© Chuck Gardner
3087 Desmond Ave. 2070 words
Las Vegas, NV 89121
(702) 433-6758
Kiddie Kasinos
Training the next generation of gamblers

    Arcades are for kids. If the arcade is in a casino, you can bet it's also for gambling.

    Since the rape and murder May 25th of seven-year-old Sherrice Iverson, a Los Angeles second-grader who had been playing in and around a casino arcade in Primm, Nevada, at the California-Nevada border 30 miles south of the Las Vegas Strip, discussion about children in Nevada casino-hotels has intensified. Two months after the murder, the Clark County Commission voted to close the arcades after 10:00 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. We'll soon see why it just might be better, after all, to turn the children loose in the streets at night.

    At about the same time, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah proposed a nationwide law that would outlaw casinos within two miles of schools, churches, daycare centers and other family establishments, but the idea soon died when Hatch found out that this would require the closing of scores of schools, churches, and daycare centers in Nevada.

    Children play an ever-increasing role in the economy of Las Vegas and other gambling cities. Developers of the Circus Circus casino, which opened on the Las Vegas Strip October 18, 1968, were the first to see that the era of the high-roller would not last forever and that expansion of the gambling industry would require the whole family. The explosion in the gambling industry around the country in the last ten years could never have happened without the married-with-children crowd.

    Casino-hotels such as the MGM Grand, centered around a children-oriented theme park, the Excalibur, a hop-scotch away, modeled around storybook themes inside and out, Treasure Island, with its sidewalk pirate show, and Circus Circus, with its clowns and big-top, are architecturally and thematically designed to attract children. Thousands of Sherrice Iversons can be seen walking, standing, running, skipping, wandering, loitering, moping, and even falling asleep in Las Vegas casinos every day. Many are left unsupervised for long periods.

    Now that Las Vegas is no longer just an adult Disneyland, but caters to children of all ages, we might want to know what the younger ones do while their elders gamble and drink. The most popular year-round casino babysitters are the casino arcades. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the games in the casino arcades are gambling devices. While the casinos are arcades for adults, the arcades are nursery casinos. The arcades perform three functions. The most obvious is to free up the parents to gamble. The second is to free the kids of their money. The third is to train the next generation of gamblers.

    A "gambling game" is defined by Nevada law as "any game played with cards, dice, equipment or any mechanical, electromechanical or electronic device or machine for money, property, checks, credit or any representative of value...."

    This describes many of the games in the arcades, although not just in the casino variety. Some are miniature versions of casino games. At least one is indistinguishable from a casino device. While the representative of value in the arcades is a rectangular paper token, much like a theater ticket, which is turned in for toys, the representative of value in the casino is a stiff circular "chip," which is turned in for cash. The biggest difference is that the kids are ripped off even more than the adults.

    As in the casinos, the level of skill involved in the arcades varies from game to game, but is negligible, and the games are mostly of chance. The arcade games are more deceptive, since they are frequently designed to suggest a level of control that doesn't exist. One arcade game, for example, resembles a roulette wheel in every respect except for the so-called "skill lever" which the child pulls to stop the wheel, but the ball keeps on bouncing through the numbers, and the result is random.

    Another game is designed after what is called the "Big Six" wheel, a vertically mounted wheel with numbers and an indicator at the top. The child bets on the number that will sit under the indicator when the wheel stops. This version might be called the "Little Six."

    Another machine found in most casino arcades is an exact rendition of one found in most casinos. Quarters are piled on a ledge behind glass and a broom-like device pushes them off when they reach a certain density. The player tries to bring the quarters to that density by depositing his own into the machine. The gobs of quarters on display hanging over the ledge likely tantalize the kids more than the adults, but the kids, unlike the adults, get only paper tokens.

    One game deceives the child into thinking that she can lower a claw-like device onto a pile of toys or candy, pick up an item or two, and drop them into a payoff chute. The device is designed to pick up candy half the time, but to drop it through the teeth before it gets very far, tantalizing the child. The frustrated child is deceived into believing that she can get better at it as she throws her money away, but the payoff is more random than in a game of blackjack. Variously known as "crane," "claw," and "digger," the device was declared to be a gambling device by a New York appellate court in 1936. It's frequently found near the doors of Las Vegas grocery stores.

    A game called "Prize Zone" offers "21 for fun" and "Speed Draw" which is 5-card draw poker played very much like the poker machines in casinos and taverns. Extra points are given for playing fast, training the toddler to be a speed poker machine player. Prize Zone is manufactured by LazerTron in Pleasanton, California. Another LazerTron game, called "Rollin' for Riches," is five-card poker played with a rubber ball and spinning dice. The child rolls the ball down a plank to stop the dice on their numbers for pairs, straights, and "jackpots." Despite the deceptive appearance, the player has no useful control over where the ball lands.

