Category Archives: casinos

Three Days Without Rules

One of the most reckless and euphoric weekends of my life had a bizarre beginning. As my flight was landing at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, I removed my headphones. First, I hear the woman next to me, talking to her teenage daughter about how tired she was, having been traveling for 15 hours. “I’m going straight to bed as soon as we get home”. Less than half a second later, I hear the two guys sitting in the row behind them talking about something going on in their Vegas-bound lives. “She was seriously a hoe”.


I wondered what it’s like to live in a place like this. I visit Las Vegas regularly, but never think of it as a place where people live. Most visitors just think of it as some sort of crazy amusement park-like place of gambling and entertainment. Nobody thinks of people working, raising a family, and doing normal life things here, but it does happen.

Do people who live in Las Vegas just become accustomed to being surrounded by talk of partying, gambling, and debauchery, the same way New Yorkers don’t think much of crowds and pollution, and people in West Texas don’t think much of the smell of feedlots? How would one go about raising a daughter in this town?

The majority of trips to Las Vegas don’t go anywhere beyond the Strip. However, Vegas does have more to offer. Like most other cities in Western North America, Vegas is surrounded by mountains, and recreation opportunities.


Only half an hour West of town is Red Rock Canyon National Preserve, the most high profile place for hikes and scenic drives in the vicinity of Las Vegas.


Before getting mired in the standard Las Vegas activities, I explored the place a little bit, driving to a few scenic overlooks, and going for a moderate length hike.


It was a good opportunity to get a little sun and exercise.


And even draw on the rocks to gave myself some good vibes for my upcoming gambling.


After last year’s trip to Vegas, I concluded that “The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives…” This year, possibly due to my current frame of mind, I felt even more free spirited, even more liberated. It felt like ALL THE RULES WERE LITERALLY GONE!

 


Nothing felt off limits.

It was as if everything external that had been stopping me from ever doing anything was just gone. Expectations from others. Fear of bad outcomes. Even the law of averages.


I rolled for 30 minutes at the craps table, winning myself some money, but winning some others at the table some obscene amounts of money. Some even made bets on my behalf out of appreciation!

While there were a couple of places where I lost a little bit of money, the winnings just kept on coming. All three nights I won big!

 


The drinks just kept coming, free when gambling.


Unlike in normal life, hangovers never set in, and I never felt like sleeping.

Normally, if I sleep only six hours (as opposed to the usual 7.5) on a given night, I am drowsy. On this 72-hour binge of over-stimulation, 90 minutes felt sufficient.

The overall stats for the trip….

  • Three days in town
  • Approximately 75 alcoholic beverages consumed
  • Total sleep 7.5 hours
  • Approximately 26 hours of total gambling
  • Winnings of approximately $850
    • Nearly all of which was on $10 tables
  • Everything else: Well, as the saying goes “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”


Except my money! That comes back with me!

To make that happen takes self-restraint. When people win money in Las Vegas, Las Vegas tries to take it back! First, by getting people to gamble more through a combination of free drinks and making it difficult to find the exit to any casino. It takes some discipline to “Quit while you’re ahead”.


If one can leave the casinos without gambling away those winnings, Las Vegas will try to get it back on the Strip. I found out first had that Las Vegas has a way of spotting a winner. Maybe they can see it in people’s eyes, smiles, behavior and expressions of confidence. But they seem to know who is winning, and come after them.


Promoters trying to get people to go to clubs, sex workers, people trying to sell stuff both legal and illegal, even random strangers. They came for me, and, it felt like the more I won, the more aggressively they came. After the second night of wining, a promoter walked with my friend and I six blocks up the Strip trying to convince us to go to a strip club. After the third night of winning, I had to navigate through what felt like a mine field of sex workers who, when I told them I was good, responded “No you’re not, you’re alone.”


