FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
Louis Proyect
The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx
Tom Clifford
How China Sees the World
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson – Negin Owliaei
Who’s Burning the Amazon?
Yasin Khan
Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors
Ralph Nader
Big Business Lies Taught a Watchful Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Sacking of John Bolton
Andrea Maki
Wild Love Preserve Founder: Our Path Forward
Jeremy Kuzmarov
The War in Eastern Ukraine May be Coming to an End But Do Any Americans Care?
Tim Davis – Stan Grier
Protect the Sacred Grizzly Bear, Follow Those Who Know Grandmother Earth
Clark T. Scott
Super-Delegated and Relegated
Jim Britell
Lessons From America’s Greatest Grassroots Campaigns 
Howie Hawkins
Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy
Ramzy Baroud
‘Justice is Indivisible’: Screams of Israa Ghrayeb Should Be Our Wake-up Call
Jill Richardson
It’s Not About Your Straws and Your Light Bulbs
George Wuerthner
Montana’s Wilderness Deficit
Colin Todhunter
Officials Ignore Pesticides and Blame Alcohol and Biscuits for Rising Rates of Disease
Volker Franke
Me First and the Loss of Compassion
Adolf Alzuphar
Why is the Left Without a Single Elected Official in LA?
Kim C. Domenico
All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace A Chance (Bring It Home!)
Jennifer Matsui
The End of Aquarius and The Dawn of a Death Star: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Missy Comley Beattie
Never Forget
James Haught
Prodding ‘Nones’ to Vote
David Swanson
For the First Time in My Life I’m Against Impeaching the President
Nicky Reid
Yemen as Arabian Vietnam
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
Bearing Witness at Aeon’s End: the Wound Becomes the Womb
Fred Gardner
Homage to the Tabloids
Yves Engler
RCMP Attempt to Silence Critics of Trudeau Foreign Policy
Stephen Cooper
Hempress Sativa: “Rastafari Should be Protected”
David Yearsley
Joie-de-Job: Staying High, at Work
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail