Step Right Up

Caesar’s Palace was quite a place. Everywhere one looked there were activities, all gambling related of course. I was there gambling that my presence at a wireless convention would raise my customer list and make me some inroads for better deals from the vendors I bought from.  My work for the week entailed sitting in a booth with our wares arranged tastefully to look like an android’s living room with equipment stacked on black velvet covered tables basking in spotlights and different types of antennas looking like they were engaged in a serious discussion with a space station out near Tau Ceti.

People would wander over and ask questions, some looking to contract for a system build, some looking to get wholesale pricing from us, and manufacturers touted their products trying to get us to carry them. So far, the gamble was paying off. I had signed up an ISP in California to add wifi to their offered services. They wanted to expand their customer base and wireless was their only alternative. I managed to convince them that our people and our favored equipment was their best bet. Of course, I had to agree to come and direct the team myself because they felt they had a relationship with me, rather than the company in general. We signed the contract and I sent them off to acquire space on radio and water towers, and on mountainside property with good, wide angle coverage. They already had a tower of their own that sat atop a mountain with microwave on it. Not only were they an ISP, but they also offered phone and cable services.

Other than that, I signed up a couple of point to point contracts to install microwave for a trucking company and a logging company wanting to create a network connection between operation locations. I also managed to sell about a hundred grand worth of equipment with a profit of twenty percent. One of the things that made us popular was our equipment prices. We didn’t try to milk every possible nickel out of our sales, but to achieve a high sales volume. This got us a lot more new customers than advertising as word of mouth spread through the market niche that we had the good stuff for great pricing.

There was also plenty of time for me to wander the aisles and collect the giveaways all of us vendors used for promotion, knowing full well that way more competitors collected up the frisbies, LED balls, squeeze balls and other do dads than customers did. We were more competitive with each other in junk promotional items than we were in the marketplace. “You’re giving out pens? Hahahahaha! We’re giving out stress balls that look like Bill Clinton!”  Next year they’d show up with a ball that lit up an LED when it bounced and we showed up with a ball that lit up different colors with each bounce. However, we all bowed in awe to the company that gave out skimpy bras with their logo on the cups.

The one thing I didn’t do between my arrival on Sunday night and my last day at the convention was gamble. A thing which drove my business partner insane. “How can you be in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace and not gamble? I mean, people plan vacations to come here and play the slots and tables.”

“They come for the entertainment too. Myself, I went to a Rita Rudner show at New York New York and spent lots of time walking the strip looking at all the different casinos. The Luxor, Paris, Treasure Island and the Bellagio with its water show. That water show had me standing there for over an hour, not just watching the actual show but the random water cannon choreography too.  Did you know that something like two thousand gallons of water is lost to evaporation every day? That’s what some guy told me while I was standing there. It’s a ridiculous waste of water, especially since Vegas is predicted to be a ghost town in under thirty years due to lack of water. But it’s a hell of a beautiful way to waste it.”

“Okay, I give you the entertainment value of Las Vegas,” said my partner, “but for crying out loud, this city was built on gambling.”

“Yeah, I know the story of Mo Green and Bugsy Segal, Robert De Niro and all of them. They turned a dusty spot with a gas station into a gambler’s paradise only to be bought out by big companies like Bally and MGM who turned it into a gambler’s paradise with daycare.”

“So, how can you be here and not gamble?”

“The only reason people build casinos is because of the math which always favors the house. The occasional win tugs at people’s hope and makes them believe they can make a fortune. So they play and play and they get big winnings and then keep playing and come away with less than they started with.  With the exception of a very few, there really aren’t any winners.”

“Look, I’ll give you twenty bucks. Go play the slots. If you lose, it wasn’t your money so you really have nothing to lose. But you can’t spend a week in Las Vegas and not gamble once.”

“You’ll give me twenty bucks just to see me play?”

“Yeah, here.” He pulled a fold of bills from his pocket and peeled off a twenty. I took it and walked over to the closest one armed bandit and fed it into the machine. It flashed and played awful music and told me I had twenty dollars credit so play, play, play. To get the right feel, I used the lever on the side, although you can just press a button to spin. It’s not actually spinning anything, it’s a video display driven by a computer running special software. The machine imitated the spin of an old time slot machine and when it stopped, I had $19.75. I managed to lose twenty five cents. I ignored the lever and pressed the button and lost another quarter. Two turns and I was already getting bored. I changed my twenty five cent bet to a dollar and pressed the button. When the machine finished the spin I was a buck poorer. I set my bet to five dollars and pressed the button. The machine flashed and whooped and showed my balance as sixty dollars. “There you go!” yelled my partner. “You’re on the glory trail!”

I smiled at him and hit the cash out button. The machine dutifully printed a card I could trade to a cashier for its face value and I walked over towards the window. My partner followed me, begging me not to stop. “You’re winning now. You have sixty bucks. You could double or triple it, maybe even more!” I handed my chit to the cashier and she handed me three twenty dollar bills and clapper her hands and showed them to me, palm up and then down. I guessed that little maneuver wasn’t for me, but the security watching everything from the zillions of cameras all over the place and the panels of dark one-way glass set high above the floor. I handed my partner a twenty.

“There’s your money back.” I said. “Best deal you’re gonna get here.”

“Nah, I’m down a few hundred but I expect to make it back tonight. I think my luck will change because it’s the last night.” He said. I shook my head and strolled off to get a burger, wondering if I would have a new partner in the morning, Caesars owning his share.

That night I went and watched the Bellagio’s water show again and then ate dinner at some place called Three Irishmen or something like that. They had good food and the servers wore celtic costumes and did a show mid evening with authentic dancing and music. I might be Irish, but I have no idea what authentic celtic dance and music is like. Actually, I found it a bit annoying, especially the male tenor ballads. I went to bed at eleven thirty. I checked out after a light breakfast of berries and cream, a danish and a glass of orange juice.

I met my partner at the airport, both of us on the same flight. I asked him how he did and he got a frumpy look on his face and didn’t answer me. There were slot machines in the airport and we had an hour and a half wait for our flight after going through security. I pulled out a J.A. Jance novel and killed time reading about the efforts of Seattle detective Beau Beaumont, my partner hit the slots. He cashed out when our flight was called and smiling, he fed his chit into a cash out machine that dispensed a hundred dollar bill, a ten and some change. I somehow felt he was saved from himself by the flight being called. He confirmed it on the flight back to Spokane, revealing he’d lost over a thousand dollars during the week, but the final payout brought his losses to just under a grand. I asked him if he wanted the forty dollars I won with his twenty dollar seed.He told me to keep the forty but wondered if I’d be interested in coming to dinner and be there when he told her about the dent in their bank account. He said she’d probably be more civil if they had company.

I told him no thanks and went back to reading my book.