A Sea of Slots

In any obsession, the world is filtered through a specific lens. The world becomes a Dickens novel, an Xbox game, a karaoke machine, a theatrical stage, a fishing stream, a blackjack table.

You bore to death your friends, family and coworkers with absurd factoids on topics of absolutely no importance. (“Did you know that on the Strip, dealers hit soft 16, but downtown they’ve got to stand pat?”) Their eyes drift. They yawn. They remember they left something in the oven. So you seek out other like-minded obsessives in your social circle or on the Internet—somebody, anybody who will understand this strange lingo that you speak.

Or maybe you start a blog so you can blather at will.

Escape to Blackjack Island

Blackjack tables inevitably exist in an island surrounded by immense, confusing banks of slot and video poker machines, rows and rows of flashing lights and game-show sounds (‘WHEEEEEL OF FORRRRTUNE!”) and outer-space sounds and the digital clanging of fake coins dropping into a tinny, non-functional cash tray. It’s easy to become disoriented (“Didn’t I pass that guy with the oxygen tank ten minutes ago?”), so locating BJ Island requires persistence. Hint: Drop breadcrumbs so you can find your way out.

As you wend your way through the Sea of Slots, you’ll notice that there are two strict requirements for playing slot machines in a Las Vegas casino:

#1: You must be over 21 years of age.

#2: You must have a pulse.

They are a morose, zombie-like lot, these slots players, each frozen and alone in her electronic cocoon. Apparently, when you pull out your billfold and sit down in front of a slot machine, you’re making a statement. You’re saying, “Leave me alone, unless you’re a cocktail waitress bringing me a free Jack and coke.”

Also: “These bright lights and high pitched noises give shape and meaning to my life. So please leave me alone.”

Also: “I am trying to lose my money in as fast and efficient manner as possible. So I am begging you, please leave me the hell alone.”

The source of much noise and distraction

Slots: the Svengali of casino gambling. Also the Frankenstein. The Honey Boo-Boo. The Artful Dodger. The silly summer comedy that grosses way too much money. The antithesis of blackjack, craps and poker, in which you are forced to interact with real-life human beings.

The denizens of the Sea of Slots are a strange lot, but have no fear: They pose no real danger to those of us who play table games, for they are a sedentary people. That’s not to say I’d want to face them in an apocalyptic showdown. Look at these numbers.

Fact: There are 197,144 slot machines in Las Vegas.

Fact: There are 1971 blackjack tables in Las Vegas.

Do the math. Even if all of those blackjack tables were filled to capacity (seven players per table), we’d be outnumbered 14 to 1! In hand-to-hand combat, it would be a bloodbath. They’d pummel us with their canes, walkers and oxygen tanks, then run us over with their wheelchairs. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

No redeeming value

From the point of view of a card player, the sheer number of slot and video poker machines in Las Vegas is grimly fascinating. From the point of view of some non-gamblers outside of Nevada, the increased proliferation of those games in state-approved lottery locations is highly problematic.

Out here in Oregon, it’s becoming a political powder keg, thanks in part to a recent five-part series in The Oregonian. Reporter Harry Esteve writes in depth about the state government’s unhealthy reliance on the huge chunk of revenue – last year it was $856 million – generated in large part by problem gamblers hooked on those squealing, flashing, no-armed bandits.

Just think: 12,000 state-sponsored video gaming machines in Oregon without the redeeming value of a single state-sponsored blackjack table.

What kind of world are we living in, anyway?



  1. David Poulshock

    “BJ Island?” For a minute there, I thought the blog was going south. Probably intentional though, knowing the author. I think we should lobby the state for BJ tables, and see how the casinos respond. Great stuff Doug!

  2. Cris Matta

    Was that five part series printed by OMG (Oregon Media Group), or was it on Oregon Live? WTF OMG!
    Good stuff Doug!

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