I did not need a set of rules, government involvement, societal pressure, or anyone watching over me to restrain from most of what Las Vegas was trying to get me to do. Nor did I have to take advantage of every single opportunity presented to me to feel as free spirited as I had felt in my entire life. I was liberated from external rules and expectations, not my own judgement. I confidently decided for myself what activities I wanted to take part in, without letting fear stop me, but also without letting fear of missing out (commonly referred to as FOMO) get met to do things I did not want to do or spend money I did not want to spend.

Going back to regular life after a weekend like this is difficult. Regular life, the average day, well there is no way it will ever compare.

Of course, this all was not in the least bit sustainable. My body could not handle even one more day of this. Anyone remotely close to my age seemed to be in suspended disbelief that I could handle what I did.

It is such as crazy mystery of life. Why are unsustainable habits frequently more desirable than sustainable ones? Why does it seem like the things we are told are good for us make us feel bad, and that the things that we are told are bad for us make us feel good? And why does the result of such things rarely seem to fit the narrative we are given?

I don’t profess to know everything about life, but this year I finally processed through a lot of what I had been observing over the past decade. We are taught so many things, through school, work, media, etc. about the way life is supposed to be lived. Assumptions are ingrained into our heads to the point where we do not even realize we are making them in our life decisions. These assumptions can, at times, be misguided, and even hold us back from making the most of our lives.

With no assumptions. With no “you should do this”, or fear of what happens when you “don’t do that”, life made more sense. It is just about getting over the fear of the unknown that lies beyond the divide. I do not know what is going to happen when I return to normal life. And, while I have no plans to run on two hours of sleep, or start drinking at noon, I do hope I can bring the confidence and spirit of self-determination back to “regular life” going forward. Many people look to rules to protect them. Like my weekend in Vegas, I would rather trust my own judgement to bring  me to the right outcomes.

Pure Magic

Las Vegas, Nevada!  Magical!

IMG_7480.jpgWhile I am not sure everyone agrees, it is one of those rare situations where, at least from my perspective, one word can be used to sum up a place.

The word magic itself can be a tricky one to pin down.  Most people think of magicians pulling rabbits out of hats.  Some people think about some kind of supernatural force, something that cannot be explained by science and logic, which, for many, has a negative connotation.

To me, magic is the power to transform.  No illusions are necessary, nor are any supernatural powers (although, as an open minded individual I will not rule them out).  I find it “magical” anytime a specific situation has the power to transform something into something else, regardless of whether anything that can be considered supernatural is involved.  Magic can occur in the standard magician situation, like when one sits there wondering how the four of hearts suddenly became a mountain goat.  But, it can also happen when someone meets a new person, when a rainbow suddenly appears, or when a new experience leads to people viewing the world a different way.  All of these “transformations” occur well within the realm of what can physically be explained by either science or logic.

As soon as I set foot in Las Vegas, I see a world transformed into something completely different.

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Paris is a mile from New York, and just across the street from Caesar’s Palace.  Less than a mile up the road is Treasure Island.

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Suddenly midnight is “early”, and 3 A.M. is not too particularly “late”.

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Money transforms from paper into little round discs.  Suddenly, $5 is a “nickel”, and $25 is a “quarter”.

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People are suddenly willing to take on all sorts of risks they’d otherwise be unable to fathom.

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And, those weighing over 350 pounds, most likely typically shamed in their day-to-day life, can eat for free at a place called the Heart Attack Grill!

When I think of the people I talk to, or have talked to on a regular basis, I would say that Las Vegas appeals to roughly 2/3 of the population.  I do frequently encounter people who tell me they have no interest in visiting Vegas.  It is, after all, somewhat of a hyperbole for a certain aspect of adult life, particularly young adult life, that is wild and unrestricted, but also potentially destructive in multiple ways.

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Vegas got its start as a gambling destination.  Gambling is still probably the first thing anyone would think of when the think of Las Vegas.

Gambling in Las Vegas can be a number of different types of experiences.  There are plenty of different kinds of games and plenty of different kinds of experiences, from the fancier resorts, like Aria and the Wynn, to more affordable places like Casino Royale and Circus Circus.

