Life can teach lessons even in a pseudo-casino, like Not Vegas.
‘Not Vegas’ was once a private veterans club in the outskirts of Cleveland, OH. But over time fewer and fewer military men and women joined the club and it had become a social club that basically opened its doors to anyone over 21. The new owner changed the name to ‘Not Vegas’- supposed to be the closest thing to Las Vegas one could get in Ohio. It had one major reno in the building's lifetime and in its prime was a bright red brick building with white pillars wrapped in swirling neon lights and the inside had shiny bar tops and leather stools with a red-velvet carpet to make anyone feel like a VIP.
Now, the brick was weathered and faded into a murky maroon with black and green mold spots. The pillars were faded off-yellow with rusty brown spots and the neon lights didn’t work all the way. The tables and bar counters didn’t gleam anymore, and the red carpet only looked red when the table legs got moved for vacuuming.
The only thing similar between real Vegas and Not Vegas was that you got lost in a time-warp. The lights were kept dim and there were no clocks. Every two hours there was a different drink special so happy hour lasted all day. Even the patrons were mostly just regulars who appeared stopped in time.
The two workers seemed lost in time too. There was 60-something year old Tina-she changed her age every time she was asked; one day she was 64 and the next she was 61. Tina kept her dyed almost white-blonde hair in tight perm curls and wore mint-green eye-shadow with platinum pink lipstick. She was skinny and her skin looked like aged leather. Tina also never wore shoes; she wore various colors of slippers. Tina had been spending the week bestowing her bar-tending knowledge onto the new hire, Darby.
Darby was 19 and kept her virgin brown hair in a perfectly set high ponytail and dressed in 90’s prep-school chic with black wedge heels or ankle boots. She wore silver-rimmed glasses and wore mascara around her hazel eyes. She’d worked in service before, so the training was coming easily to her. It was mostly just memorizing where stuff was stored at this point.
Darby took the opportunity of low patronage on a Tuesday evening to ask professional questions to Tina. She always felt it important to ask her in-interview questions to the trainers to see what differences there were in the answers.
“What’s the hardest part of the job?” Darby asked, with her hands clasped behind her back. She had an air of professionalism that bordered on snobby.
“Not being able to stop the gamblers” Tina answered, anchoring one elbow to the rumbling dishwasher top.
“What do you mean?” Darby asked. “Why would we want to stop the gamblers? Isn’t that how this business makes money?”
“Money is a necessary evil but sometimes you wish you could tell someone ‘Stop. You've lost enough money; go buy groceries instead’”. Tine replied.
The dishwasher stopped and Tina handed a worn hand towel to Darby. They both began drying the glasses inside.
“Why can’t you?” Darby wondered.
“We have no legal leverage. Legally, I can cut someone off from drinking too much. They start acting differently, belligerently or unwell, I can deny them another order. But if someone spends their last dime...I have to take it.” Tina shook her head.
Tina turned and gestured to a woman seated at the far side of the bar who looked like she was in her mid-forties. She had a pile of pull-tabs in front of her, with a pained expression on her sunken face. The poor lighting wasn’t doing her any favors.
“See her? That’s Donna Bickley” Tina said and then crooked her finger to Darby to follow her into the office.
The office was as dingy as the rest of the building, but the overhead light was bright to the point of blinding when going in from the bar. It was a small closet that had a metal desk shoved against the back wall, with a safe on a table to the left next to a filing cabinet and a cork-board with notes and lists to the right. A small, black plastic waste basket was under it on the floor.
Tine pointed to a typed list to the furthest left of the cork-board. The top of the paper was titled ‘Unacceptable Checks From the Following’ and then a list of names under it.
“We aren’t allowed to accept checks, due to them bouncing, from these people. Read the third name down” Tina instructed.
Darby leaned a little and studiously looked at the third name.
“Donna Bickley?” she asked.
“Uh-huh” Tina said with her tongue between her teeth on the right side. “Donna is almost completely ruined as a person and we, as in the club, helped her do it! And we can’t help her.” she sighed deeply with another head shake.
“She doesn’t look ‘ruined’ to me; and how is that our fault anyway? How can she keep coming here nearly every day if her checks bounce? Doesn’t that mean she has no money in the bank?” Darby wanted to know.
“I-it’s not directly ‘our’ fault; people do it to themselves. But she borrows money- her sister, Madelyn Dusk, won’t speak to Donna anymore because of how much money Donna’s borrowed from her and her husband.” and despite being in the office, Tina lowered her voice “Donna’s husband and her are separated because she can’t afford her side of the divorce and her husband, Dave, refused to pay for it for her. She drained their joint bank account and didn’t get bills paid. She borrows from the bank. And she has a trail of other people, family and former friends, to whom she owes money; including her children.”
“How do you know all that? Surely Donna doesn’t tell people that stuff” Darby asked in shock. Darby would have been beyond humiliated to have a check bounce.
“It’s a bar in a small town-people talk. People tell bartenders and hairdressers everything.” Tina replied.
They walked back out to the bar area and continued drying the glasses as they talked in hushed voices.
“But why?” Darby asked.
“I think it’s because we see people at their worst. Bartenders see people get wasted, act a fool, vomit on themselves and stuff like that. Hairdressers see people with straggly hair and then see them with foil-rolls in and so people are already in a vulnerable state, so they unleash.” Tina shrugged.
“IF I was her family or friend, I wouldn’t loan money for gambling” Darby declared quietly.
“Often, they didn’t either. Not intentionally. She’d say ‘oh I need money for this bill, I’m not getting paid until this day and this thing is due’ and they gave her money for those bills. And then instead, she comes in here. She’s a gambler. Not like Donald Marny” Tina tossed her head in direction to a older, 50-something man in a deep blue suit with a light blue button up shirt sitting in the slots area.
