Why Casinos and Strip Clubs Make Me Sad

Image credit: fodors.com

I’ve been to Las Vegas on more occasions that I care to count, and never of my own volition. The first time was on a business trip, because in addition to fleecing the gullible and those needing to be punished, Vegas is unfortunately also a convention center.

Subsequent trips have been at the request of wives and girlfriends, all of whom seemed to think the place was fun.

For me, few sights are more depressing than rows and rows of blank-faced zombies eagerly losing money that usually took them a great many hours of labor to accumulate. Casinos dehumanize people, turning them into Poisson-distribution addicts desperately seeking a dopamine hit. Many step inside the neon-lit noisy rooms knowing they’ll lose and they derive some strange satisfaction from having fate (in reality, just statistical odds) punishing them for their imaginary quotidian transgressions.

I’ve been to a small number of strip clubs and lap dancing establishments too, always because business clients insisted. These places are unbearably sad, filled with boys in men’s bodies who seem unable to distinguish between illusion and reality. Fat, sweaty, obtuse men who for an hour or two derive a sexual thrill from being close (but not too close) to women who appear so unlike their actual wives and girlfriends.

But it’s all fake. The women are just going through the motions, one cliché after another, thinking entirely about the money they need to make that evening and hoping not too many of the goggle-eyed men in the audience will try to cause problems.

I can’t feel aggrieved at the casino owners. After all, if they weren’t fleecing the clientele no doubt someone else would be doing so. And I don’t feel sorry for the women who work the clubs because apparently it’s reasonable money and if Security is awake then the men in the audience won’t get a chance to be too obnoxious.

It’s the punters I feel sorry for.

What sort of person has so little in their lives that feeding coins into a slot machine or sitting at a gambling table feels fulfilling?

What sort of person has so little ability to connect with other human beings that the glossy simulacrum of pseudo-intimacy provided at a lap dance club actually makes them feel good?

It seems to me to be desperately sad, poignant almost beyond bearing, that these casinos and clubs are filled with so many people seeking such unsatisfactory relief from their mundane existences. It’s a stronger version of the feeling I get when I watch people playing video games or shouting loudly for their team while watching sports on television.

Don’t you have lives? I want to ask.

Don’t they know about all the things they could be doing with these precious moments that would be additive, healthy, and enable them to connect more fully with other human beings?

I totally understand that some people will always prefer pop music to Prokofiev, cheeseburgers to Chateaubriand, and pot-ramen to reading. We all have our own different tastes.

But surely we all, deep down, want and need to connect with others on a deeper and more satisfying level than simply sharing a physical space or a temporary illusion?

And we just can’t get there when we’re sitting in front of a machine or a blackjack table, no matter how attentive that scantily-clad server pretends she’s being as we order another whisky-and-coke. We can’t really get there simply because the dancer is grinding her posterior a few inches above our groin in a tragic imitation of physical connection.

Whenever I see customers in casinos and strip clubs I can’t help but think of the monkeys I’ve seen in old-style zoos: trapped in cages and alienated and clearly stressed by the artificiality of the environment within which they are imprisoned.

The difference is, of course, that the monkeys don’t want to be there and would get the f*ck out if they could.

The people go in voluntarily.

And that, above all else, is what makes casinos and strip clubs the saddest places of all.

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