When I decided to move to Vegas, a lot of my friends were quite worried for me. Not because of the crime, not because it was so far from home and I'd be all alone. But because I like to gamble. Somehow I ended up with a network of friends back home who neither have the slightest clue about gambling, nor the slightest interest in it.
I, on the other hand, have been gambling since I was a teenager. As soon as I turned 21, I was working as a blackjack dealer, and fully immersed in the gambling culture. Most of my family have been big-time gamblers for years. I've spent all-nighters with my Mom, aunts and uncles, cousins in one casino or another, cheering over a blackjack, playing the numbers in roulette, punching buttons on a machine, or bluffing at big pots on the poker table. We've all exchanged loans when we're stuck, pulled each other away from games when it was time, rejoiced in big wins, looked on as our stubborn loved ones dumped sometimes thousands of dollars into the great wide world of chance.
So, I suppose my friends (and family) were at least somewhat founded in their concerns for my move to this city of temptation. But what most degenerate gamblers don't know is that gambling can be, and often is, a problem for them. I knew this about myself. I owned it. And I knew that I would try my hardest to not let it get the best of me here, or anywhere. As every true gambler has been totalled by the chances they take, so have I.
There have been very few times since I moved here that I have put more at risk than I should have. Those times were devastating, and an unhappy reminder that, as a gambler, I walk that line every day. The line that defines the housed and the homeless, the sick and the well, the broken and the free. The line, that if crossed one too many times, takes it all away. Fortunately for me, my time in Vegas has been tied to a pretty strict budget, and I've made a priority of my bills, my rent, and my financial well-being. Such is not the case for most Las Vegas residents.
After living here for almost two years, I am still quite shocked when I discover a degenerate gambler who's unfettered addiction is otherwise well-hidden. Last night, a poker player of mine, upstanding guy, sweet, funny, caring, seemingly responsible man, reminded me that even the best of us can wind up being the worst of us. It was a heart-wrenching, sad, and ugly reminder.
In Las Vegas I have seen my supervisors steal from the poker players and dealers, a young girl I worked with try and steal from the casino cage, my favorite poker room manager get hauled out of Planet Hollywood for embezzlement, leaving a 7-month-old baby behind while he goes to jail for the majority of her life. All of this to support an addiction to games of chance. My co-workers sink their paychecks into slot machines, the men I meet and date sometimes drink too much and play until they've emptied their wallets. Everyone is susceptible to devastation, and most cradle it in their arms like a crippled child. They protect their addictions, and smother themselves with a hope that has no foundation, a hope that only gamblers hope - "I'll get it back this time". And still, as much as I've seen this all my life, it still takes me by surprise when it happens to someone I care about.
It's a lonely existence here, and a frightening prospect that there's really no one you can trust. No one. A degenerate gambler is generally a really good person, locked in hell. They steal. They lie. They beg and borrow. They pay you back so that they don't look like a degenerate gambler. And then they borrow again. They win a little and lose a lot. They worry. They hate themselves. Their food tastes like cardboard. Their alcohol tastes like holy water. They are ashamed. They are alone in a city with millions of other people just like them. They are sick. And they will always be here. Some come here because they are already this way. But most come here for opportunity, and end up in this life...working for money to gamble with, paying payday loans off, to borrow from other ones, always consumed with thoughts of money, and how to get enough to gamble with, always waiting, wanting for the big win.
My heart is heavy for my friends who, like many of us, have crossed the line and are no better off for it. The people who's potenetial could be unlimited...anywhere else but here. The people who's hearts are made up of gold...but would cut it out of their own chests to pawn it for cash.