He had salt and pepper hair, olive skin, and was hunched over one of the six slot machines against the opposing wall.
“Wait...did you ‘Marny’? As in “Marny and CO. Clothes’?” Darby asked, jolting her head up to see him, eyes darting between him and Tina.
Marny and CO. Clothes was a high-end fashion retailer.
“The same. That’s Co-owner, Donald. His brother, Andrew, is the fashion designer and Donald does more of the business-end of things. Donald can afford to go to real Las Vegas, but he likes his home-town-vibe and he’s not a ‘gambler’” Tina explained.
“Wait-what do you mean he’s not a ‘gambler’? He’s a person who gambles” Darby shook her head at Tina in confusion.
“Honey, that’s the textbook definition” Tina said, tossing the hand towel over her shoulder and closing the now empty dishwasher with her foot. “But in the business, there’s ‘players’ and ‘gamblers’ and both spend money on games of chance, but they are not the same”
“Okie, so what’s the difference?” Darby queried, carefully folding her hand towel and setting it on the countertop next to the dishwasher.
“The difference is one chases their losses and the other doesn’t” Tina replied and started checking the coolers to see if they needed stocked.
Darby followed behind her. “What does that mean?”
“Chasing your losses means, you’ve lost more than you intended and then you gamble more to try win back to break even instead of gain.”
“Well, I don’t think anybody ‘intends’ to lose; they realize it’s a very real possibility but” Darby shrugged with her face wrinkled in confusion.
Tina walked Darby to the center island counter of the bar area. In the center lined up were six acrylic boxes with openings cut out of the fronts. They were filled with pull-tab gambling tickets. You unfolded the three or four pull-tabs and if you found the picture on the inner fold, it had a winning amount usually $25-$100. If it was a winner; each box could hold 4,000 tickets and out of 4,000, only five were winners.
“No...no no. ‘Gamblers’ do NOT realize or even contemplate that they’re going to lose, possibly all their money. No matter how many times it happens. They’re always shocked and feel betrayed when they lose. And people like Donna think it’s ‘unfair’ for people like Donald to even win on a $2 scratch ticket. But that’s why it’s called ‘gambling’. We all know gambling isn’t designed to be ‘fair’, but gamblers think if they pay out x amount, they “deserve” at least that much back.” Tina raised her thin, drawn on brows for emphasis with an eye roll.
Darby continued to stare at her in disbelief and befuddlement. “That....makes no sense” and her crossed over each other like a ref calling a bad play.
“Gamblers don’t make sense, honey. Logic doesn’t exist. Only their game of choice. They keep thinking ‘I’ve spent this much money, I’ve lost all this, so I’m BOUND to win BIG if I just play one more time’. They pay whatever to get one more chance because that next chance is the winner. They’re superstitious beyond belief too.” Tina went on “You know how a person pays, say. $20 for tickets and we give them 20 tickets at a dollar each? Like, we count out twenty tickets and put them in these little baskets and carry it to the patron?”
Darby nodded. Each acrylic box had a stack mini basket on it for the bartenders to count tickets into so the bartender didn’t have to cup a bunch of tickets in their hands.
“If one ticket falls out onto the counter as we’re counting, Donna will snatch it up and buy it right away. Because THAT ticket is a winner. It doesn’t matter that in YEARS, a winner was that dropped ticket once and every other time it’s been a loser, that one time was enough to convince her” Tina said, tapping the tip of her coral painted nail onto the counter.
Darby could only blink behind her glasses.
“Oh, honey, that’s the tip of the superstitions” Tina assured her. “I’ve had patrons ask me to ‘stir the tickets in the box’, go to the far-left corner, or only get the tickets that are right up against the edge. Some people only want the white basket, or the blue basket. They’ll only get tickets in sets of 5 or only out of the even numbered boxes” she made a revolving motion with her hand.
“Mm” Darby bit the inside of her cheek and blinked again.
Tina full shrugged, palms facing the ceiling. “It happens. They are very superstitious.”
“But if something only occurred once and every other time it’s not worked...” Darby pantomimed balancing with her hands.
Tina pursed her lips, closed her eyes and shook her head. “If it worked ONCE, it will work again” she gave an exaggerated smirk and then looked around to see if anything else needed doing.
“But not everyone. The ‘players’ don’t do that?” Darby asked as if she wanted it to be true but didn’t believe it.
“Heh, some players have superstitions; they just admit defeat and know to throw in the towel.” Tina replied.
Darby glanced towards Donna. “And we can’t stop them?” she asked quietly.
“Not unless they run out cash.”
Tina then started showing Darby where they kept the recipes for fancier drinks that they rarely but occasionally got asked for and showing her where the supplies for said drinks were stored.
All of sudden Donna shouted, “You have GOT to be F***ING KIDDING ME! 200 tickets and NOTHING?!”
Tina and Darby looked over in time to see Donna burying her eyes into her palms and her fingers digging into her hairline.
Tina and Darby exchanged a knowing glance of empathy.
Just at that second the slot machine area started exploding with flashing lights and a loud robotic “Winner!” “Winner!” “Winner” over an alarm-like sound. Donald was clapping and cheering.
Darby and Tina jerked their heads to watch Donald’s celebratory dance.
Tina nudged Darby’s arm and gestured her head towards Donna.
Darby subtly glanced back to look at Donna.
Donna was fuming, her eyes wide and glaring daggers in Donald’s direction.
She angrily held out a $50 dollar bill between two fingers with one hand and ordered more tickets from between her teeth as she used her other arm to shove the opened losing pile of tickets to the counter’s edge.
Donald came over with his coins to the other side of the bar to cash out.
Darby looked at Tina.
“That’s why it’s called ‘gambling” Tina said again.