Tharika Fuhrer

Las Vegas: An experiment of the Human Condition

If you've ever been to Las Vegas you've probably heard the phrase, "The house always wins." If you're new to the gambling scene, you will probably make the mistake of believing this phrase to be a flimsy warning aimed at people much less fearless than yourself. If you're smart you'll only make this mistake once, because let's be clear, it's no warning. It is a fact you should accept it the same way you would your own death because it is just as final and just as inevitable.

They come in hoards, wide eyed and awe struck, their hunger for the cheap thrills of Vegas painted on their faces. These people are absolute suckers for chance and for some reason they seem to associate Las Vegas with being the closest physical representation to chance that they will ever know. Perhaps they believe that Las Vegas is somehow objective. That the casinos don't discriminate, and that anyone, anywhere with just a smile from Lady Luck can be on their way to getting everything they have ever dreamed of. What I want you to know is that these people are idiots. Chance is not a welcomed guest in Vegas, he knows better than to show his face in any one of the casinos around the strip. In fact, rumor has it, he and Lady luck skipped town around the time Nevada legalized prostitution.

Here's what I think Las Vegas is. It's an experiment. A giant, tightly controlled social experiment conducted on the tragic train wreck we call the human condition. Every year, millions upon millions come here in the hopes of winning it big and every year millions upon millions watch as their dreams crumble into desert dust in the same amount of time it takes to roll snake eyes, lay a bad hand or place a lousy bet. It almost makes you feel sorry for them. Almost.

I've watched them enough to know what comes next. They'll pick themselves up, dust off the clothes they're still wearing (from the night before) and head on over to the nearest hockshop. There, they will barter over items (which they always claim to be priceless) before hurrying on back to us, just in time for happy hour. For our part, we will eagerly receive them. Look them straight in the eye as they fork over the last of their financial security and smile sweetly as we hand over to them their casino credit, all the while knowing that we might as well be giving them a rope with a noose because the end result would certainly be far less painful.

At the time the events of this story took place, I was working at the Flamingo Las Vegas as a warmers. In case you've never heard of this fascinating profession, allow me to enlighten you. At any given moment, a well-established casino will have on their pay -roll around two to three hundred people hidden amongst it's two to three thousand guests. These people are known in the world of high stakes gambling as warmers and coolers, and while they may never admit to it, it is their sole task to stack the odds against you ever winning over the house and thereby ensuring that the house drains you dry. Remember when I said the phrase "The house always wins" was a fact? You can thank us for that.

Now before you go thinking that we're the kind of people who plant bum cards in decks or grease roulette wheels, let me stop you. While Las Vegas has always had a questionable past, their casinos today are run more efficiently than some third world countries. Money is not just a currency here, it is the word of God supported and enforced by the only trinity that counts; supply, profit and demand. All it would take is one major valid accusation of tampering to forever tarnish the reputation of a casino, and as anyone whose ever worked for a casino will tell you, without it's reputation a casino loses all it's ability to make money. Basically, It would become a Chuck-E-cheese that just happens to have a liquor license. It's for this reason the Casino's had to get a little creative in their dealings with potential clientele. As it stands, the Nevada gaming control board defines tampering as, messing with the outcome of a game (either in favor of the house or individual player) by physically compromising or manipulating the equipment, and/or persons dealing or running the game. There is absolutely nothing mentioned about the compromising or manipulation of players coming in to the game, and this essentially is where we come in.

What we do is increase the probability in favor of the house. How do we do this? Well, warmers and coolers are very different kinds of people and they have very different ways of taking your money. To be a successful warmer all you need in your possession are three things: A basic understanding of casino gaming, an innate ability to read and influence people, and most importantly, a tendency to act without remorse. (Two of those things can be cultivated, one, however, you are just lucky enough to be born with.) If you think I'm exaggerating, then it might interest you to know that some of the most sought after warmers in and around the Vegas strip went on to enjoy massive success in such varied and illustrious fields as acting, politics and serial killing.

Like all humans, we are creatures of habit. Therefore, if you happened to notice one of us say, loitering by roulette table seven. There's a good chance you'd spot that same person loitering on another day, yet again at roulette table seven, just not in the same parlor or floor or even casino if that person was a freelancer.

