Return on Investment

After midnight in the neon catacombs of The Venetian was my favorite time to observe. Glassy-eyed dealers stretched exhausted thin smiles at us across empty tables, longing for end of shift. Progressive slot cabinets with multiple touch screens and Bose surround sound crept up the walls, while curved LED displays loomed over guests’ heads like garish fronds. We slid a few twenties into penny machines, but as usual, nothing much happened outside of Max Bet. I got a few dings from old IGT reel games, but I knew the risk-reward imbalance would hold: I am not built to mash money freely. It takes too long to make.

The Forum shops and those of the sprawling Sands complex offered high-end retail. All sizes, shapes and colors of roamers wove in and out of winding marble-tiled walkways. More than once I looked at the simulation ceiling, wondering if the painters lay flat on rickety scaffolding to put the finishing touches on the sky. Everywhere we walked, people looked like caricatures, arms lazily snaking at their sides, sandals slapping arrhythmically with frequent fluctuations in footing. The pattern was that there was no pattern.

To my thinking, the fountains and lights were best: they at least offered a state of Being. No one questioned the significance of water trickling or lights shining. I wondered how many of us could say the same. Every time we went outside, the rush of convection-oven air declared an adjustment to breathing. I did not think it would be something I could get used to–“dry” or not. Homeless men with coal-colored feet wrapped their arms around themselves and lay against tempered glass panels. The lights shot upward above them, turning them into silhouettes. Scrawled letters on small rectangular signs assured that anything helped, God Bless.

Nineteen years ago, I drove through the desert in a green Lincoln Town Car, remembering only a brief stop at Circus Circus, where I won a stuffed animal by throwing darts into balloons. No children were allowed in gambling areas back then; I do not understand why now a toddler needs to wander through the cacophony and flash of a gaming floor. More than once, I stood in front of a virtual blackjack dealer (Azure brand?), wondering how long it would be before we donned Aristocrat VR goggles, nodding our heads in programmed reality to activate bonus features.

The best moments were events, and did not come from machines. The money spent most quickly on Chance felt hollow, while the moderately priced tickets to a show or display of artifact bought experience. The difference in value is disproportionate, explaining why some who visit never pull a slot handle or touch a card during their stay, while others chase fortune from random number generators without cease.

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