By Rich Figel
What would you do if you hit the big jackpot for Megabucks or the Wheel of Fortune slots? The question is purely rhetorical since neither my wife or I were quite that lucky on our trip to Vegas earlier this month. But we did come back with more cash than we started out with, which is a win in itself. Yet I wonder if most people who go there really give that question serious thought. After you've used some of your winnings to pay off bills, the mortgage, buy a new car... then what?
For my wife, the answer would come quickly: take an early retirement. She's earned it, but the reality is my career choice to try and make it as a screenwriter made her the primary bread winner. Selling a screenplay in Hollywood is the equivalent of winning the lottery for a writer. It happens, but the odds are not very good. When the economy cratered four years ago, about half of her retirement IRA account was lost. I seriously thought that if Wall Street bounced back, we should consider cashing in her IRA and moving the funds into something safer because I had no confidence in the financial markets -- everything "liberals" warned about Bush's house of cards, built on tax cuts and deregulation, had come to pass.
The brokers were dumping stocks, essentially betting against Obama and any hope of recovery. Then a funny thing happened. Cooler heads prevailed. Despite all the political bickering and blatant attempts by Republicans to kill stimulus bills and block proposals to bail out our automobile industry or create jobs, the economy slowly stabilized and started showing signs of healing. Confidence was restored somewhat. And Wall Street did bounce back, essentially betting that things were getting better. Just check your latest IRA statement, and you'll most likely see that's true.
I bring this up because I think the bookmakers and corporate execs who call the shots in Las Vegas have something in common with Wall Street brokers: they make their decisions based on human behavior. Trends are tricky things to predict or analyze, but it's like what I was saying in my last post about hot streaks. Luck and confidence are largely a state of mind. When we were in Vegas, it was hot as heck outside, averaging in the mid-90s during the day. Still, there were throngs of people crowding the sidewalks or flocking to swimming pools inside the mega-resorts. We saw even more huge shopping complexes on the Strip than were there just two years ago when we last visited. Inside the casinos, there were a lot more blackjack tables with minimum bets of $25 per hand than $10 minimum tables (the only $5 tables on the Strip were at New York-New York). At Caesar's Palace, the new upscale shops were busy -- even though they were far from the gaming action.
Does that sound like an economy on the skids? What's interesting too is the mix of people we saw. Lots of younger adults, many Europeans, fewer families. To be honest, it still bothers me when I see young parents pushing strollers through the casinos. If this is their way of making money for their kids' future college funds, the odds aren't looking good for those children. Which is probably one reason I get mixed reactions when I talk to people about Vegas or gambling in general. I totally understand why some folks have no interest in going there. Some simply say they hate losing money -- me too.
But I love winning more. Doesn't matter what the game is or who is playing. I think that is inherent in most humans. We are driven to compete, to build and achieve things. We're constantly trying to improve our standing in society... if not for ourselves, for our children or the causes we embrace. Las Vegas is a place that reminds me anything is possible. When I see a Cirque du Soleil show, stroll through a Monet exhibit at the Bellagio, take in a DaVinci exhibit at the Venetian, I marvel at the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that spark the ever-changing, ever-adapting scene in this surreal fantasy world. It is an American excrescence, awesomely grotesque and inspirational at the same time.
Anyhow, what I really wanted to write about was our gaming experience on this last trip -- and how the real jackpot for me had nothing to do with gambling or Vegas. Hopefully, I'll get to that in my next post. Hint: I was contacted by a major Hollywood producer out of the blue about an old script I wrote that is based on the Menehunes myths and legends.
And that brings me full circle to my original rhetorical question: If I won a million bucks, I'd still be doing what I do now -- writing screenplays, producing TV shows, and publishing the occasional blog post to share my thoughts and dreams. Money is nice, but having a worthwhile goal that brings you personal satisfaction is even better.
For daily viewing times of my Career Changers TV show, please visit our website. We'll be posting new videos from our upcoming Halloween episode next week, but you can watch segments from current and past shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel.