The View from the Strip

We first met Bernard Jarvis last week in our interview, where he shared his journey starting as an animator in Chicago and ending up an expat in Uruguay. Now he is back with this metaphorical article … a different way of looking at the topic of internationalization.

You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Queue the Twilight Zone music, please, and imagine, if you will... that you grew up in a casino. You were born there, lived day in, day out, you spent every day there and never left. This may well have already happened in Las Vegas; stranger things there I have witnessed with my own eyes (not the least of which was the loss of one of my own organs, a story best told another time).

Every sight, sound, smell in your home casino is familiar; you know the tick and chime of every slot machine, the gesture and sleight-of-hand of every card dealer; you know the odds in and out at every machine and every table, and how they may ebb and flow as you make your way to and from each one, placing bets, gauging the value, risk, return, potential outcomes of every moment of every breath. Such is the life of one of us capitalists in any environment; this would be no different.

The regulations are familiar to you as well. You know the rules, the do's, the don'ts, where you can and can't smoke, which bartender waters down the drinks the least, where you are and are not allowed to go and just what social buttons you can push with the rest of the patrons before a large goon shows up to give you some bruises and broken ribs.

In your comfortable casino life, you know just how to work the odds in your favor if you are so inclined, and you can make a living at it if you choose to put your mind to it. But you have heard the rumors – the casino is in an irreversible debt cycle. The Boss's endless turf war with the electric company that keeps the lights on, combined with paying off the hoardes of shady movers and shakers who keep him at the top, has loaded up a bunch of bad debts he is having trouble paying off. He's been tweaking the odds more and more in favor of the house to try and make up for the difference. Nobody knows why the electric company doesn't simply shut off his electricity; they have plenty of other customers, but maybe they are as addicted to his line of credit as he is to their power. Those electric company boys don't exactly live like commoners.

The Boss has been losing control of his spending lately, and now there are whispered stories that if you start to win too much from the house, eventually one of the Boss's henchmen takes you to a back room to find out how you are “cheating the system” after he breaks a few of your fingers as an example to the rest. It's politically expedient to cull a few of the strong from the herd; not only does it pad the house's balance sheet, but it also serves as an example to keep the smaller gamblers in line. Many of your fellow high rollers disappear from the scene, scared off to the penny slots, made afraid of risk (because where, now, is the reward?) by the stories and eyewitness accounts, and you find yourself to be one of the few high rollers left. The combined pinch of more rules and regulations in favor of the house, and the danger of becoming a target for the house's confiscatory hands, have got you worried. The rock and the hard place are closing in.

One day you see a new memo posted by the Boss, declaring all the high rollers to be cheaters, and fair game for his goons. Up until now you have played by the rules and done well, but now the rules have changed completely and left you hung out to dry. Those penny slot players now view you as a criminal because at the end of the day, you keep a lot more chips than they do; you surely must be cheating! Now the Boss has hundreds of additional jealous, unpaid eyes to keep tabs on things. You are a marked man...

Had you never stepped outside your little casino world, you might not even know that there are other casinos out there, within a short walk, drive, or flight, that might offer different odds and different rules. Step outside onto the strip, and a world of possibility opens up to you.

Change is scary, yes, but how do you know the drinks might not be better in another casino? The waitresses might be prettier, the atmosphere more breathable, the patrons more friendly, the card dealers more in your favor? Would the managers be more or less inclined to break your knuckles if you won too much at their tables? What about dress code? How hard is it to get in? Are all welcome or do they really make you jump through hoops to be allowed inside? Will the goons search you to make sure you are not leaving their casino with “their” chips? How invasive are their security pat-downs? Do they even speak your language?

Not that it's even possible for many people to have grown up this way, but if they did, few of these people would ever bother to think about what it may be like in another casino. It would not enter their brains, let alone the possibility of visiting another casino just to feel the ambiance, and take in the different sights and sounds. Heaven forbid they should want to spend lots of time there, or worse, completely relocate. Their families would call them crazy; their friends wouldn't understand. Hell, you could just bounce from casino to casino, partaking in the benefits of each, avoiding the hazards of each, and enjoy the whole ride.

Witnessing The Boss's finger pointed at you, seeing his goons taking your face to memory, you start to think that the risk of other casinos with other rules and regulations might not be so bad. Even if the casino next door has the same rules, at least it will be a while before the new Boss realizes you are “winning too much.” Well, that is, until all the casinos on the strip unite under a single corporate banner, or some begin to lock their doors to keep you in, or out... but for now you can come and go as you please with little trouble from anyone.

Next you are faced with a realization: will you even have time to cash out your chips before the Boss or his goon squad come to collect what you have earned, and they believe is theirs? How do you pack your things, how do you book a room at one of the other casinos? How do you know that the other casinos even have available rooms? If you have waited too long, they may be all booked up by the other high rollers fleeing the scene. Will the cashier even be able to change you out before she is rushed by the others trying to get out as soon as they can?

Take a brief moment to step outside onto the strip. Just have a peek. It's a vacuum, a no-man's-land; a stateless, magical world of anarchy which nobody has yet discovered how to govern. Anything goes! Nobody is molested on the strip; in fact the casinos are out there touting their greatness to try and woo others into their doors. Come in, spend your money, visit. Some offer free drinks, all-you-can-eat buffets, gourmet chefs, show tickets, room discounts! No catch, at first. Does your old home casino still offer that to you, or have they grown indifferent to your presence?

After all, you grew up with their deals, you tired of the same old tricks, sideshow offers, and perks-with-a-catch. All you did there over the past few years was take controlled, educated risks and shrug off their “benefits” while making a profit on the house. Eventually they decided they didn't want you around because you were no longer ingratiated to them, and so you caught the eye of the Boss and his new policies.

At some point you reach a fork in the road where you have few choices: you can have missing fingers + empty pockets + be on the Boss's list of people-to-keep-an-eye-on, or you can cash out and check into a different casino.

Better yet, you can check out all the casinos for a while, chart out who has the best odds at what tables, and spend a little time at each one diversifying your profits while staying under the radar of all the various Bosses. If one Boss gets greedy and takes your chips, you still have other chip stashes in other casinos. You may lose a little bit but you can keep your knuckles (and other parts) intact by abandoning your sacrificial stash of chips; your odds are even better diversified among several casinos as you can now move chips around where they are most profitable. You kick yourself for not doing this earlier in life, but hey, at least you now have a head start on the other high rollers.

Just knowing what you know, now that you've been to the strip and lived to tell the tale, gives you a new perspective and peace-of-mind that you never had before. What's more, you will meet other “outsiders” with similar tales of woe who are happy to share what they have learned. You will find you enjoy their company more than those mindless penny-slot drones you used to hang out with. You can take your knowledge back to the other high rollers, if there are any left, and if any are willing to listen. Their ears may open up more as time goes on under the militant and watchful eye of the old Boss.

Regardless of where you grew up, be it in a casino, on a farm, in a city, or in a suburb, you only need to step outside your little world for a moment to realize that there still is competition and beneficial diversification available out there, however minor. The more people step out onto the strip, the more the various casinos will compete, and the better off we will all be. It may take a while to convince them, but if we're all unbeholden to the various Bosses, they have no choice but to stop bullying us into leaving. Or, even better, a free society of disenfranchised high-rollers will develop on its own within the strip, leaving the Bosses as lords of their empty, decaying manors.

Tags: internationalization,