Life’s a gamble

I just got back from a long weekend in Las Vegas. Everybody says one of two things. First, “You didn’t gamble, did you?” The second is, “You’re kidding, it’s sooo tacky.”

Did I gamble? Yes, yes I did.

Did I lose? Yes, I did. It’s called gambling. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. If you never lost, it would be called “winning” not “gambling.”

But when people ask me if I gamble, there is always this superior twinge to it, as if I were doing something stupid with my money when I could be doing something smart with my money, like buying Super Bowl tickets from a scalper for $3,000. Or buying a pair of $300 designer blue jeans. Or buying a $4,000 plasma TV. Or dropping $300 at the day spa. Or buying a $60,000 Hummer. Like that’s OK, like that’s a smart way to spend my money while gambling is just stupid.

“Well it is stupid, you lost your money.”

When you go to a fancy steakhouse and spend a $100, did you lose it? Do you come to work the next day and say, “What bad luck, Sue and I had a fabulous steak dinner, the service was wonderful and atmosphere was nice and relaxing. But then I gave the waiter a $100, and instead of giving me back $200, he kept all of it. I can’t believe it, I lost a $100 eating steak last night.”

Last week, Sue and I lost $23 dollars going to see the new James Bond movie. Then we lost another $212 on fuel oil for the house. We bought one of those fancy new long-lasting energy-saving light bulbs for $8 but it blew out, and we had to get another one. Total loss, $16. I lost $63.22 on groceries. I’m starting to think I have a gambling problem.

Yes, I could have given the money I lost to charity. But let me ask you, what big, bustling city that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs has charity ever built? Losing in Las Vegas creates construction jobs and road-building jobs; jobs for plumbers and dog groomers and clerks and accountants and cashiers, and cab drivers and musicians. My little gambling contribution alone wouldn’t do any of that. Still, sucker that I am, I still give money to charity. So far, I’ve never won a thing. It’s almost the same as losing money.

Maybe the gambling money going to the “wrong” sort of people? A lawyer charged me $500 to write my will. Did I just give $500 to the “wrong” sort of person? Did I just lose $500 to a lawyer? We all know what they’re like.

I bought a used car for $10,000. I gave $10,000 to a used car dealer! How slimy can you get? Everyone knows what used car dealers are like. He probably took me for a $1,000. He’s going to lose that money down at the mall buying things he really doesn’t need. When it’s money I could have wasted.

“Isn’t Las Vegas tacky?” my friends ask. Compared to what? Cleveland? Like that long strip of highway in our town that’s one burger/taco/chicken chain after another, coupled with a big box store and a strip mall every few miles is ever so classy? Compared to the Hamptons or Beverly Hills, I suppose Las Vegas is tacky. Compared to most cities, it is vastly better. It’s time to let some hang-ups go, folks.

You don’t have to gamble. Rent a car, hop on over to Death Valley, or go skiing on Mount Charleston. See Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam or go hiking in Red Rock Canyon or visit some Nevada ghost towns – all easy day trips from Vegas. Not to mention the nice winter weather, the shows, the 57 golf courses.

Yeah, but what about Wayne Newton? The old people on oxygen tanks at the slot machines? All the wedding chapels and Elvis imitators? Fine by me. They keep out the snobs.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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