FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hard Times in Vegas

President Obama singled out tourist-dependent Las Vegas as a place to avoid during the economic downturn. This has infuriated Nevadans, who are struggling more than most to keep vittles in the pantry and chips in the bank.

I recently visited Las Vegas and found it had morphed from a hay ride into a bullet train, and from Hookers-ville into Kids R Us. When I lived there in 1980, it was all about high rollers, call girls, comps, 1950’s décor, being laid back and knowing everyone who worked on the strip. It was a small town in big city clothes. Today, freebies are rare, and fast food is plentiful. Billboards reveal “ostentation in overdrive” with flashing fluorescents and snappy video presentations. Casino tables are relative “dead zones,” so hotels charge for everything else, from shows to monorail rides. It’s a supersized theme park with focus on the family.

Thirty years ago, I might have stumbled upon the Dirty Old Man Delegation, the Boozers Brigade or the Strippers Symposium. But during this trip I naturally found a kiddie-land favorite: the Annual Clown Convention, which was held at the Orleans hotel. I confronted a sea of painted faces, kooky costumes and bulbous, red noses; and got to root for my favorite contestant in the “Top Clown” competition. Most had “silly billy” names, such as Cricket, Snickers and Krinkles.

“I love kids. I had three for breakfast,” veteran clown Jim Howle told five children sitting before him on a makeshift stage. He pulled paper from his shoe, “Here’s a footnote.”

A pink clown whispered to me, “I’m a beginner and earn a living as a waitress and construction worker.” A brightly dressed Charlie Chaplin said, “I’m full time with a business license. I do 300 performances each year.”

Tables in the back of the room offered novelty items for sale from lime green wigs to Technicolor costumes, magic tricks and books. “Here Comes the Clown,” “Talk like a Dummy” and “Stop that Heckler” were a few of the titles.

As I watched clowns compete, I remembered my first visit to Las Vegas in 1977 when I was a sweet seventeen. I surely looked underage with my bouncy pigtails and running shorts as I trotted through Caesar’s Palace where I was staying with my aunt. An “over 60” man named Fred stopped me.

“I just won 13-thousand dollars gambling and would like to buy you a diamond bracelet. No strings attached.”

“Yeah, right.” I flashed a skeptical grin.

Fred led me to a hotel shop where I was gifted an $800 trinket. Then he wanted to gamble and nudged me from table to table stuffing chips in my purse, which I later tallied to be $2900. After this, he bought me clothing totaling $4000 at a Caesar’s boutique and topped off the two hour adventure with the words, “Well, it was nice meeting you, young lady, but I’d better be going.”

I sprinted back to my room and dumped the loot at my aunt’s feet. She shook her head, “I wish I were young again.”

I wondered whether this was a common occurrence or a fluke. Did people just give away money in Las Vegas or did the gambling-town gods have a special crush on me?

My answer came a few days later when a man named Craig asked if I’d like to gamble with him. He was determined to hit the jackpot and stalked a row of slot machines like a 12-step program dropout, popping coins obsessively into one, then another and another. I agreed to play an adjacent row with a bucket of his coins. An hour later, I said good-bye, and Craig handed me a hundred dollar bill for my time, which I promptly showed my aunt.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s in Las Vegas, the generosity of strangers—or more specifically middle-aged men–was as predictable as buffets, headliners and showgirls; and the biggest recipients were those whose jobs involved tips. Small town Americans would relocate to Sin City for a year or two to accumulate big bucks, working as blackjack dealers, bartenders, bellhops, waitresses or even prostitutes. As a University of Nevada student, I met dozens of these folks, who outlined their ultimate goal: to return to their home state to buy property or start a business with their “winnings.”

