There are places in the world, which I have visited, that evoke a simple question in my mind: why? One such place is Las Vegas. In most deserts, there is loads of sand with periodic oases, that provide a haven for travelers where water and shade are on offer. Las Vegas started off in that kind of way. The artesian wells in Las Vegas Valley meant that it was an obvious railroad stop. Long after its importance to cross country transportation passed, the city re-invented itself to become the place it is today. A place that, IMHO, really should not exist.
I visited Las Vegas once – more than a decade ago. My memories of that visit persist and, if I were a betting man, I would put money on things not having changed a whole lot since then …
My first impression, which began as soon as I stepped off the aircraft, was that gambling opportunities were everywhere. There were slot machines in the arrivals hall. As I come from a country where gambling is largely legalized – there are slot machines in just about every pub/bar in the UK – you would imagine that I would be desensitized. But the sheer number and ubiquity of the machines just amazed me.
I was further surprised when I got to my hotel. Just finding my way to the reception desk or to the elevators or exit through the maze of slots was quite a challenge. I was intrigued by the psychology behind the design of these places, which presented temptation to gamble at every opportunity. I was surprised that there were no slot machines in the elevator or in the corridors leading to bedrooms. I noticed that the windows of the lobby in the hotel were heavily tinted and there were no clocks to be seen. Everything was set up to enable the keen gamblers to lose track of time, as I was soon to observe.
I was very jet-lagged, so I found myself wide awake at 4:00 AM. So I went for a walk. As I weaved my way through all the machines in the lobby, I noticed that a lot of the people had a very robotic stance – sitting at the machine, mechanically feeding coins and pulling the handle. Deliveries of free food and drink meant that leaving their seats was never necessary [although I did wonder about bathroom breaks, but maybe they have a way to deal with that in Las Vegas]. Later, at around 9:00, I was leaving the hotel to go to work. I noticed that some of the same people were still sitting at the same machines five hours later!
Las Vegas is promoted as the place that you can go to win big. It is obvious [to me anyway] that for a few people to win, a whole lot need to lose. However, I did encounter some winners. One was myself, as I do not gamble as a rule – so I regard myself as a winner, as I did not actually lose. Another winner was a friend and colleague, who I met there. I will call “him B” to protect his good name.
B and I spent an afternoon watching basketball. What that meant was that we spent the afternoon drinking cold Guinness in a sports bar, while B tried to explain to me me what was happening on the screen. He also explained to me his problem. B had a weakness. Although he did not gamble, Las Vegas was an expensive place for him, as he liked girls and had spent a fortune on lap dances the night before. He was wondering how he might explain a couple of large ATM withdrawals to his wife when he got home. That evening, he was very keen that I should see the bright lights of Vegas and, as he felt too down and penniless himself, sent me off with another colleague to experience what was on offer. B went for an early night and I will draw a veil over my experiences …
The following day, I met B at the airport. He seemed much more cheerful that he had been the night before and offered to buy me lunch. Over our meal, he explained his change of mood. When he had left us to go to bed, he noticed that he had about $5 in his pocket. As he had done no gambling during his stay, he thought that he would blow that cash before going to bed. He went to bed with $400 in his pocket. Hence his good mood. B did not have any worries about awkward conversations with his wife and was going home a happy man.
So, some people do leave Las Vegas as winners.