The House Always Wins

I’m back in Nevada. It took around five-and-a-half hours to get back here today but more on that later. The important thing is I’m now a mere hundred-miles from the airport where the first of the two flights that will ultimately get me back to the UK will leave tomorrow afternoon. I’m staying in a brand new Holiday Inn Express in the town of Mesquite. This town is only a mile over the Nevada / Arizona state line and hence is littered heavily with casinos and other gambling resorts. I’m also back in the Pacific Time Zone (GMT -8) so gained another hour. 

Upon arrival at the hotel I got another free upgrade – this time to a room with a balcony! This is the third upgrade I’ve got this trip and I can see a pattern emerging: basically, the more English you sound on check-in the more likely you are to get a better room. This only works in areas where English people are not a common occurrence (ie away from the big cities). I think the fact that the new bond film opened here this weekend and is being advertised wall-to-wall helps too (I kid you not, as I typed that another advert for it came onto the television).

My balcony has a quite a nice view:

In this picture you can see the key attractions of Mesquite: A Walmart and a Freeway junction. Apart from that (and a golf course) there’s not much here. Except for casinos. 

The hotel doesn’t have provision for any food that isn’t breakfast so I set out in the evening to find somewhere else to eat. The best bet (according to TripAdvisor) was a restaurant located around two miles away. I use the world ‘restaurant’ in the loosest possible terms as, in Nevada, ‘restaurants’ are essentially casinos with catering facilities. The same can be said of most other amenities too. Airports are casinos with runways, supermarkets are casinos with grocery aisles and schools are (I presume) casinos with lesson plans. I’m pretty certain that if, for whatever reason, I ended up in the ER, I’d be offered the choice of playing a game of two of blackjack prior to going in for emergency surgery. 

When I arrived at the ‘restaurant’, my suspicions were confirmed by the sign outside:

Inside, the ‘restaurant’ was more like a series of glorified bar areas, where the server would walk along one side while everyone sat along the other:

This may seem like a bit of an odd set-up, but if I pan out a bit with the picture you’ll see that the reason for this is that the ‘restaurant’ is, in fact, located along the side of a casino floor:

I had some standard American food to eat (meat, fries and a ridiculously oversized side-salad) and watched the casino floor while I ate. It was all quite depressing really. 

If you go to Las Vegas, the casinos are generally populated with people who are there for a weekend. They’ve come away on holiday from all over the US and go into the casino for a night for a laugh. They take out $100 and will stay until they’ve either spent it all or won something big. It’s usually all quite dramatic and noisy then before they go and have some food, frequent a bar and then go to bed, flying home the next day. 

If you go to any of the other casino resorts in Nevada (like the one I was in tonight) this is not the case. The casino floor is populated with people who you get the distinct impression spend all their free time (and money) there. They don’t seem to take any fun out of what they’re doing – it’s almost like watching humanoid robots who have been programmed to do a small number of repetitive tasks (put in money; pull lever; press buttons; repeat). Their faces are expressionless and illuminated in a plaid blue by the glow of the machine they’re sat at. A fair number of them had a cigarette stub in one hand and an empty beer or wine glass sat next to them. I did wonder if they’d noticed that these other vices needed replenishing or if they were so absorbed by the gambling machine that they wouldn’t even notice if the building burnt down. 

It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that a fair few (probably the majority) of the people you see in these casino resorts are in the grip of a gambling addiction. They come in, sit down and then pour into a machine all the money they’ve just worked a fifty-hour week to earn. They don’t do this out of choice but because they need to. The casino have employees who walk around and occasionally ask the ‘regulars’ if they are ok, need a break, or have gambled enough – but from the conversations I witnessed the casino staff are really just going through the motions. 

The thing that gets me is that the majority of the ‘regulars’ are sat a the fixed-odd slot machines. They have no chance. At least if you’re at the black-jack table or playing the roulette wheel there are ways that you can start to predict what’s going to happen (it’s actually quite clever how people can predict roughly where a ball will land on a roulette wheel bass on spin history and the  person spinning the wheel). But at a slot machine there’s no skill involved at all. You’re playing a fixed-odds game and the odds are stacked against you so that, ultimately, you will loose. The house will always win eventually.

Sitting there having my dinner I almost wanted to run up to some of the regulars at the slot machines, take them outside, turn them around and show them the massive building they’ve been sat inside of for most of their recent lives. “Isn’t it obvious?” I’d say: “The fact that this massive resort even exists is all the proof you need that you’re never going to win this. Go and spend your money somewhere else, on something productive.”

In my mind I like to believe that this would help them see the error of their ways and they would then head off to a better, brighter future. In reality though I know they’d come straight back in. Addiction is a powerful thing and, sadly, is another area where the odds are stacked against them. 

After I finished eating I decided that I was going to give this gambling thing a try. I wandered round the casino floor and watched how the various machines are used. This didn’t help me much as the ‘regulars’ do things at lightening speed. The one commonality seemed to be that all the machines functioned as reverse-cash-machines. With a cash-machine you press some buttons, the machine beeps, and it produces some banknotes for you. With all the casino machines you put the banknotes into it, press some buttons, the machine beeps and *poof*, you’re money’s gone. 

After a fair bit of reconnoissance I decided that I was going to enter the world of gambling on the ‘penny slot’ machines. There were quite a few of these knocking around and I figured that if I used one of those the worst that could happen is I end up pawning out the hire car. I selected a machine that had ‘proper’ moving parts inside of it (I don’t trust the all-digital ones, I think it’d be too easy to tinker with the programme to stacks he odds even more against you ). I tried to figure out what buttons did what:

I put a $1 bill in and suddenly had 100 credits. Not knowing what I was doing I pressed some buttons, the machine beeped, the wheels spun, and I then had 20c less. I thought these were meant to be 1c a go? Ah…1c was the minimum bet and I appeared to have just bet 20c. I pressed some different buttons, the machine beeped again, stuff went round and then – what was this – lights stated flashing! A bell rang and the machine made a happy noise – I had won! And won big! 

I looked at the credit counter: $1.04. I was ahead! 4c ahead! I pressed some other buttons and was about to make the machine go again…. but hesitated.

I was winning. The house was loosing. 

If I went on I knew what would happen: My 4c of profit would become a $1.00 loss. I’d then put another dollar bill in to try again. I’d loose that one too. I’d then go and get change of a ten, and move onto a 25c machine to win my money back quicker. I’d lose the $10, then the remaining $50 I had on me. I’d take up smoking. I’d withdraw some money against the credit card and keep playing to win back my initial loss. Night would become day. I’d miss my flight (or I’d sell the tickets to get some more cash to gamble with). I’d end up in over my head with a maxed-out credit card and a re-mortgaged house. A few weeks down the line I would legally become the property of the Nevada Gaming Commission and would spend the ret of my life walking around a casino asking people if they ‘had gambled enough’.

I moved my hand away from the ‘spin reels repeat bet’ button and instead pushed the ‘cash in’ button. The machine beeped to itself once again and printed me out a voucher:

I headed across the casino floor to the cashiers’ booth to claim my winnings. The lady there didn’t bat an eyelid as she converted my $1.04 into cash. 

I took one last look around and then walked out of the casino, cash in hand. I considered it a victory, no matter how small, against an industry that makes its profit from the addiction of those who can’t afford to be addicted. In my mind, the casino business is as bad as the tobacco industry, the only difference being that the way it poisons people isn’t quite as blatant. 

My gambling career finished as quickly as it began. The house had lost and I had made 4% profit on my money, which is more than you’ll get from any UK bank account at the moment.

I haven’t decided what to spend my 4c on yet, but it won’t be in a slot machine.





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