William Pearson’s 1965 novel, The Muses of Ruin:
An ordinary fellow from a place like South Bend, Indiana can’t wait to catch the first plane to Vegas. For thirty bucks a day he and his wife can knock on Eden’s back door. For thirty bucks a day he gets a room with an air-conditioned view—it would be thirty or more just for the room in Miami, and raining besides—breakfast at noon on a terrace overlooking a Hollywood-sized pool where his favorite Hollywood cutie pie is sun-bathing in a rhinestone swim suit, plus big drinks, big steaks, big evening of watching big movie or TV names shilling for their supper at twenty or thirty grand a week, and a chance at the jackpot on the dollar slots.
The draw of Las Vegas is the chance to partake in the capitalist dream of getting rich quickly. Put your dollars into the slot and wait in hope for the straight line of matching fruits to appear on your machine. It’s the chance to leave your humdrum existence behind and become a chance player in a city that resembles a movie set with bright lights and bright sunshine.
Paradoxically, there are no clocks in the casinos and the lighting is low. You may as well be stuck in a time-warp where the light never shines despite the fact that the temperature is about 42 degrees outside. It is a ploy to keep you stuck to the machines with no sense of time, literally. What is striking is that these gamblers don’t look happy. They are no visual testament to capitalism and the unbridled individual agency that it is meant to afford you but it certainly is an individualistic society within, what is called, ‘the strip’ @central Las Vegas.
People hop from casino to casino in the searing heat or through the tunnels which connect the hotels in which the casinos are housed. There is no buzz in the air like there is in New York. I asked a taxi driver why Las Vegas was such an unfriendly place and she replied that it was because the place was “all about dollar signs”. Las Vegas is the epitome of an individualistic capitalistic society. You trade your soul for the soul of a gambling machine, hoping that you will be rewarded with a pinging noise signalling a jackpot win.
I went there on a bucket list trip of a lifetime and, believe it or not, I did enjoy my 5 night stay but doubt that I will ever return in a hurry. People warned me before I went, “It is a tacky place where people drink and gamble all the time”, “There is nothing much to see apart from hotel lobbies and casinos”, and “what is a nice girl like you doing going there?”.
In varying guises, they were all right apart from the last sexist remark. Good girls do go to Las Vegas and it is plain wrong to cast aspersions on someone’s character, even if in jest, based on their holiday choices unless the person is specifically going to volunteer at the Kremlin or something odious like that.
Las Vegas is where capitalism goes to be revived when it is being battered by stock market shocks and a vigorous analysis of its ‘invisible hand’. Ironically, Las Vegas is all about the visible hand. You need your hands to play the tables or the machines. The croupiers deal ‘hands’. Hands it is.
It is a place to be experienced to believe the naysayers like me who do not sing praises about the city. The food is very mediocre. I stayed in a four star hotel which is a tourist haunt for the memorabilia that it holds and was grossly disappointed by the lack of good food choices. Surprisingly, there was a Dunkin’ Donut inside the hotel which had queues all day long. I am in good company with Julie Bindel who expressed aghast at the same. American food chains are foremost testaments aren’t they to the Capitalist American dream?
Cultural anthropologist, Natasha Schull, writes about how the gamblers are ‘American capitalism’s losers’ because they don’t play to escape their plight by chasing a big win. They play to escape, period. Their goal, said one, is “to stay in that machine zone where nothing else matters.”
The following is a paragraph from a paper published by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2014: ’19 Casino architects obligingly created labyrinthian environments in which these players could lose themselves, satisfying their desire to escape to the point of extinction”—that is, until their stamina or money ran out. Problem gamblers provide the casinos with 30 to 60 percent of their profits. And they are overwhelmingly machine gamblers. Their solitary, continuous, and rapid wagering on digitized gambling machines, with seductive refinements like apparent jackpot near misses, creates a trancelike state in which players became oblivious to anxiety, depression, and boredom. Digitized machine gambling is as reliable as Valium and faster-acting. ‘
Las Vegas is where dreams die or where dreams are made. I didn’t go to drink or gamble so in many ways my bucket list was a dream made. After losing about $4, I stopped gambling. My hard earned money was too precious to be thrown down the slot of a machine. The lure of gambling capitalism was about as attractive as snake oil.