Over the years, Vegas has shifted from big spenders to tourists in order to stay afloat. The scores of “high rollers” from the 1970’s and 1980’s have either stopped coming due to the deteriorating economy or have gotten snapped up by competitors, such as Indian casinos. Nineteen states permit casino gambling. The growing gap between the rich and the poor has statistically led to fewer wealthy folk, and thus fewer big time gamblers. Casino owners over-borrowed and overbuilt, and the city now has the highest foreclosure rate of any major metro area in the country and the second highest unemployment rate at 13 percent. In an effort to pinpoint a new and steady revenue stream, the family was targeted. Today, the city caters to mothers, fathers, kids and even clowns, who are mostly middle-income and careful with their cash.

Seventeen-year-olds looking for a golden gift from the gods are probably out of luck. A veteran Vegas waitress recently told me, “You used to be able to count on the kindness of strangers. Today, tips are probably the same as in any other big city. Men full of cash are a thing of the past.”

CHARLOTTE LAWS, Ph.D. is an author and weekly commentator on the NBC show, The Filter with Fred Roggin. Her website is www.CharlotteLaws.org

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
February 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Timothy M. Gill
Why is the Venezuelan Government Rejecting U.S. Food Supplies?
John Pilger
The War on Venezuela is Built on Lies
Andrew Levine
Ilhan Omar Owes No Apologies, Apologies Are Owed Her
Jeffrey St. Clair
That Magic Feeling: the Strange Mystique of Bernie Sanders
David Rosen
Will Venezuela Crisis Split Democrats?
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump’s National Emergency Is The Exact Same As Barack Obama’s National Emergency
Paul Street
Buried Alive: The Story of Chicago Police State Racism
Rob Seimetz
Imagined Communities and Omitting Carbon Emissions: Shifting the Discussion On Climate Change
Ramzy Baroud
Russian Mediation: The Critical Messages of the Hamas-Fatah Talks in Moscow
Michael Welton
Dreaming Their Sweet Dreams: a Peace to End Peace
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming’s Monster Awakens
Huma Yasin
Chris Christie Spins a Story, Once Again
Ron Jacobs
Twenty-First Century Indian Wars
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Venezuela: a Long History of Hostility
Lance Olsen
Climate and Money: a Tale of Two Accounts
Louis Proyect
El Chapo and the Path Taken
Fred Gardner
“She’s Willie Brown’s Protogé!” The Rise of Kamala Harris
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Biomass is Not “Green”: an Interview With Josh Schlossberg
John Feffer
Answering Attacks on the Green New Deal
W. T. Whitney
US Racism and Imperialism Fuel Turbulence in Haiti
Kim Ives
How Trump’s Attacks on Venezuela Sparked a Revolution in Haiti
Mike Ferner
What War Films Never Show You
Lawrence Wittner
Should the U.S. Government Abide by the International Law It Has Created and Claims to Uphold?
James Graham
A Slow Motion Striptease in France
Dave Lindorff
Could Sanders 2.0 Win It All, Getting the Democratic Nomination and Defeating Trump?
Jill Richardson
Take It From Me, Addiction Doesn’t Start at the Border
Yves Engler
Canada and the Venezuela Coup Attempt
Tracey L. Rogers
We Need a New Standard for When Politicians Should Step Down
Gary Leupp
The Sounds of Silence
Dan Bacher
Appeals Court Rejects Big Oil’s Lawsuit Against L.A. Youth Groups, City of Los Angeles
Robert Koehler
Are You White, Black or Human?
Ralph Nader
What are Torts? They’re Everywhere!
Cesar Chelala
The Blue Angel and JFK: One Night in Camelot
Sarah Schulz
Immigrants Aren’t the Emergency, Naked Capitalism Is
James Campbell
In the Arctic Refuge, a Life Force Hangs in the Balance
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Corregidor’s Iconography of Empire
Jonah Raskin
The Muckraking Novelist Dashiell Hammett: A Red Literary Harvest
Kim C. Domenico
Revolutionary Art and the Redemption of the Local
Paul Buhle
Life and Crime in Blue Collar Rhode Island
Eugene Schulman
J’Accuse!
Nicky Reid
Zionists are the Most Precious Snowflakes
Jim Goodman
The Green New Deal Outlines the Change Society Needs
Thomas Knapp
Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die
February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail