VICE cofounders Suroosh Alvi and Shane Smith at the Casino Du Liban in Beirut, which required them to be attired in the latest in Lebanese fashion to enter the premises.
I am a gambler, but this wasn’t always the case. I used to be on welfare, which made the option of gambling a nonissue for me.
The first time we went to Vegas was back in ’97, when VICE was a fledgling young punk tabloid. Realizing that the music industry alone wasn’t going to sustain the mag, we went to sell ads at a fashion trade show called “Magic.”
We were so broke, my business partner Shane and I had about $75 each to last us the week. After three straight days of working the convention floor, exhausted and overwhelmed by full-on immersion into the utmost depths of capitalism laid bare, we rewarded ourselves with a reprieve in the Star Trek Experience at the Hilton—that incredible nerd ride where you sit in the Starship Enterprise zooming through outer space killing Klingons and whatnot.
We exited Star Trek into the ass end of the casino, a quiet and eerie place where several rows of lonely slot machines sit neglected. I stared at a one-armed bandit and involuntarily slid a $10 bill into the machine. I had a “feeling” that I was going to win big, and when I did we could indulge ourselves with a night in an actual hotel room instead of slinking back to the sofas we were crashing on in a desert home on the outskirts of town. I pulled the lever over and over and the triple sevens never came—but the emotional nosedive sure did. I fragmented and went from floating on a cloud of hopeful optimism to being stuffed with despair. My world crashed around me. I felt suicidal and guilt-ridden. Yes, it was only ten bucks, but that was the difference between eating and starving. I vowed to never do it again.
The next night we met some friends at the Holiday Inn on the Strip, a ghetto casino with low stakes and loose slots. This is where the story changes. After an hour of sullenly watching my buddies gamble, I broke down and joined in. For the next few hours I compulsively molested a one-armed bandit in a corner while Shane covered a roulette table in chips without any clue as to what he was doing. He didn’t realize they were only ten-cent chips, but in the end he walked away with a mountain of the suckers and I with buckets of coins that totaled some 90 bucks between the two of us. We were rich.
We celebrated by going to McDonald’s and buying Big Macs for everyone. It was an amazing feeling, we were high on life eating burgers with their money!
Since then we’ve traveled the world and gambled everywhere: The Grand Casino of Monaco, Cannes, Costa Rica, Casino du Liban in Beirut (I hope it hasn’t been bombed—gambling with rich Arabs has its own amazing set of rules), Atlantic City, Bulgaria, on Indian reservations in New Mexico, Florida, and California, and the list goes on.
I’ve hid out in Central American shitholes for days on end and had 12-hour blackjack marathons with Mexican businessmen and Vietnamese fishermen. Walking out into the bright sun with no sleep, pockets bulging with cash or totally broke and wondering where to get credit card advances from, this is the wondrous, imbalanced life of a gambler. We’re addicts, hooked on blackjack to be specific, and the stakes get higher every time. On a recent trip to Atlantic City I was betting 5,000 bucks a go. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. I’ve lost my rent money, and I’ve also walked away with $20,000, which is one of the greatest feelings ever.
Though us gamblers may all end up in hell, I will continue to play. As NBA superstar Charles Barkley said in reference to his $10 million losses, “I like to gamble. It’s my money and I earned it. Do I think it’s a bad habit? Yes, I think it’s a bad habit. Am I going to continue to do it? Yes, I’m going to continue to do it.”
This is not a cautionary tale but rather one of celebration. Though it may seem like extreme and financially risky behavior, ultimately this is my decision, my money, and my life. So fuck you. VIVA LAS VEGAS!