I'd be waiting for work to begin by any one of the many bars conveniently placed within eye distance of the casino's exit and entry points, perfect to watch the comings and goings of everyone at the tables. Newcomers to the warming profession often pounce on their pray like lions on a bison. Don't ask me why, it's not like they're running out of time, our shifts are twelve hours long. I had the midnight to noon shift, far more exciting in terms of the colorful clientele that come out to play, and believe me, this kind of work gets a little boring after a while. You might find that hard to believe. How could working at a casino possibly be boring? Well, when you have to be there twelve hours at a time every other day; the bright lights lose their shine, faces become a blur and time stands absolutely still. You become an actor in a play that you perform every half hour, over and over again only with different supporting actors.

Now, before I begin explaining what exactly it is a warmer does, let me just say, No two warmers work the same way and never does a warmer stick to one hustle twice. For the sake of simplicity, however, let's define a warmer as someone who relies on their ability to successfully select a target (often referred to as a mark) and charm them into psychological submission. This may sound difficult but believe me it's not. The people who come to casinos are not the kind of people who demonstrate strict inhibitions. They are sad, lonely, empty husks of people. The victims of Life's harshness and they come in search of only one thing, the exhilarating feeling of being considered a winner. As warmers, we are more than willing to pander to this need, for as long as we feel it's necessary. We manipulate them, bringing them to tables that we have already decided as being "high streak" tables. To make this distinction, warmers have to always be in a state of perpetual vigilance.

We have to know when exactly the mark we are with will have the best probability of winning a raised bet, and when to steer the mark away from a game once it becomes clear that they will lose if they keep on playing. This may seem obvious and not too thrilling, but what most Amateur gambler's don't know is that this is the fastest and most reliable way of winning money at a Casino in the long term. It is also not nearly as easy as you might think. It requires an extreme amount of self-control and the ability to analyze a situation without your own wants or desires clouding your judgment.

It is at this point; the marks will become attached to us. They may not know why, but subconsciously they've already recognized that while in our company good things have begun to happen. People are noticing them, praising them and an abundance of money is quickly becoming a possibility in their near future, or so they think. Even so, while they may come to consider us the human equivalent to a rabbit's foot, it is a rare occurrence to find a mark that accurately deduces that we are the reason they are winning, rather than a happy coincidental witness to their winning, and naturally we would want it not no other way.

At this point depending on the stakes and whatever game is played, the warmer can either end the mark's winning streak by influencing them into making bad choices (this is known as the double or nothing strategy) or if they feel the probability of the mark winning is high, for whatever reason they can signal a cooler to enter the game. The cooler with a little help from a warmer will then go on to proceed with what is known as the winner "takes all" strategy.

As I'm sure you must have figured by now, if a warmer works a mark by "warming" their winning streak, then a cooler will do the opposite. A person recruited for the position of a cooler can be of any age, appearance or temperament. What they all have in common, however, is their extraordinary gambling abilities. They are the elite of the elite and are usually made up of ex professional poker players, Ivy League math graduates, con artists, former casino dealers and anyone who has studied the game long enough to easily change the outcome in favor of the house in five rounds or less. These people are the rare few who actually make a living cleaning out the house instead of the other way around. Therefore, it would only be logical for the casino to try and take them out of the equation and have them instead working for them For which, I might add, the casino will pay top dollar for the cooler's troubles. A hardworking cooler can earn anywhere between, 5000 to 50,000 dollars in a single night. They have to give back to the casino any money they win against a mark, but they also get, depending on how much they brought back, 5 to 25 percent of what they win on behalf of the casino. The casino can afford to do this because "the winner takes all strategy" is only used when a warmer can not seal the deal themselves and only on "high roller" tables, whose starting bets consists of a minimum of 20,000 dollars or more.

From what I've seen, coolers are without exception always men and warmers although with more exceptions are women. There is a simple explanation for this. Men in any environment are highly sensitive and receptive to the actions of the women in their immediate vicinity. They don't like to lose in the presence of women, and most if given the choice, would sooner shoot themselves in the foot before ever conceding defeat at the hands of a woman. As long as women treat men as if they were the second coming of Christ (this is a common warming technique used in both casinos and relationships), then the men in turn will bend over backwards to try and maintain their new divine status including betting every last dime to their name in a winner "takes all" wager against a cooler without so much as batting an eyelash. However, whenever a woman takes on the role of challenger for dominance (as a cooler does) in every single situation the result always ends in a bow down.

What is a bow down? This is the very unwanted and exceedingly atypical circumstance of a gambler while still on his fabricated winning streak, opts to quit while they are still ahead. It is also probably one of the most fear inducing, nausea provoking one syllable words ever to be combined in the English language as far as a cooler or warmer is concerned. The reason for this should be obvious. A bow down equals to a casino what perhaps feeding hundred dollars to a furnace equals to you.

