October 25, 1999 12:00 PM

For nondenominational minister Charles Bolin, the moment of truth came when a topless lady asked for his card. “She wanted to see my reaction,” he says of the exotic dancer who later—fully clothed—came to him for spiritual advice. “Because it didn’t shock me, she knew I had integrity.”

And though no one would confuse the neon-lit Vegas strip with a gateway to salvation, Bolin—whose job at the Riviera Hotel and Casino makes him the only chaplain on a Las Vegas resort payroll—works overtime tending to the spiritual needs of a 2,200-member staff and up to 4,000 guests. Says Jerry Grippe, the hotel’s vice president of operations: “He knows how to listen and empathize.” And whom to talk to. “He lets you know he’s been praying for you,” says Tina Dishari, a 35-year-old cocktail waitress. “It’s a big help.”

Once a teen brawler, the Sanger, Calif.-born Bolin, 51, graduated from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in 1973 and worked at an array of churches before moving to Vegas in ’82. He hired on at the Riviera six years ago to counsel its ever-changing cast of dancers, dealers, gamblers and victims of abuse, addiction and physical affliction. “My goal is to help people with problems,” he says. “The morality of the hotel is [the owner’s] problem.”

But is this really what Jesus would do? Yes, indeed, says Bolin. “He frequented places where sinners hung out.” And in that respect, He would have hit the jackpot in Vegas.

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