When I first moved to Las Vegas I learned some things.
The first was that without having to drive twenty minutes to get to the Strip should I want to risk a few dollars on a game of chance, I had several options which were far more convenient. These were casinos that were more interested in attracting the regular business of “locals” rather than the mob of weekend visitors this city sees every Friday night and who go home on Sunday.
When I first started coming to town as one of those “weekend warriors” back in the ‘70’s I was bedazzled by what was then the Vegas scene. As I drove down the Strip, billboard after billboard headlined the star who was appearing at that hotel. The biggest people in show business were always in town, and if I planned the trip right I could see several of my favorites. Even the real Elvis.
And as you walked in any of the casinos you could view the vast array of table games that were going to allow the gambler the opportunity to part with some of the hard-earned money he had brought with him. All this excitement, and always in the background was the sound of coins spilling into the trays of the slot and video poker machines which held, at that time, a far smaller share of each casino’s space than did the craps and blackjack and baccarat tables.
Over several trips and a number of years I began to notice something different happening in Sin City. The number of table games began shrinking and the number of slots began increasing. And several years after I moved here I noticed yet another change.
The machines which vended the lucky winner his coins were slowly but surely being replaced by newer models which attempted to emulate the sound of coins clanking in the metal trays with synthetic replication, and which, rather than giving the winner his payout in quarters or dimes or nickels, handed him a printed ticket for the money he had won (or still had left).
From the slot player’s standpoint, this was a nice improvement. No longer did the player have to scoop up his money and put it in one of the plastic containers that the casinos provided. No longer did he have to look for a moist towelette to clean up after collecting his coins which inevitably left his hands filthy. No longer did he have to stand in line at the Casino Cashier in order to have them run those coins through their counting machine and pay him off. Now he merely had a ticket which he could insert in any of the ATM-like machines which would read its value and dispense the amount he was due quickly and conveniently.
This was progress – this was improvement – unless you were Mary or Bill.
Who are they? Well Mary was a “change girl” at one of the local casinos and Bill had worked at the same casino for 14 years as a blackjack dealer. They both lost their jobs – Mary because of the new technology and Bill because the casinos were downsizing the number of table games that they ran and eliminated some of their staff.
If you think about it from the casinos’ perspective, this transition makes a great deal of financial sense. Although there is always a house edge built into any game of chance, baccarat, craps, blackjack or roulette, there is always the possibility that someone can get lucky (or as in the case of blackjack become an expert card counter – which is why it is NV state law that card counting is “illegal”) and seriously hurt the house with a good run of luck and skill.
No such chance exists with a slot machine where the ultimate house rake is pre-determined by an internal chip that exactly calculates the house’s percentage based on the money that is run through it. And unlike a blackjack game which requires a dedicated person to staff it or a craps table which requires four employees, one hundred machines can be overseen by one technician in the event of a rare mechanical breakdown.
That’s why Bill lost his job.
And Mary, well she got replaced by more modern technology. While there are still change people who help the slot players in the event of a jackpot win which requires the completion of a 1099 form, their number has diminished because the same machines which payout the winning tickets also break down larger bills into smaller ones. Technology marches on and unfortunately for Mary and many like her, it marched her out of a job.
It’s interesting to me that the many people I know who talk about the evils of “outsourcing” never seem to feel quite as passionate about those who worked in casinos whose jobs were not outsourced but eliminated. The reason I happened to write this post is that I had just listened to one of them go on at length about how we are shipping jobs overseas and the tragedy of it all. This same person spends a few hours almost every day entertaining herself in a casino. So I mentioned Mary and Bill to her and how they had lost their positions.
Her response was, “Well that’s progress for you.” She displayed no remorse for them and I am certain that is because she doesn’t play table games and because she finds this new arrangement, not having to deal with coins, as a big improvement, far outweighing the human toll of Mary and others who no longer have jobs.
I thought it was inconsistent for her to be so empathic to nameless, faceless people whom she has never met and were outsourced, when she was so cold-hearted about now unemployed Mary (whom she knew). While I do not believe it is right to make judgments about others, unless their actions affect me, still this acquaintance’s attitude is not uncommon. At least that is my empirical observation based on a lot of anecdotal evidence.
So many are willing to descry the unfairness of the loss of American jobs to foreign workers, yet they continue to buy the same products those foreign workers produce in greater and greater numbers, thus supporting those companies which outsource and validating their policy. Is the company which outsources or the consumer who purchases the outsourced products really at fault? I would lay this squarely at the feet of those who make those purchases – for without their patronage, these companies would have no sales.
I believe in the reality of a global economy and I realize that the financial capital needed to produce a manufactured product will always find a home where it is best treated. And that home is not currently in the United States. That is not China or Bangladesh’s fault.
That is the fault of the Congress and the President for imposing onerous rules which add to the cost of every product manufactured in America and for continuing the policy of assessing the highest tax rate of any nation in the civilized world on its corporations – again further adding to the cost of producing goods here.
But to get to the heart of the matter, even if you accept my scenario that without the consumer’s co-operation, outsourcing simply wouldn’t happen – there is someone who bears an even greater share of the responsibility. That person is the voter who empowers these bureaucrats with another return to office so that they may continue the same policies which got us here in the first place.
It’s time for a new, fresh and realistic approach. It’s time that we set aside all the rhetoric about “Saving General Motors”. It’s time we really took stock of those whom we elect to serve us – and to rid ourselves of those who believe that their election proves we were meant to serve them. It’s time – no it’s way past the time – that each of us cut through all the hype and got down to the bare bones and the truth.
It’s time for the American people to vote intelligently.