There comes a lot of perks with being a warmer or cooler besides the money. A lot of it includes free stuff: free meals, accommodations, wardrobe and access to the best concerts, shows, parties and events that Vegas have to offer. On top of this the casino would pay for any extraneous circumstances that developed during your employment. Usually this involves footing the bills for things that include but are not limited to, drug and alcohol rehab centers, abortions, fixing botched plastic surgery, broken teeth and bones, over-due alimony payments, college tuition fees and of course lawyers to fight your various extortion, drug smuggling, rape and manslaughter allegations. I could go on but I think you get the picture.

Needless to say the casino will do the job of ten sugar daddies and in exchange all it asks is for your loyalty and your word that you handle its money the same way you might your first-born child. If you do your job well, you will want for nothing. You mess up (say with five exceptionally high bow downs) and the repercussions will be severe.

I will say however, the circumstances of a mark opting to bow down (particularly with a large amount of money) can prove to be one of the most entertaining scenarios you have ever witnessed just so long as that mark in question is anyone's mark but yours.

Now, before you judge me, I would like to plead my case. I am never going to be declared a saint, but the people who I worked with were some of the most horrendous, worthless excuses for human beings I have ever had the misfortune of meeting, and I didn't even meet all of them! How the system works is the warmers and coolers of a casino will be on constant rotation and are consistently being paired and matched up in different locations with different people. We are never given the identities of our peers although there is rarely any need for that because after a certain amount of time a cooler or warmer will be able to spot other coolers and warmers from a mile away.

The reason the casino keeps the identities of their warmers and cooler secrets from one another is, because even though they trust us, they obviously don't trust us enough to believe we won't rat them out to competing casinos for the right price. And honestly, seeing and hearing the things I have about my co-workers I do not blame them in the least. Also, while I may not be able to prove it, I suspect that a second more disturbing reason as to why they keep our identities secret from one another is so we won't know for sure if a couple of us go missing. Once again, this is pure speculation on my part. Being a warmer you tend to see a steady stream of fresh faces as it's hard to find people who can stomach this kind of work for too long. I certainly could not.

Of course, there is one definite way to find out if a person is a warmer or a cooler. Legend has it, that Bugsy Siegel thought the idea up back in the day. Everyone knows him for being a gangster, but he was also the first owner and creator of The Flamingo. As a gambling fanatic himself, Bugsy would play at his own casino. Therefore in order to make sure he knew whether he was actually making or losing money by playing with a customer, he put in the one and only requirement in the dress code of any working warmer or cooler at his casino, and that is they have to wear one article of clothing or accessory in the official casino color. The Venetian's official color is gold, The Bellagio's olive green, and The Flamingo, as you might have guessed, is Flamingo pink.

All the other casinos quickly adopted this easy method of identification and presently every single casino on the strip enforces it. During my time at The Flamingo, I wore a pink headband but I've seen pink displayed in a multitude of ways, anything from pink charm bracelets to pink cufflinks to pink shoelaces. One tiny detail, that for someone who isn't looking can seem quite insignificant, but for someone who is can be quite informative.

While I was in Vegas my job became my first priority, it sucked me in with its impressive array of benefits. The idea of being privy to an exclusive world that most people didn't even know existed, intrigued me, but the trouble with wanting to be apart of something exclusive is that once you are, there's no real desire to be apart of It anymore. In fact it is my belief that the more you know of something the less you can hide behind the illusion that it is something else. For instance, it was easy for me to imagine that people as a whole were not self-serving that often people are just misguided and fall in to situations beyond their immediate control. That however, was before I was given the opportunity to watch them as long as I wanted to know, and I began to see a very distinct and undeniable pattern in human behavior. We are all in it for ourselves, every single one of us. That is the tragedy of the human condition.

We do not see beyond our own dreams and we cannot hope beyond our own desires. Everyday, warmers get the chance to see people in their greatest moments of misery. We smile and act sympathetic even as we help the house clean take their lives away, and the worst is we begin to feel nothing. Not regret, not frustration, not pity, not even satisfaction. This feeling of desensitization is very common among warmers.

It's no longer just a twelve hour play we're performing, Now our lives start becoming the stage, and we still feel like actors playing the same role with people who we thought we once knew, but now only as other actors. Such is the tragedy of the human condition. These compulsive, irresponsible creatures who risk everything they have for just the chance of getting something think they don't, and the unfeeling people who don't think twice about using the loss of others to their advantage.