Hey Rube! Las Vegas welcomes you to the carnival of carnivals.
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Las Vegas, Carnival of Carnivals

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Hey Rube! Las Vegas Welcomes You!

By Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum XXII #3, Fall 2002)
© Blackjack Forum 2002

Before the age of TV, multiplex theaters, and Game Boys, there were traveling carnivals. The carnies would rent a lot on the outskirts of town, set up their tents and portable stages, poster the lamp posts and trees all week, then skin the rubes for all they could get before packing up and moving on to the next sign of civilization, the next vacant lot, the next herd of rubes. Carnies categorized all of humanity into two distinct groups—carnies and rubes. If you weren’t a carny, you were a mark, ripe for the picking.

Many books have been written about the carny life, most from the exposé perspective, revealing how the games were rigged and how the rubes were lured in, then cleaned out. Some have been written by carnies themselves, describing the hardships of the life and the us-versus-them mentality that pervaded their world. Whether you were running a ring-toss game, selling tickets to the freak show, hawking beer and ice cream, or belly dancing in the “For Men Only” tent, if you were with the carnival, you were “in the life,” and carnies were your only family. It was all of you together against the rubes of the world.

Because of my lifelong interest in tricks, scams, games, and cons, I’ve read a lot about carnies. For most of my life, I’ve thought of the carny lifestyle in a sort of nostalgic way. I say “sort of nostalgic” because it wasn’t my personal nostalgia—I wasn’t there. It was a world and a lifestyle that existed for the most part before my time. Or so I thought...

Then I moved to Las Vegas.

I’ve been here for a year now, and it has slowly dawned on me that the entire state of Nevada is the Carnival of Carnivals. Everyone who lives here is a carny! We’re all here to rip off the rubes. It doesn’t matter if you’re working a casino game, dancing in the Vegas strip clubs, selling show tickets, food, gasoline, or t-shirts, we’re all one big family with one common goal: get the rubes’ money, or help someone else get it, and then get your cut.

Nevada has taken a lot of the hardship out of the carny life. We don’t have to pull up stakes every Monday and caravan to the next town. We’ve got the rubes coming to us!

This whole state was once one big empty lot on the outskirts of America. So, we set up our tents here, and we’re not moving. Why should we? Vacant lots this size are hard to come by. This is not your standard carny operation of half a century ago. We can’t just fold up and fit the whole kit and caboodle into half a dozen panel trucks. That Mirage volcano just doesn’t break down and squeeze into a few cardboard boxes so easily.

Every resident of this state is part of this carny life, and we all know it. We all understand that it’s us against the rubes, and we’ve got to keep the rubes coming, or we starve. We’re pretending to be a state of the union, just another one of the fifty united states, but we’re not really a state, and we all know that too.

We’re just a big scam operation. Our politicians aren’t really politicians. Our judges and lawyers and police aren’t really judges and lawyers and police. Those who hold such positions in this Carnival of Carnivals operate on the nudge-nudge-wink-wink system, and everyone who lives here knows that too. Just bring in the rubes!

You want to gamble? We got gambling! More gambling than you’ll find in the rest of the world combined! You can win millions! Come on in!

You want naked girls? We got more show girls and strip clubs per square mile than any six big cities combined! We’re just dripping with hot nubile flesh! Come on in!

You want to get laid? We got legal whorehouses all over the damn place! Our girls are tested weekly for VD, and there’s no pimp with a switchblade lurking around the corner, not to mention vice cops to bust you! There ain’t no vice in this state, so come on in!

You want to get wasted? Hey, this ain’t California where the bars all close at two a.m. There ain’t no clocks in Nevada, and we don’t prosecute drunk drivers! The whole damn state is shit-faced, so come on in!

Carnies always take care of their own. Many of the Vegas night clubs allow locals in for free, and most of the strip clubs have regular “Service Industry Nights,” when the card-carrying carnies can come in cheap, get free drinks, and half-price table dances.

