leaving Las Vegas

What is it about Las Vegas, that no matter how many times I go there (working in sales organizations obliges one to many company and customer events in this one-of-a-kind place), I can’t help but feel a huge sense of relief when my plane takes off from McCarran Airport? Leaving provides a sense of calm from the frenetic amusement park ride that is this glittering, gilded town in the middle of nowhere (I think that phrase was coined when they built this city). Quiet isn’t quite the right word to describe the feeling, as the leaving is as frenzied as the arriving. But I’m on my plane, on the way home to the sanity of my real life, and it is peaceful.

No matter what time you arrive in Las Vegas, the bombardment of promise that invades your senses the moment you deplane in the form of noise, lights, and movement of the ever-present slot machines is overwhelming.

Funny, they used to be called one-armed bandits, because of the lever you had to pull to set the wheels spinning. Now, the arm is gone, you just press a button, and the spinning of the wheels is replaced by the more “modern” computer-lighted digital numbers flashing until they randomly stop in place, usually in a losing position. Doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun.

Even as you try to retrieve your luggage in the Billboard Center of the city known as “Baggage Claim”, more slots are there to entice you, and get you started on that magical spending spree called gambling. Every taxicab wears a tri-cornered hat advertising anything from casinos, to gun shops, to adult venues around the city. The cabbie drives you through the heart of the Strip to your destination, and you check in to your room.

Then you walk to or (if you can resist the stronger-than-gravity pull of the tables and slots), through the Casino proper, where the magic and fun of the City awaits. No matter how new, how upscale the venue, the casino is still a smoke-laden cacophony of tackiness and seediness. So this is where you go with your hard-earned cash to try and “win big”. Seven come eleven, odds-evens-black-red, black jack (what does “Winner, winner, chicken dinner” actually signify?), and the hundreds of now “no-armed” bandits accepting all forms of payment. And what do “Best Odds in Town” really mean? I think a lot of people come here thinking that they actually stand a chance, because they hear so often that a friend of a friend of a friend won big in Vegas…

But I’ve noticed a couple of things about Las Vegas casinos. First, as you walk though the casino (regardless of the time of day or night), you don’t see anyone smiling. Just intent faces watching the wheels go round, or the flip of the cards or roll of the dice. The dealers look tired, the patrons look worn, and except for the occasional clanging bells of a slot machine paying out a jackpot, or that small percentage of winners at the roulette table, it’s really a rather sad place.

The second thing that I noticed about Las Vegas is that, when you ask someone who spent an evening at the tables, what they won, most often, the response begins with that catchy qualifier, “I was up more than $xxxxx.xx (greatly varying variable) half way through the night. Sadly, the “up” usually doesn’t stay up. The saddest experience I have had over the years, was actually on my first trip out in around 1996. I got to the airport for my flight home (this is where “in flight” really means in flight, as in escaping from), and remember distinctly sitting at my gate listening to a young couple on their way home. The woman was in tears over the fact that her husband had lost so much money, including, as I heard, a good bit of their “house fund”. It was so easy for him to continue to try and win back the losses, and lose more.

They say what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, but sadly, that usually includes some of your earthly treasure. And too often, you leave feeling empty (and not just your wallet).

So why the “downer” about having a little fun? I am not writing this to make judgments, I’m only making a few observations. If someone goes to Las Vegas, with the intent to spend money, see a show, eat at some great restaurants, I’m not condemning. This is just about me, and the fact that there is no sure bet in this town.

In fact, there is only one sure bet anywhere. One that returns a hundred fold and only has to be made once…

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:19-24 NKJV)

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