Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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During her younger days, a native Las Vegan of my acquaintance grew weary at the wide-eyed responses she used to receive when she’d travel out of state and confess this was her home.

“You LIVE in Las Vegas?” the amazed yahoos would often respond, as though she’d confessed to living inside Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave or perhaps the Great Pyramid of Khufu. “Wow. Do you live in a casino?”

With a practiced straight face, she assures me she would respond, “Oh yes. After midnight, when it’s not so busy, they dim the lights for us over on one side of the building, and us kids unroll our sleeping bags and sleep under some of the blackjack tables that aren’t in use.”

Las Vegas is a real city, of course, with real families living in real homes, precious few of which sport jangling Megabucks machines in the laundry room. But many of those families do have children, and (like kids everywhere) they like to congregate where the action is, which can lead to a serious problem both of image and of substance.

Las Vegas has an on-again, off-again history when it comes to the question of whether her attractions should be “family resorts” or something closer to “adults only.” With the spread of the neighborhood casino, the old image of the gambling den as a rowdy honky-tonk where off-duty servicemen could blow their pay while ogling the cocktail waitresses has generally given way to a more family-friendly image, with the local casino becoming a de facto social center.

If grandma visits the casino to play bingo, if mom and dad drop by to find the best nearby restaurants and movie theaters -- if these establishments are graced with video arcades, bowling alleys, and skating rinks -- you’re going to start seeing kids who are too young to drink or gamble, tantalizingly (or worrisomely) close to the gambling floor.

In the early ’90s, the MGM Grand opened with an outdoor amusement park designed to compete with such whole-family destinations as Disneyland and Six Flags. The family-oriented theme park is now gone.

A decade ago, Mirage Resorts banned child strollers on its properties -- reportedly after proprietor Steve Wynn himself tripped over one of the contraptions. When Bellagio opened in 1998, security guards kept those under 18 from entering unless they were guests of the resort.

The latter properties have since changed hands; the blanket bans are gone.

Most recently, teen-agers living near the new Red Rock Resort in the city’s western suburbs are unhappy with a new policy under which the property bars those under 21 from the property after 9 p.m., unless they’re attending a movie or dining at a restaurant while accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. (Underage guests attending movies that end after 9 p.m. are expected to leave the property immediately after the show ends.)

Area parents, on the other hand, are widely supportive of the move, according to Station spokesperson Lori Nelson.

As well they should be. It may be unavoidable that kids raised in Las Vegas will consider gambling more normal than naughty -- heck, that’s happening nationwide. But they also need to be taught that such activities are limited to adults not just arbitrarily, but because it takes adult judgment to decide how much is too much gambling, drinking, or smoking -- or even whether to indulge in such pastimes, at all.

And adults in a casino want to be free to associate with other adults -- swarms of rambunctious teen-agers spilling through the casino floor after a hip-hop show at an adjoining amphitheater aren’t what they’re generally looking for.

Beyond that, this is a highly serious matter for the casinos, themselves. The political urge for Washington to wade in and seize control of gaming regulation -- applying a heavy hand to an industry that’s doing just fine, thank you -- has never really faded. It doesn’t take too wild an imagination to envision the Rev. Tom Grey (of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling) and other anti-gaming forces making creative use of this issue, should they get their hands on images of pigtailed tots with lollipops, cavorting in front of slot machines bearing images of cartoon characters supposedly “designed to attract and seduce the children.”

The Red Rock Resort’s actions here are perfectly proper. In fact, they’re to be applauded. This is the right approach. A private company has every right to restrict the access of people too young to legally engage in many of the activities offered, so long as it’s done across the board.

In fact, industry leaders would be wise to consider taking this a sizeable step further. Yes, traffic patterns that require adult visitors to pass through the casino floor on their way to restaurants and showrooms were designed for a reason -- managers want their guests to see all they have to offer. But the serpentine “safe routes” that children are now expected to walk in order to avoid illegal proximity to gaming devices on their way from parking garage to cineplex or bowling lanes can verge on the silly.

Separate, direct access points from parking areas to movie theaters, bowling alleys and the like -- allowing kids and their guardians to bypass gambling areas entirely -- are needed. And it would be far better to provide them voluntarily, now, than to wait for them to be imposed.

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