You think all those coupon books with show tickets, $1.99 buffets, and 99¢ shrimp cocktails are for the tourists? Think again. Half the people who live in Vegas have never even been to a grocery store. Carnies feed their own. Every casino has a break room where the dealers, waitresses, keno girls, and pit folk can all eat for free. The rubes pay the bills in this town!

And there ain’t no state income tax in Nevada. Our highways are maintained by the millions of bucks the rubes drop in our con games daily. People who move to Nevada from real states soon discover the benefits of being a carny. Free food. Free shows. No taxes. And a never-ending supply of suckers with loose money.

In Michigan, there’s the auto industry. In Florida, oranges. Washington: apples, fish, lumber. Texas: oil, cattle ranches. Wisconsin: cheese. Pennsylvania: steel. California: produce, motion pictures, pornography. New York: banking, publishing.

But Nevada? What’s our industry?

We empty the wallets of everyone who visits here from all those other states. So, come on in!

Now, where do card counters fit into this picture?

The games are all set up as cons—simple ruses to separate the fools from their money. The card counter doesn’t fit the purpose of the game. What’s he doing here?

To put it simply, the counter is running his own con game, conning the cons! Some of the carnies may not like it, but most of them understand, because down deep, if carnies have any respect for anyone, it’s for a really good con artist. And if you can con a con, you’ve earned instant respect. The carny that you’ve conned may be personally upset that he was made into a mark—after all, nothing is more embarrassing to a carny than to be taken for a rube. Still, all of the other carnies enjoy these tales of cons being conned. As a result, there’s a whole subculture of cons who specialize in conning the cons—us!

And, although most casino personnel may be pretty dim when it comes to advantage play, every casino has a handful of employees—dealers, pit personnel, even surveillance guys—who count cards, or play video poker, or milk slot club promotions at other casinos when they’re not working.

Which raises the question: In this Carnival of Carnivals, how do you tell the carnies from the rubes?

To answer that question, we must address the two problems faced by Nevada—this carnival in state’s clothing—that were never problems in the old days of the traveling carnivals.

1. Most of the carnies here don’t know the games.

In the old days, the guy running the milk bottle scam knew the gaff and how it worked. Many dealers and bosses today, on the other hand, though they know the games are rigged, don’t understand how. They can’t protect the games. In other words, the casinos have made the mistake of hiring rubes to run the scams, which is fine, assuming the scams are self-working. But if a carny-in-rube’s-clothing shows up knowing how to beat the scam, the rube-in-carny’s-clothing who is running the game will never know it!

2. There are too many carnies in too small an area.

Nevada may be big, but Las Vegas alone has a million residents—too many con artists in too small a space. Even with all those rubes coming into town every day, the temptation to con some of the other cons is just too great, since the real carnies know about the first problem described above—that most of the carnies running the games are fake carnies who don’t know how the scams work.

The solution? At this point, Nevada sees only one solution: surveillance, surveillance, and more surveillance. In other words, let’s hire carnies to spy on the rubes, and see if any of the rubes are really carnies pretending to be rubes! Sounds like a plan, but...

Is it working?

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. The major problem with this solution is that the ignorance of how the scams work has risen to the highest levels of carny management. This situation is a result of the corporatization of the industry, with many corporations believing it is not in their public image to be running scams on their customers. So, there are now rubes who own and manage the carny operations, and they hire other rubes to work in security and surveillance!

This is not so much a case of hiring a fox to guard the hen house, as of hiring a chicken to guard the fox den!

In any case, this is one screwball excuse for a state I now find myself residing in. But I’m not complaining. I get a lot of free food, free shows, free money, and no state income taxes.

So, hey, Rube!

Come on in! ♠

For more information on visiting Las Vegas, see Arnold Snyder's consumer reports on adult entertainment in town at Topless Vegas.

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  Las Vegas Casinos and Politics
Arnold Snyder describes Las Vegas casinos and politics as a big carney game.