Go out onto a crowded city street and start gazing up at the sky. Then, after awhile, count how many other people on that street are staring up at the same sky, likely convinced that there is something up there that they just can’t see for some reason. Otherwise, why would all these people be looking up at the sky? There is a basic instinct in all of us that if the crowd is going in one direction and we’re going the opposite way, there must be something wrong with us. Smart politicians and business owners often fully understand this, and often cleverly know how to manipulate these human instincts for power or profit. And there is no better place to observe basic human instincts, and the attempts at their manipulation, than here in Las Vegas where I’m currently residing.

For example, there is a strong impulse in all of us to get something for nothing. A freebie, a handout, a free lunch, whatever you want to call it. (By the way, this instinct exists in animals as much as it does in humans.  If you live near a wooded area, and leave food out a couple of days for say a deer, it’s guaranteed that deer will be in your backyard every day thereafter.) Anyway, that unending quest for a freebie is why department stores and other vendors are always having “sales” or markdowns on their merchandise. You know the store is still making a profit on those sales, but the appearance of of getting something for nothing is often too strong to resist. This freebie instinct is what drives up the volume of visitors to Las Vegas, and hotel and casino owners know just how to exploit it.

We usually eat home during the week, but on a recent Thursday night we decided to visit a local hotel (located in the Summerlin suburbs, versus the mega hotels that are located in and around “the Strip”) and have dinner in their buffet where prices are a lot less than the Strip buffets. Of course the food isn’t the same quality as those in the mega resorts, but hey, sacrifices have to be made from time to time. In any event, it being a Thursday night, we expected fairly light hotel attendance and plenty of parking as had always been the case before. Imagine our surprise when we got to the hotel and found that every parking space in sight was taken. They were even parked on the roof. I was about to turn around and head out of there, when someone pulled out of a space and we grabbed it. Upon entering the casino, which as I said, was usually lightly attended, we instead found mobs, or hordes of people everywhere. The buffet, which on Thursday nights usually had more empty tables than customers, now had long waiting lines. We had to wait on line for well over half an hour, whereas previously we would just waltz right in.  What in the world had suddenly caused this out-pouring, we speculated during dinner.

To cut to the chase, it seemed that the hotel had mailed out cards to their favorite customers. (Ours came a day late.) These special cards contained “prizes” or freebies hidden under sealed flaps. But you were not allowed to open these flaps at home, or you would be disqualified from claiming the prize. Instead you had to bring them to the casino on each Thursday night in June, and have them opened by a casino employee at the club card desk. As at the buffet, there were huge lines in front of that desk, as people waited forever for the “prize” that would bring them instant riches.  Except that what they got in virtually every case was something of nominal value, maybe worth a few bucks at best. Of course once inside the casino they were almost sure to gamble, as evidenced by the fact that almost all machines were being played. Another promotion going on at the same time was one, where if you accumulated a certain amount of points playing the slot machines, you might qualify for a free buffet. Hence, if you threw $300-$500 into the machines, you could earn a free $15 meal. Another local casino is giving away free buffets in June just for showing up. Because of this, the lines are about an hour or more long to get into the buffet. Well worth it, wouldn’t you say, to save $15 on a meal.

On the other end of the spectrum, we recently inquired about seeing a show at one of the Strip hotels. Now there are a lot shows in Las Vegas that are either free or of nominal cost. The trouble is, they are usually so bad that you need to bring along  toothpicks to keep your eyelids propped open. The Strip shows, however, are entirely different. They have first-rate entertainment, but usually at a steep price. My wife inquired about getting tickets to see Celine Dion playing at Caesar’s Place. It’s supposed to be one of the  better shows in Las Vegas. But if you want to sit on this side of the Mississippi, the minimum price per ticket is about $250. If you want to sit close enough to where you can actually see the performers on stage, prices can go as high as a mind-boggling $1400 per seat. I think if I were rich, I would still be reluctant to spend that kind of money on a theater ticket. But people do, as evidenced by the fact that her shows sellout at every performance.

But that basic instinct for a free lunch draws millions of visitors here annually.  More than a few hope to get rich in the casinos, and maybe one in a million actually does. Most, of course, drop a considerable amount of money before they leave. Las Vegas also seems to entice a disproportionate amount of smokers, and you can see them puffing away as their money goes up in cigarette smoke at the craps or roulette tables. But casinos are about the last frontier where a smoker can puff away without being hassled. And so they come here, and smoke ever more intensely, as they feed their dwindling cash reserve into ever-stubborn slot machines. All that second hand smoke, though, is another good reason to stay out of the casinos.



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