Las Vegas musings

Towards the end of last week I spent three days in Las Vegas for the first time for a conference and stayed at one of the hotels on the infamous strip, the mile or so of road that has all the big hotels and gambling casinos. Since I do not gamble, such locations for conferences do not provide any special attraction for me. A monastery that has internet access would attract me more because I prefer peace and quiet and those two things are in very short supply on the Las Vegas strip.

I did spend an hour or so one evening wandering through the hotel casino watching people gamble. What struck me was how little fun people seemed to be having. They would sit staring intently at their slot machines or at the blackjack tables or at the roulette wheels. The casinos are deliberately designed to have few windows and no clocks so that the gamblers have little sense of the passage of time and can get into an almost trance-like state.

The gamblers I saw did not seem to be particularly well-to-do, just ordinary people, perhaps on their annual vacation from working ordinary jobs. There were some special closed-off rooms where I assume the high rollers gamble, away from the hoi polloi.

I spent the most time watching people play craps, a game I do not understand at all. It has this table that is covered with green baize cloth with patterns and markings and numbers. People would place chips of various colors and patterns at various places on the table, someone would throw a pair of dice, and based on the result the workers would move chips around or take them away or give some to the players. All of this was done solemnly and largely in silence and strongly reminded me of religious rituals, where everyone knows exactly what needs to be done and when, with the croupier as a kind of ersatz priest.

I felt really sorry for the workers in the casinos. They looked bored out of their minds. The constant bright flashing lights, the loud dinging noises from the slot machines, the cigarette smoke were all so aggravating that it drove me out of the room after an hour because I could not stand it any more. I cannot imagine how the workers tolerate it night after night.

It is also physically demanding work. I noticed that the workers at the various gambling tables had to stand all the time though they could easily have been given high stools to sit on and still do their jobs. Presumably the owners and management think that fatiguing their workers this way squeezes out a little more profit. I see this same thing happening with grocery and department store cashiers.

When I was eating at a restaurant in the hotel, a young woman would circle the rooms calling out ‘Keno’, another gambling game that seems to be some kind of scratch-card gamble that one can play while eating or doing something else. In the forty-five minutes that I was there she must have circled the room about twenty times and was always on the go. At one point, I stopped her and asked whether she had ever used one of those pedometers that would measure how far she walks during work. She said she hadn’t but thought it a good idea. She must walk many, miles in the course of each shift and I suspect that she gets paid close to the minimum wage.

I also spent a couple of hours driving around the city with a friend looking at the sights. It is unbelievably tacky, with huge hotels based on various architectural styles, faux classical Roman and Greek and Egyptian being the most popular, all clashing with each other. The parts of the town that were away from the center had some of the traditional charm of the American southwest but the ubiquity of slot machines and other garish gambling venues invariably spoiled it.

It was a relief to leave Las Vegas. I will not be going back if I can help it.

POST SCRIPT: Living in two different worlds

One can understand why John McCain, despite his new-found admiration for Joe the Plumber, might find it hard to appreciate the life of a regular working person. The median household income in the US is $48,000 per year, ‘median’ meaning half the households make less than that, and half more. But John McCain spends over five times that amount ($273,000) on paying for his household staff alone!

That may explain why he thinks cutting taxes even further for the very wealthy is good policy because then the rich can create more jobs by hiring even more domestic help, in his case maybe someone to keep track of how many cars and homes he owns, so that he is not embarrassed by not knowing. It might also explain why he keeps talking about a capital gains tax cut as being good for the middle class. People like him have little idea of the kinds of concerns that everyday people have.


  1. Chris says

    I have not yet been to Las Vegas, myself, and I hope to never go. It always seemed like it would be a loud, flashy and ultimately vacuous place. I’ve never cared for glitz and glamor, especially for the sake of showing off. Your observations reinforce my opinions of the place.

    Your analysis of the casino seems spot-on. I went to one in Canada once and was shocked to see how sullen everyone seemed. I thought it was disgusting to watch as people mindlessly pressed buttons on the slot machines. Some of them even had some sort of money card that they’d attached to their belt like an ID badge which allowed them to gamble continuously without fooling around with their other hand to add money to the machine. It seemed just a step away from just inserting your bank card and watching your account balance drain away to zero.

  2. Paul Jarc says

    Even ignoring the gambling, I didn’t enjoy Las Vegas. It was much too expensive and much too dry for me.

  3. says

    I spent ~6 hours in Vegas along a wild & wacky roadtrip a few years ago. While I don’t disagree with you at all, I actually kind of liked the experience for a few reasons: 1) the illusion -- it was sort of awe-inspiring to see what kinds of architecture and fancy establishments *could* be built if, say, money was practically no object and society miraculously ran smoothly in all facets, 2) the facade -- while i was fully aware of the shallowness of the strip, we kept moving to see as much as possible in a short time, and the amount and variety of entertainment in a small area was surprising, 3) cheap food -- as a poor college student, I had access to ridiculous amounts of food for a fraction of what I’d pay in another city, such as a 1/4 lb. chili-dog for $2.50 (simultaneously disgusting and delicious) and $.75 27-ounce margaritas, both subsidized by gamblers. All-you-can-eat buffets were advertised for $6.99 on billboards, which is such a slap in the face to most of the world that I almost thought myself to be in a dream.

