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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Leaving Las Vegas

I'm moving.

I didn't think I'd actually say that for quite awhile longer. A good two years longer, at least.

I love Las Vegas, I love my apartment, and I love my job. That's a hard combination to give up, and it wasn't an easy decision.

I can't wait to see all the changes in store for Vegas in the next few years. The urban villages being talked about and in progress like the $7 billion, 18 million-square-foot MGM Mirage Project CityCenter are going to change the city as significantly as Steve Wynn changed the look of the Strip. In the next five years, over $20 billion will be poured into new properties on the Strip. And that doesn't include what Harrah's has up its sleeve (once they can get Boyd to make a deal for Barbary Coast).

I was looking forward to experiencing and reporting those changes first-hand; there's a definite difference in living here versus visiting. I already feel morphed into a tourist again.

Where else can you eat a sirloin steak 24 hours a day for $4.99 (Ellis Island) or a damn fine shrimp cocktail for 99 cents (Golden Gate)? Where can you casually chat with hookers on a platonic basis (Rio's Shutters bar) or see all the best bands? Or walk around completely safe with over $1000 in your wallet? I still stroll the Strip in awe of its spectacle, thinking I have time to explore each attraction in-depth, take advantage of the cheap food and buffets, and just plain drink for free.

Judging from the beats I've had, poker is still as profitable as ever. No-limit has taken over the 6/12 games that used to spread, and 2/5 NL is now a better game than 1/2 NL. And there's nothing like having your pick of casinos, valet parking for free, walking in to the music of slot machines, and playing however long you want. There's no time limit, there's no clock.

There's no other city quite like this 24-hour neon town.

Making it doubly difficult is leaving the radio station. As a writer, it's tremendously satisfying getting immediate feedback from listeners on jokes that I wrote, a character voice I did, or a line I fed to the hosts.

In only four months with the station, I feel as close to my coworkers as I did in my previous D.C. job that I held for 12 years.

With some differences.

D.C. never tried to counter-offer or call me privately to ask if there was anything they could do to keep me there. Nor did D.C. offer concert tickets for me or my family whenever we may be passing through in the future. Nor did D.C. call the competitor of where I'm going to try to get me an equivalent job there, just to keep me in town and continue working the morning show.

But like D.C., both said I'd have a home there if I ever decided to return. And both felt like family.

The radio station said I could go as far as I wanted with the company, and if I stayed, that's what I would have attempted to do.

There are only a handful of jobs that I would consider business and pleasure, all of which I've mentioned in some form or another in this blog.

Writing is one. The California job that I was up for a couple months ago is creating another writer position, and it looks like I'll again be in the running. Though it would pay very well, it would be a job merely for the paycheck than for the passion.

Radio is a passion where I never gave a thought it might be. When I told coworkers I was moving, they thought I was going to another radio station. Like my job in D.C., the job conformed to me and my strengths: it started one way and became another. They've hired three part-time people to replace me.

Poker is a passion, but a losing and frustrating one.

Food is a passion, but my waistband doesn't need further encouragement (buttered lobster tail, mmmm...).

That doesn't leave much, except maybe for slots.

I get such entertainment out of these confounded things. When I first moved to Vegas, every time I entered a casino I'd have a silly grin on my face at the first sounds of the slot machines. I'd get enjoyment out of the happy looks on the faces of those winning (along with a twinge of jealousy if they won on my machine), and I'd share in the sadness of those losing.

And like a joke that could be made funnier if a word were moved to the end, I'd think how I might improve the games to make them more fun.

For example, with ticket-in/ticket-out, why not rig it to randomly spit out tickets to free buffets or free shows to players? For that matter, why aren't slot hosts readily accessible on the casino floor? Slot players make much more for the casino than table players, yet table players have a much easier time asking for and receiving comps. Can't hosts walk around with RFID wireless devices tracking player's cards as they're being used?

In Super Jackpot Party, when the player gets at least three gifts in a row, why don't they unwrap and open to reveal a surprise credit amount?

Why can't players share in a progressive amount if one player in the shared bank of eight machines hits a bonus?

Why piss off the Zorro player by letting a barrel free spin bonus run, hit nothing, and return not even 1 consolation credit?

Why has it been four years with Mr. Cashman without a Ms. Cashman? Could Mr. Cashman and Li'l Lucy hook up and produce a Baby Cashman?

Why not offer the option of a G-rated, PG-rated, or R-rated play?

All have reasons, I'm sure, and which I'll soon find out.

Next week, I'm packing up the car again and hoping it survives one more cross-country trip. This time to Chicago, where I'll be working to help in the design of slot machines.

This could be like an alcoholic working in a brewery. Only not in Milwaukee.

Like the radio gig, this is another one of those dream jobs. One that has the possibility of being malleable to what I'm good at, one that's based on potential that they see in me, one that offers entertainment to people.

And one that I certainly couldn't pass up.

During interviews, it seemed more like friends getting together to talk about slots. The one interview-type question asked was what kinds of challenges I saw ahead.

I think I answered something along the lines of broadening the most common type of slot player (that being a 55-year-old woman).

But I also have some personal goals:

To develop a game that is as time-honored as Mr. Cashman and Wheel of Fortune.

To sell the adaptation rights to the first movie based on a slot machine.

To last longer than four months.