Jay Rankin spent six years working in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. From this unique vantage point, he saw all that the city has to offer - the grit and the glitz. In his book, Under the Neon Sky, Mr. Rankin shares his experiences with readers. Mr. Rankin recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about gambling and addiction in Las Vegas for LoveToKnow readers.
Gambling and Addiction in Las Vegas
LoveToKnow (LTK): What is it about the "neon sky" in Las Vegas that is so attractive for visitors?
Jay Rankin (JR): I think the neon sky in Vegas is a unique style of branding. The lights are part of the psychological, physical and emotional charge you continually feel when you're there. There's really nowhere else you can go to be bathed in this kind of environment. Each hotel spends lots of money and time experimenting with neon colors so they can create their own unique image to the world. The marketing is brilliant in more ways than one.
LTK: Where does the "rush" or "high" come from when people visit the city and a casino, specifically?
JR: An addiction is a stimulus introduced to the brain that causes a pleasant reaction. The brain eventually develops a pathway for that particular stimulus and begins to crave it. A stimulus can be anything, really. We mentioned the lights of Las Vegas, but there's much more. The lights are only the backdrop. Add to this the freedom from boundaries, 24/7 excitement and GAS (gambling, alcohol, & sex), and you've got a psychological "high" the minute your feet hit Vegas soil. I've heard guests repeatedly refer to walking into a casino as a feeling of freedom. The stimulation of noises coming from slot machines, the carpet colors, lights and people screaming who have won, all mixed together, can cause a psychological "rush" for many people. Add alcohol to all of this, and you've got an experience you'll probably never find at home or anywhere else. One of the reasons I wrote my story was because I witnessed many people who got swept away and lost control.
LTK: How would you describe being in that environment? Is it a mind-altering experience that can feed an addiction or spark one ?
JR: Las Vegas is structured for romance, excitement and freedom from everyday life. Can the experience become addicting? Absolutely. Addictions abound everywhere, but Las Vegas has all the ingredients to help people fall into a slippery hole that's difficult to climb out. Life can be black and white for many people. Vegas is a great place to really allow yourself to let go and have fun on many levels. It's an incredibly colorful town. If your high is to eat great food, you'll want to come back. If you find that you love slot machines over card games, you'll want to keep coming back. There's just about every conceivable kind of pleasure that can be found, so people will want to come back. Again, there's that pleasure pathway that keeps so many coming back. The issue is the frequency at which someone is seeking this pleasure. Moderation might be a useful key. The question is, at what point does it become self destructive? Some of my best friends and co-workers were pulled under because of their addictions.
LTK: When casinos make an effort to make their guests feel comfortable (and continue gambling), are they merely using good marketing strategies, or is something more sinister at work?
JR: A casino is a business much like any other. The oil industry might hurt the planet for the sake of profit. The food business does things for profit that might hurt people by putting hormones and pesticides in our food. Casinos carefully construct and stage themselves to be consumer friendly. I think the casino owners know that it's not a real casino without alcohol, pretty women, cigarettes and the hundreds of other things that make the environment exciting. They market the room well. ATM machines are never too far away. There are announcements of winners. Great music is always playing. The building is acoustically well constructed so that the screams of winners can be heard from across the room. The issue of people gambling away the family savings isn't a big concern to the share holders. I believe the hotels are more concerned about their own employees having a gambling problem than the guests. I'm not sure there is anything more sinister at work here. We should all realize that Las Vegas is the place it is because of losers, not winners.
LTK: Can someone spend time in the Las Vegas casino environment and come away unscathed?
JR: I believe most people who spend a limited amount of time in a casino walk away having had a good time. There are many who do hurt themselves. Some people have a horrible addiction to gambling. These people need treatment to re-capture their lives. A casino can be a fun and exciting place to socialize and let go for a while. It can also contain all the ingredients of a painful free fall.
Advice for Visitors to Las Vegas
LTK:What would you tell someone who is thinking about visiting Las Vegas?
JR: There's so much to do in Las Vegas. One couldn't possibly take it all in with one visit. Think about your needs, even your fantasies. Do some research, and see which shows look good. Is there a favorite band you'd like to see? How about the hotels? Which one looks good? The point is, take in what Vegas offers rather than spending the entire visit in the casino. Also try to take care of yourself. It's easy to miss meals and drink alcohol all night. Try to get a few hours sleep, and eat a meal. Spend some time with your mate. The point is to think about what you'd like to do before you go, rather than wonder about what you just did on the way home.
LoveToKnow Recovery would like to thank Mr. Rankin for taking the time to answer questions about gambling and addiction in Las Vegas.