Of Gambling, Hope and Despair

Right up front, I’m going to admit that not everyone will agree with my perspective here. That’s okay. That’s what weblogs are all about, right? Okay, now that’s out of the way, I’m here in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada for Gnomedex and while it’s not as horribly tacky as Reno, in some ways it’s far worse, because unlike Reno, Lake Tahoe is a truly beautiful spot that’s polluted by the swirling testament to greed that is modern gambling.

When I talk with children about marketing and advertising, it doesn’t take long for them to agree that almost all marketing is fundamentally about making you unhappy: after all, wouldn’t your life be better, wouldn’t you have more friends, wouldn’t you be happier if you just bought X, or Y, or Z? Next time you watch a TV ad or look through a magazine, think about it and you’ll see what I mean.

In that vein, my initial thoughts about gambling and casinos – particularly the crass non-Monte Carlo style here in the United States – are that they’re trading on hope, just as the lottery ostensibly is also predicated on hope. That’s certainly what the industry wants you to believe (and “the gaming industry” is a billion-dollar industry and just a pretty name for “gambling”, a change suggested by pretty high-powered PR agencies years ago).

But walking around Lake Tahoe, I don’t think that’s accurate. If gambling as an industry was about selling hope, you’d see people smiling and having fun when they won a wager, or had three bars come up on their slot machine or a flush on their video poker machine. Stand in a casino for any length of time and you’ll be struck by how little happiness is present, and how instead there’s an awful sameness, the exhaustion, the bland life-sucking tedium of gambling, the fact that no-one’s having any fun. Indeed, I just walked past a video poker game where a woman had won, and without any flashing lights, without any smile on her face, a little pop-up window that looked more like a system crash than anything else said “Call Attendant. Hand Pay $80.00”.

So what is gambling and the casino life all about? I posit that it’s actually much more about despair than hope.

Almost all of the people I’ve seen in a casino are desperately searching for a better life and happier times, denying logic and wishing for a magic multiplier for their money. A multiplier that more often than not turns out be zero.

And that’s not a very good basis for a fun adult destination, somehow.

So that’s what I’m thinking about here in Tahoe: why don’t people gambling have more fun?

3 comments on “Of Gambling, Hope and Despair

  1. The Air Up Here

    It seems I’ll have one more home turf advantage at Gnomedex: I’m used to the altitude. I’ve been seeing posts by lots of people, like Darren here, who are having trouble coping with the thin air. Well, I’ve been breathing…

  2. Hi Dave! Good points. I thought pretty much the same thing the first time I visited Vegas. However, I do confess to enjoying playing the slot machines on occasion. But I do that about twice a year, and I go in with a $20 just to see either (a) how quickly it goes away or (b) if I can leave with $50. If I reach either 0 or 50, I leave. (And if I reach $50, I call my friends and brag that I’m going out to dinner that night.) But looking around me at these places, I see faces very different than my attitude. I see desperation.
    Somewhere in one of the many states I’ve lived the local Lotto runs an ad with the slogan, “Odds are: You’ll have fun!” And then they say some little message about playing responsibly. The truth is, the odds with Lotto are zero. You’re NOT going to win. Sure, people can show that there might be a statistically small chance you’re going to win, but come on: The fact is you AREN’T going to win.
    And you’re right: It’s truly sad that people are throwing away their money in hopes of gaining more money so they can finally find happiness. Life just doesn’t work that way.

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