    I definitely agree that gamblers did not seem to be having fun. There was an depressing undercurrent to the whole strip. But since I don’t gamble and I was sober and wide awake the whole time (we had to keep driving), it didn’t particularly affect me. While I don’t doubt a lot of workers are underpaid, staying on my feet kept me from noticing.

    One of the most memorable moments was a men’s room. Not just any: It was along what honestly seemed like a mile-long empty hallway that could have been built by Louis XIV, and the restroom was absolutely spotless. There were paintings in the stalls, and I’d almost think they were originals. There were no waterspots near the sinks or other signs that any other human being had ever been there, and I expected a small foreign man to dash in upon my departure to erase and minute traces of life I had left behind. It was a very odd feeling I’ve only experienced by watching sci-fi, such as the movie Gattaca.

    Overall I spent ~$4 on food and $10 on trickets from the World’s Largest Gift Shop for my sister, so I can’t complain financially. The experience was worth more that that.

    Would I go back? Probably not -- the reality would sink in after a few more hours, as it did for you.

  4. Erin says

    I find Vegas totally horrendous — like some sort of post-apocalyptic movie. The one time I was there was just after a three-day camping trip in Utah, which contains the most beautiful land in America. The contrast made me feel very ill. While my husband and I were looking for somewhere to eat I was practically whimpering from the bad kind of sensory overload.

  5. says

    Actually, Brock, the only people who seemed like they were having fun in the casinos were small groups of young people who were passing through and were clearly there for a short while as a lark and for the experience.

  6. dave says

    I agree Erin. I drove through Utah on my way to San Diego one summer. It was only fortune that allowed me to see the sun rising over the Utah landscape. Truely breathtaking.

    I stayed in Vegas for a night before continuuing on to California. The concrete and flashing lights were nothing to me after those hours in Utah.

  7. Jared says

    I grew up in Utah, so I’ve driven through Vegas a few times, but I never stopped longer than to get gas. I’m the sort of person who enjoys camping and hiking, so I when I lived out west it never occurred to me that I could take weekend trip to a CITY (although I knew plenty of people who regularly visited Las Vegas on the weekends). I don’t feel like I have missed much. The amount of water that is wasted down there has always made me sick.

    However, if you ever want a good deal hotel room, many of the small towns along the interstate between Las Vegas and UT/AZ have very cheap rooms (subsidized by gambling, I assume) and you actually get peace and quiet. Very nice.

  8. margie says

    hi mr negative??

    i live in palm springs calif. i love the casinos in the coachella valley within a 20 mile radius there are five casinos , all on indian land. that is the calif state law , only gambling on indian reservations. the indian tribe designate an allottee ( one member of tribe who conduct business of their choice which are notsubject to tribal laws. ) the casinos are fun (penny slots or more) …on a hot summer day 100-120 degree temps casinos provide an escape from heat. with all your knowledge why not study the indian lore of california. m=

  9. CHRI S KUEBLER says


  10. Don says

    You are kidding me, this is the quality of a blogger discusing Obama;’s win, discussing what he pays a household staff.

    Give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for life. A tax cut is ONLY A fish my man!

  11. says

    i couldnt agree more, Tax cut is like fixing a leake with some bubble gum, sure its going to help and maybe even stop. Out of sight out of mind until it really does damage because we didnt fix the problem initially we just put a taper on it.

  12. says

    i think las vegas is in their own little world, they are one of the cities that are affected by this economy stand still. They are still bringing in a lot of revenue but not nearly as much a the last few years. When people find themselves saving money they arent spending it gambling or on leisurely activities that las vegas is so well known for.

  13. says

    I can’t believe all the people hear that take so badly about Las Vegas, there are so many other things to do than gamble in the casinos or eat at expensive restaurants. We have horse back riding, games coming in to play at the stadium, the rodeo, Nascar, parks and shows.. why didn’t anyone bring up the shows. Granted, Vegas does have its downside, some of you have named them above but just like every other city there’s good and bad.

  14. says

    I`m interested there`s a lot of articles on casino gambling. There are dissimilar methods, tactics, strategies, algorithms of counting, calculations and so on.
    But these items are only heap of ads and i don`t want to analyze them `cause i don`t have any basic knowledge. It`s useless. Estimation i think will be wrong.
    Is there anyone here who is attracted in such topic?
    I`d appreciate someone`s explaining to me is there any systems or strategies, what are they (what approaches or concepts lay in basis) and in which casinos could they be applied to?
    Thanx a lot.

  15. says

    The only thing that I like about Las Vegas are its various shows. They interest me the most. Being a fellow academian, I appreciate your views.

    P.S. I have seen almost all the shows provided in the list.

  16. says

    Overall I spent ~$4 on food and $10 on trickets from the World’s Largest Gift Shop for my sister, so I can’t complain financially. The experience was worth more that that.

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