Those that prefer lower stakes can opt for a change of pace at the Freemont Street Experience.  This was the original Las Vegas, and some of these casinos, right in the heart of what is considered Downtown Las Vegas, a few miles north of the strip, are among the first ones developed here in the middle part of the 20th Century.

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The pedestrian mall in some ways is reminiscent of similar streets in other major cities.  The street almost becomes a non-stop party, with attractions, tons of places to drink (and in this case gamble), and areas where stages are commonly set up for bands to play.

My primary gambling mode is, and probably always will be, table games, usually black jack or craps.  On this particular trip, I found my sweet spot at places that fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, such as the Flamingo, Cromwell, Ballys and Treasure Island.

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But Vegas is more than gambling.  In fact, there are plenty of visitors that come and do very little gambling, preferring to spend their time at the clubs, at pools, shopping, or taking part in another activity altogether.

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The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives, even if it’s as simple as piling up large amounts of foods that do not typically “go together” at a buffet.

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As a single entity, Vegas makes me think of what it would be like to live in a movie, or on some natural version of a drug high.  Everything feels more significant.  The dull parts are cut out.  There is no doing laundry, ironing shirts or anything like that.  Heck, even sleeping is reduced.  Decorations and shows appear everywhere in a manner that stimulates all five senses until they are overloaded.

I’d say the “real world” (however you want to define it) is not magical, but whose fault is that?  Could I be missing the “magic” that does occur on a day-to-day basis?  As people become entrepreneurs, find new relationships, have the courage to leave bad relationships, discover who they truly are, and go on life changing trips.  Could I be failing to take the opportunities to create “magic” when they present themselves?  When someone needs help, when someone has an idea, or when a truly splendid rainbow appears in the sky, just begging me to stop what I am doing, forget whatever my mind is currently fixated on, and just allow myself to take in the experience.

The truth is, with a good enough imagination, enough confidence, and a willingness to act, any place can be “magical”.  But, whenever I lose sight of that, I know I can always go back to Vegas to reconnect with it.

Anne Arundel County and the DelMarVa Peninsula

Anne Arundel County is my favorite county in Maryland.  It sits on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, south of Baltimore (and Baltimore County), and east of the counties in the D.C. area.  Many people are surprised that I have a favorite county in Maryland.  But, I feel like Anne Arundel County provides visitors with an experience that seems quintessentially Maryland to me.  It’s primary city, Annapolis, is characterized by the colonial development style that makes these early colonies on the eastern seaboard distinct from much of the rest of the nation.  However, much of the rest of the county is suburban in nature, which is really what much of the populated part of Maryland is like today.  With it containing a shoreline on the western banks of the Chesapeake, many of the boating activities synonymous with Maryland culture have a significant presence in this county.

In my experience here, which is quite extensive, as I have an Aunt and Uncle who used to live here, and good friends that still do (whom I am visiting this weekend), it seems as though this part of Maryland is not as politically charged as the counties to the west, adjacent to D.C.  Those areas actually feel more like an extension of D.C. than really Maryland, the same way Arlington and Alexandria seem more like a D.C. extension than Virginia.  Both of these areas are significantly different culturally from the rest of their respective states, and therefore a visit to Silver Spring is no more of a “Maryland experience” than a visit to Arlington is a “Virginia experience”.

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I have some amount of destain for politics and politicians at this time.  It is not that politics is not an interesting topic of conversation and not significant.  It is just that the way we practice and discuss politics in this nation at this time has this strange way of bringing out the worst in people.  Right now, I view Washington D.C. as a group of people who generally view themselves as way more important than they are/ should be, and therefore I had no desire to pass through this city at this time.  So, I went around on the “beltway” to get to Anne Arundel County.

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My friends live in a row house in Millersville, MD.  The section of houses they live in is not too uncommon for this part of the country.  It is crowded and the houses actually connect to one another.  Saturday was a housewarming party, and my contribution was a bottle of Bourbon I had picked up on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky on Wednesday.  It is Bourbon Cream from Buffalo Trace.  It tastes like Bailey’s, only better.  It went over well at the party, and I would recommend it!

