.

You should also remember that some clubs don't provide much information about how long it takes to earn comps. In that case, you should ask to speak to a host. The host will come over and you can then politely ask what the minimum requirement is for, say, two buffets. If you're at a table, you would ask this of the pit boss.

SCW: If you're seeking comps, at what point does it no longer make sense to continue gambling?

SCOTT: Well, that $8.95 buffet will taste awful bitter if you lose $200 trying to get it for free. On the other hand, if you enjoy gambling and are going to be playing somewhere anyway, you might as well earn comps. Even if you lose your $200 bankroll, you've at least got that free buffet or free show and you feel better.

SCW: How do you pick a place to play?

SCOTT: If you wander around and put a few dollars in 10 casinos, you're not going to earn many comps. But if you play in just one casino, it's more likely that you'll have met that casino's minimum requirements.

Also, it's better to be a big fish in a little pond. If you go to the swanky casinos, it's going to take a lot more time and money to earn comps. Instead, go to the more medium-level casinos downtown.

Copies of The Frugal Gambler can be ordered from Jean Scott through queenofcomps@prodigy.net.

1. Go down in denomination. If you are losing too much playing dollar slots, switch to quarters. Switch from green chips to red chips at the table games.

2. Slow down your play. Feed machines coins rather than bills. Choose a crowded table at black jack, craps or roulette; you will play fewer hands.

3. Change your game to one with a lower house edge. Video keno has around an 8% house edge; video poker usually has only around 2-3%.

4. Play the same game, but choose a better bet. In roulette, a wheel with a double zero will have you losing about 5% over the long haul; a single-zero game will lower that to 3%. At the craps table, skip the hardway bets, which have a house edge of over 9%, and put your money on the pass line and take the odds - you will reduce that edge to under 1%.