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Those of you who like to take a trip out to Las Vegas (the one in Nevada, not the one I’ve been to in New Mexico) may be lamenting the news that came out of there this week. Don’t worry: Wayne Newton is still alive (I think). What soon won’t be is the Sahara Hotel and Casino.

Many people are crying over this news because, to them it was a landmark. It used to be one of the “biggies” and a place frequented by names like Elvis, Sinatra and people named Phil. The Beatles once played there. But now it’s closing because it’s losing money even faster than the other casinos in town.

I like nostalgia as much or more than the next guy, so I can appreciate the melancholy feeling felt by some of you who may have spent a fun weekend at the Sahara once upon a time. Or, maybe you never went there, but you’re a fan of Elvis, Sinatra or The Beatles. Or maybe you’re just named Phil.

But anyway, I can understand your pain, maybe even empathize with it, but I can’t understand anyone’s attraction to casinos. I have a lot of friends who like casinos and indulge in gambling. I just don’t get it.

Now, as mentioned earlier, I have never been to Vegas, but I have patronized casinos in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado. For starters, when one compares them to the casinos on the commercials for casinos (let alone such docu-dramas as “Las Vegas” with James Caan and “Vega$” with Robert Urich [in which an aunt of mine can be seen eating in a restaurant in the background of a scene if you know where to look {I don’t}]), no one in real life is having any fun. The people in the Colorado casinos not only weren’t having fun, they weren’t playing the games. I was convinced that the only reason they were there was that the casinos of Central City and Blackhawk were the closest places to Denver where they could smoke indoors.

On the commercials, or even high drama like the time the Tanner family went to Vegas on “Full House”, everyone at casinos is having a great time. They’re all smiling and cheerful and—in the commercials and James Caan’s world, anyway—the women are having so much fun they’re in danger of falling out of their dress at any moment! In real life, I never saw anyone at any of the casinos smiling, let alone actually enjoying themselves. They were just shoving cards into slots, pushing a button, then repeating, with all the joy on their face of a guy at the Ford factory who has been stuck in the same place on the assembly line for twenty-five years.

And that’s another thing: in the movies, people stick a quarter in a machine and then pull a lever. I wanted to do that. But, not only could I not find a machine that took anything smaller than a dollar bill, there were no levers. It was all push-button.

Now, I found out later that there are machines that can be played for twenty-five cents, but they don’t take quarters. What you have to do is go over to this thing that looks like a change machine and put in your paper money (in my case, a five dollar bill) then it gives you what looks like a credit card that you can use to play the machines. So I went over to what looked like a slot machine (it might not have been, I was never clear) and stuck in my card. The machine asked me how much of my five dollars I wanted to bet to start with, with the minimum being a quarter.

See, these machines are real helpful. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to have to wait around to lose your money, you can lose it all at once!

After I had played about two dollars worth—having won some and lost some—I finally decided I had no idea what I was doing. Seriously. One time I came up with all my little squares showing the same symbol and I lost my quarter. But another time I came up with nothing that meant anything to me and won three dollars. Sitting next to me was a middle-aged woman who seemed to know what she was doing—she was putting a lot of money into a machine identical to mine, anyway—and I asked her, “Excuse me, ma’am. Could you tell me how you win at this game?”

She smiled—the only smile I had seen on a non-employee in all my casino-going—and replied, “I have no idea!” as she proceeded to bet five dollars a pop on every time she touched a button. I tried asking a couple other people what the purpose of the game was and none of them had the time to answer me.

Eventually, I figured out how to play this one video poker machine and was able to parlay the $5 dollars I walked in with into a cool $1.87. Of the four friends I went to the casino with that evening, I was the big winner.

I doubt that I’ll make it out to Vegas before the Sahara closes down, so I’ll just have to read about the nostalgia. In the spirit of the town, though, I was thinking I’d go outside and set fire to a bucket of money in my back yard, but there’s a burn ban on. Isn’t it annoying how the government encroaches on our civil liberties at every turn?