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On Sunday we took a drive over the Bay Bridge over the Chesapeake Bay to an area referred to as Maryland’s “Eastern Shore”.  The Bay Bridge is a really neat bridge.  It is a classic for those that love bridges.  The main marvel of engineering on this bridge is how long the bridge is, 4.3 miles.  It is a testament to the amazing engineers that we have in this country that I, along with millions of drivers each year, cross this bridge, over 150 feet above the water’s surface for this long of a span of time and distance without feeling nervous about the integrity of the bridge.  I think more people complain about the toll than anything.

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Traveling through Maryland’s eastern shore, first on U.S. 301, then on state route 300, I am quite surprised by the scenery I encounter.  After the first few miles off the bridge, where the same shoreline features that are common in Anne Arundel County seem prevalent, I actually encounter farmland that reminds me of the midwest a bit.  Not as many trees have been leveled here to make way for farmland as have been in northern and central Illinois, and the trees are a bit denser in the non leveled places.  But, many of the crops are the same.  And, I surprisingly encounter some irrigation devices too.

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Our destination is Dover Downs, a “racino” (which refers to a racetrack that is also a casino).  Unlike many of the other racinos I have been to, this particular one has both a horse racing track and a NASCAR track.  NASCAR hosts a couple of races here each year.  I headed into the club box, where all of the rich people would sit during these races, as well as their horse races, which occur more frequently.  But, there were no races, for cars or horses, today.

The other thing that differentiates this place from other racinos I have been to is that the casino part of the facility is a full casino, and offers you a casino experience equivalent to visiting a standard casino.  By this I mean that every table game, from the common black jack and craps, to games like pai gow poker, can be found here.  Also, there are no alternate rules that change the experience, such as no alcohol sales or the requirement of a “rake” at the black jack tables.  At Canterbury Park in Minnesota, for example, every $10 black jack bet requires the player to chip in a 50 cent “rake” that the casino just takes.  This makes it nearly impossible to win, and not a great place to gamble.  No such restriction exists at Dover Downs, and I appreciate that.

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After the racino, we head back into Maryland, but not quite back over the Bay Bridge.  This was so that I could take part in an activity that I have always closely associated with Maryland; eating crab.  In fact, I can barely remember the last time I came to Maryland without going out for crab.  There is really nothing like eating seafood when it is fresh, and being that I currently live in land-locked Colorado, it was imperative that I have a seafood meal while in Maryland.  The restaurant I was taken to is called Harris Crab House, and it is right along the shore of the Chesapeake.  There is nothing better than eating crab while staring right at the body of water the crab was just caught from. It is beautiful in two ways.  The views here not only make me think of both the tranquility and adventure that can be achieved on water, but also reassure me of the freshness of my food while serving as a reminder of how connected the culture of this region is to the water.

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Not only did I get to see the sun set over the bay, something that is possible because we are east of the bay, but the stairs of the restaurant also had a marker marking the high point of the water during Hurricane Isabel.

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Apparently hurricanes Irene and Sandy did not bring water as high in the Chesapeake as Isabel, a 2003 North Carolina landfall.  The marking labeled here reminded me how much coastal storms are also a part of life here.  I saw plenty of boats on the water, both out in the open and docked.  Many of these boats would be submerged if this event were to repeat itself.  I also imagine these boats being battered by the wind, in this hurricane, the two more recent ones, as well as the dozen or so “Nor-Easters” that occur in these parts every winter.

Maryland has other parts, including Baltimore city, the D.C. influenced suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George Counties and western Maryland’s mountains.  However, for some reason, when I think of Maryland, and the things Maryland is most known for, I think primarily of the places and I activities I have seen here in this part of the state.  It may be a while before I have another crab meal like the one I had today.  In fact, I was too preoccupied with eating to take any pictures.  So, I am quite glad to have had a good Maryland experience this weekend.