I am here at the 2017 Tableau Conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. This is my 3rd time visiting Las Vegas and I really (non-ironically) enjoy this city, but I have this sneaking suspicion it is not for the same reasons that other people like Vegas (or don’t like Vegas). This is also an interesting time because we are exactly 1 week away from the recent mass shooting at Mandalay Bay where over 50 people died and 200 were injured. It’s sad and jarring to be here so soon after such a horrible attack on hundreds of people. The juxtaposition of the party atmosphere that Vegas embodies amid even such a tragic scenario reads resilient to me and despite forces in the world that seem to want to stifle progress, I have noticed some things during this trip that shows where we are going as a nation and a world.
1. My mother asked me several times if the mood in Vegas seemed somber in light of the recent attack. Granted, I wasn’t here right at the time it happened, so Vegas has had a week to recover, but I cannot fathom that this city which is always so alive and upbeat could ever be somber. This entire city is based on being a fun escape destination and even during this trying time, you can see how the city has maintained that. For example one of the many signs responding to the attack around the city says. “We have always been there for you in the good times. Thanks for being there for us now.” I had to chuckle to myself. In Vegas’ need to be seen as America’s playground, it conveniently leaves out that one might even have had a bad time in Vegas. Vegas, in a way, is a fair-weathered friend. It only wants to viewed as a place where the good times roll and squashes the dark underbelly that I know Vegas has.
2. Speaking of signage, I find myself wondering about the people who created them and coordinated their usage. I hadn’t really thought about this before, but you know that it has to be someone’s job to take such a horrible story and use it to spin a positive narrative. “We stand together” “We will not back down” “#VegasStrong” “We thank our first responders”. In the midst of these horrible news stories, there are people who are creating entire campaigns around the tragedies in order to create a positive response. Not to mention all of this has to be done quickly and out of the blue. When I think of communications campaigns, normally, I think of the countless hours marketers spend leading up to the reveal. I imagine a lot of communication campaigns take months to pull off. Crisis responses have to be done quickly and with no prep-time. It is really impressive when you think about it.
3. Speaking of communication campaigns, I noticed that many of them refer to a counseling hotline to call and an urge to seek mental health care if needed. This is obviously the responsible thing to do, but also I feel like it represents a cultural shift that I have been feeling over the past 5-10 years and that is the openness about mental health and the destigmatization surrounding that field. Yes, I know we have a LONG way to go to address the myriad problems with our (mental) health care and we are not nearly at the level we should be, but I do believe that it is at least being talked about openly more without derision. Whether the laws of our country are helping or not, I do think there is a shift in people’s opinions about mental health are changing on a large scale. I believe that when you get down to brass tacks, more people than not support this trend.
4. Speaking of trends, I have also noticed that there seems to be healthier options here, which sounds crazy because it is Vegas which is notorious for being a center of indulgence, drinking and overall debauchery. Not counting the alcohol (which really is it’s own category), I have noticed a slight uptick of healthier offerings at the shops in the casinos. While wondering around in search for a snack to eat, I noticed that in addition to the normal chips and candy bars, I also saw Skinny Pop popcorn. As I sit here to write this post, I have just finished a marvelous salad in an Irish Pub which I ordered because it legitimately sounded like the tastiest thing on the menu.
5. Speaking of food, It is amazing the price of bottled water here. The food, not expensive at all, but the drinks are 3 times the amount you would pay elsewhere. Considering Vegas is in the desert, I get really dehydrated quickly and have to drink even more water than I normally would. It almost makes me want to gamble just so I can get free water and get proper hydration. I hope as hotels upgrade themselves over time, they will eventually put in water filters. I even had to buy lip balm and body lotion just to make it through the week.
6. Speaking of taking care of myself, this is the first time I’ve stayed at the southern side of the strip (Excalibur), but the air quality in the casinos here are much much less smokey than the Riviera or the Flamingo. I have seen some people smoking / vaping, but by and large the air is clean and smoke has been minimal. Contrast this to Coushatta in Louisiana where the smoke was so prominent it made my friend feel physically ill. I’m not sure if this has been the result of law / rules or if it is a result of the demographics of people in the casinos. Regardless, as a non-smoker, it is nice to gamble in a place where I can easily breathe.
6. Speaking of gambling, it has come to my attention that my opinions on gambling seem very different to others. For example, I have heard people being nervous because of the risk. While I can understand that on one level, I actually see gambling as a relatively low risk scenario. As long as you know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. As long as your mindset is about paying to play (like you would for any other entertainment) it doesn’t feel bad. I focus mostly on the camaraderie I experience at the tables. If I have an Ace showing first in blackjack, inevitably someone will tell me good luck. Everyone wants you to win, at least in my experience in blackjack and when you win in craps, normally so does everyone else. For me, I feel like it is a social environment where I can sit and talk with others. Years, my mood is higher when I’m winning, but I’m not normally one to be butt hurt about losing. I don’t take it that seriously because I view it so much of a game and a form of entertainment. This is a similar view to improvisation / acting because I find the stakes to be so low I can have a ton of fun. I hear so many people being self-conscious about truly allowing themselves to play that they think it’s weird that I don’t have a problem with it. It surprises people sometimes that I am an enneagram 6 who likes these things because I “should” be so risk-averse, but the thing is, on a fundamental level, I don’t feel like this situation is risky.
7. Speaking of the social dynamics of the casino, I will point out that even though I enjoy this environment, I am painfully aware of my status of a “token woman”, particularly at the craps / blackjack tables. I know it’s not an intentional thing, but I am aware if I am the only woman who is playing. I think, perhaps, it reinforces the idea that these are effectually “men’s” spaces and that I am inherently challenging that by my very existence. I will say, I have never been explicitly told I wasn’t welcome or anything, but when you are in the minority, you notice it. It makes me feel a little more guarded. I probably over-try to “belong” or use my relatively mild feminine wiles to ingratiate those around me. But really, it just ends up making me feel more masculine, which I am not a fan of. I want to be viewed as feminine while being allowed to exist in masculine spaces, because mainly I don’t want those spaces to be “masculine”. I shouldn’t have to feel like I have to justify my existence and yet on some level I do. Women aren’t supposed to like gambling. If I do, it must mean that I am masculine. That is the false narrative that runs through my head whether I want it to or not.
Overall, I enjoy this city. I don’t think I would ever want to live here (I need more humidity), but as a place to visit, I find it is a fun excursion with plenty to do that is firmly within my “safety” zone. Yes, I fully realize that these things are probably to expand the bottom lines of the casinos. I know that. However, the fact that people are moving in such a general direction that companies would deem it profitable to cater to these opinions I find inspiring. I’m also very aware that there is a dark side to all of this and that gambling addiction is a real thing that should be noted, but I find it important to acknowledge the community-affirming aspect that at least I experience in Vegas. These are the things that have been mulling over and over in my mind the last 24 hours. In summary, I enjoy this city and am having a lovely time.