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August 20, 2014

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Guys and Dolls’ vs. Eeyore: What are Las Vegas gamblers really like?

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Andrew Roberts

Are the gambling tourists (and locals, for that matter) depressed?

Two thousand miles from here, the Vegas musings of a man named after cabbage made news last week. For his community paper in Gulf Breeze, Florida, Jack Kale rounded up seven things he learned while visiting our city. No. 1: “It’s hot.” Seriously?

Hoover Dam and the Bellagio fountains are worth seeing, Kale reveals. Blue Man Group reminds him of his kids banging on saucepans. And he thinks there might be more to the story of all those “scantily clad women whose business cards are being handed out by annoying sweaty people …” Buried in the sincere obviousness is bombshell No. 5: “The gamblers look sad: I have to admit that I am a little disappointed by the ethos of the casinos. I was hoping for a contagious level of energy and excitement reminiscent of Guys and Dolls. What I have seen reminds me more of Eeyore.”

That cut even deeper because it dropped the same day as news that Nevada gaming revenues plummeted 10 percent in May compared to last year. The Strip fared even worse, dipping more than 18 percent, about $105 million. Maybe the gamblers are sad.

I spent a humid Saturday hopping between Bellagio, Cosmo and Caesars, looking for life imitating Guys and Dolls. I didn’t find a casino floor bursting into “Luck Be a Lady,” but craps uniformly inspired hoots, hugs and high fives. Bellagio poker was serious, while a Cosmo dealer fist-bumped a player after a great hand. A baccarat dealer at Caesars let out a wonderful, booming laugh as she joked with her table. The mood was about the moment and the people, including those who never touched a chip. At Cosmo, tipsy women rode the giant pink stiletto. At Caesars, a dude rocking a mini-bathrobe and cardboard-box robot head strutted toward Payard. Outside Bellagio, someone asked, “Did you come out here to give me a hug?” I shook my head, and he told me he was just trying to make me smile (right before trying to sell me a trip to the Grand Canyon). I didn’t see “sad,” but I did see subdued. When players lost big they tended to walk, defying the gambling mind-set boiled down by Psychology Today: “One more roll, and I’ll get it all back.”

The last few years have been hard on that mind-set, far beyond our casinos. Fewer people spending recklessly = good. Inner children pummeled to the point where even Vegas can’t coax them out = depressing. On cue, a man called Bellagio’s Wheel of Gold slot machine an “elusive minx.” His friends groaned as his money disappeared, and the collective howl when he won $100 was infectious. One told him to walk away.

“No!” he cried out. “Big money! I’m on fire over here.” I’ll take blind hope over raw Kale every time.

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