    These are not pinball machines or video games designed to afford entertainment time for the money. They are virtual slot machines designed to turn money over quickly. One watches the children in the arcades with dismay. Many exhibit the same agitated and frustrated demeanor of gambling-addicted adults as they pump their coins into the machines.

    A representative of LazerTron stated over the phone that these machines are distributed "all over" and that LazerTron has "made them legal" by making them "skill-based." Unfortunately, skill is not what distinguishes a child's game from a gambling device, at least not in Nevada. Poker, for example, is more a game of skill in the casino than it is with the LazerTron machine. Blackjack is also a game of skill. Skill is involved in betting on horses and football games. Consequently, Nevada law talks about "money, property, checks, credit or any representative of value," not skill.

    The first definition of "gamble" in The American Heritage Dictionary is "To bet money on the outcome of a game, contest, or other event." The second is "To play a game of chance for money or other stakes." Only the second definition speaks of a game of "chance," whereas both speak of putting money up for "stakes." Every gambling game has an element of chance, but so does every sporting event, which is why gamblers waged one billion dollars last year in Las Vegas sports books. It is the placing of money on an outcome for some representative of value that defines gambling. Ping pong is a game of skill. It's when people bet on the outcome, whether the game is played live or by machine, that the sport degenerates into gambling. That it is not the nature of the game, but the wager, that constitutes gambling, was affirmed by the Nevada Attorney General in a published opinion in 1948.

    It is not what is in the game, but what is on the game, that matters.

    Under California law the question is whether the game depends predominantly upon skill or predominantly upon chance. New Jersey, where gambling is generally legal, and New York, where it is not, define two types of gambling. Type one, where "something of value" is "staked" or "risked" on a "contest of chance," requires an outcome which "depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants or some other persons may also be a factor." Type two is the risking of something of value on the outcome of "a future contingent event not under [the gambler's] control or influence." Type two is directed at betting on sports by persons other than the players. Many other states, such as Oregon, have similar laws. Mississippi, which legalized gambling in 1990, has copied Nevada's definitions.

    The "contest of chance" definitions miss the mark, since games of skill are often the subject of wagering, and it is the wagering, not the game, that is the problem. They are also conceptually difficult. Applying vague terms like "material" and "predominant," game by game, sport by sport, and event by event leaves too much to chance. Although Type two fills in the sports betting hole, arcade games are judged under type one. Nevada law works best. It's just not enforced.

    The casinos are taking advantage of children's universal desire to imitate their parents - to do what they see mommy and daddy do in the casinos. And see them they do. Nevada law doesn't forbid the presence of children in casinos. It says only that they may not "loiter" in them, a term that has been ruled unconstitutionally vague in every other context. Children must walk past gambling tables to get to the pool, the arcades, and their hotel room. Las Vegas casinos are designed to route all traffic through the gambling areas.

    As in quarter slots and quarter craps, children abandoned to the arcades can lose their bankrolls quickly. After losing an allowance or paper route money in thirty minutes or less, they frequently spend hours wandering about the casino grounds. Like seven-year-old Sherrice Iverson.

    "'When I use a word,'" Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'" (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass) You can call one an arcade and the other a casino or switch the words and they work either way. We have arcades for adults and casinos for children, or vice versa. Under Nevada law, persons under the age of 21 shall not "(p)lay, be allowed to play, place wagers at, or collect winnings from...any gambling game," but children do play gambling games all day long when we call the room an "arcade" rather than a "casino."

    When it's quitting time, adults walk over to a casino cashier and trade their representatives of value for cash; children walk over to a redemption cashier and trade their representatives of value for toys. What difference this makes, after the games have been played and it's time to go home, is hard to discern.

    There are hundreds of ways to entertain children that don't involve speed-feeding money into machines. It's no accident that casino-hotels feed children betting devices. You hook them best when you hook them young.

    In all fairness, though, the arcades do offer more wholesome non-gambling video games, like the ones where the player tries to kill everything that comes into view.

    It's possible that when the kids grow up they will remember this stuff as kids' games and how quickly they lost their money, and will be less likely to gamble.

    Since their parents don't seem to be this smart, I wouldn't bet on it.

    Perhaps the best solution to the problem of children in casinos would be to keep them out entirely. Gambling den operators have proven themselves irresponsible babysitters. If you wouldn't invite one into your house to watch your kids while you're gone, you probably shouldn't bring your children to theirs. Banning children from casino grounds might even slow the wildfire proliferation of casinos across the nation. Returning gambling to a strictly adult affair might encourage a retreat from the suburbs to adult islands like Las Vegas where gambling belongs. Hatch's proposal to separate certain buildings, like schools and daycare centers, from casinos didn't address the problem.

    It's the children who should be separated from casinos.