Photos by Lucy Nicholson
LAUGHLIN, Nevada – There is an name for the kind of gambler that comes to this town in this northern southern tip of the state: “low rollers.”
Las Vegas, some 90 miles to the north, is infinitely more famous,action-packed and expensive. Laughlin is calmer, cheaper and caters to a different crowd, mostly retirees from California or “snowbirds” – a somewhat derogatory term for retirees from northern states who flock here for the winter – who have settled here.
“This ain’t Vegas, Toto,” said John “Mac” McCollum, a realtor over the Colorado River in Bulhead City, Arizona, who refers to the Laughlin crowd as “Q-tips and erasers” (“lots of white hair or none at all,” he explains).
Casinos love high rollers, who spend big and gamble big, looking for a good time, late nights and a lot of fun.
Their more lowly kin are a sedentary bunch on fixed incomes. They drink less, party less, tip less and – most importantly for the gambling industry – they gamble less. They are an interesting bunch to observe, quietly and intently wiling away the hours gambling, often sitting on their own at slot machines.
A few miles away from Laughlin proper is the Avi Resort & Casino, which is owned by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. The tribe (and duty manager Jay Johnson, a really pleasant, easygoing man) let Lucy Nicholson wander about to take pictures of the clientele after the security guards had outlined certain restrictions on what she could and could not photograph.
Over the course of an hour Lucy found that the average age of the people she photographed was about 85. Amusing themselves by gambling while they await death in Laughlin, they really didn’t care whether she took their pictures or not.
In the meantime I found myself, purely by accident, at the bar, where the bartender had to shout at his elderly customers to make himself heard, even though we were somewhat removed from the constant cacophony of slot machines and other devices with flashing lights, bells and whistles designed to coax money out of your wallet.
Welcome to the world of the low roller. Vegas it most certainly ain’t, Toto.