What does it say about a county’s economy when it has three Indian casinos serving a population of well under 200,000, with a fourth casino literally a mile across the county line?

This is the situation in Humboldt County. It’s a bit misleading to include that fourth casino in the tally, since it is a sorry-ass prefab piece of ugliness on the outskirts of Klamath. The village of Klamath is pretty much the only appealing settlement on an otherwise horrid stretch of the North Coast. It is also much harder to reach than the other three casinos.

Anyone who has lived in Humboldt County and paid a lick of attention to commercial radio or television has heard of the big three: Blue Lake, Cher-Ae Heights, in Trinidad (“take your winning to new heights;” how cute), and Bear River, located between Fortuna and Loleta, which promotes itself as a place of “adventure.”

You’ve probably inferred this already, but the advertising campaigns for these casinos are truly pathetic. “Adventure” is one of the most God-awful overused words in the American lexicon. It’s one thing to use it to pitch a chain of convenience stores, as the Maverik chain in the Mountain West does. Maverik uses that term to appeal to, among others, the Utard demographic that likes to tear up the desert with ATVs and Jeeps for sport. Call this pastime stupid, destructive, or atavistic if you like, but it has nothing on gambling for fraud and desperation.

The ad campaigns for Humboldt County’s casinos are incredibly grating. Their jingles are atrocious and hard to dislodge from one’s mind, bad enough, in fact, that I’m not going to describe any of them. Research them yourself if you’re masochistic. (If you’re really into the S&M scene, watch some Suddenlink commercials.) And as I suggested above, they’re on the radio and the telly all the fucking time. They’re often the most ubiquitous commercials on the air. This is a disturbing insight into the local economy. The productive enterprises that keep the region functioning are on the air from time to time, while these money sinks are promoted incessantly. (Actually, as an advertising matter, the real productive underpinning of Humboldt County’s economy is largely ignored. Y’all know what I have in mind. You’ve probably smoked it.)

As far as the target audience is concerned, one can come to one of two conclusions: that it is oblivious, meaning that the ad money is wasted, or that they have the mother of all cases of cognitive dissonance. Some of them give the appearance of having been filmed either in Las Vegas or Hollywood; the shots are too glamorous and the videography far too competent for the locals to pull off. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I watched too much News Channel 3 and saw one case too many of Ben Kroeplin caught in the headlights or staring at his desk while waiting for a cue from a producer who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

I know, however, that I’m on to something with the cognitive dissonance. I’ve only been inside one of the big three casinos, Cher-Ae Heights. The facilities were pleasant enough, but the clientele were nothing like what one sees on the commercials. To be fair, the really glamor-oriented commercials were for Bear River, if memory serves, but Cher-Ae Heights appeals to similar prejudices. The clientele that it attracts aren’t the beautiful people, unless narcotized seniors in work jeans and hoodies are your idea of beauty.

I shouldn’t pick on Humboldt’s casinos for bullshitting their audiences in this fashion. The entire gambling industry does the same thing when it can. The ads feature fetching youngish ladies with perfect skin and toned physiques, dressed in tasteful but revealing dresses, and maybe a little something of their male companions, probably sporting Lacoste. The casinos themselves feature decrepit, oldish ladies with blue hair plugging their Social Security checks into the slots five dollars at a time, lost in a narcotic haze. There’s a lot of portable nasal oxygen in these places.

In some ways, the customers who haven’t yet gone into a hard old age or prematurely wrecked themselves are worse. Many gamblers bring their minor children along for the day, leaving them wherever they find convenient: a childcare center, if one is available, or in a hotel room, or in a car. Some casinos have not only kiddie day care centers, but ones for pets as well. These people would rather dump money down a hole in the hope of a big payday than spend time with their own children or even their dogs. It can be downright sad.

The casinos have taken to promoting themselves as places of “excitement.” Again, we have ourselves some bong-quality cognitive dissonance. Very few of the people one sees in a casino look excited. Casinos are great places to find the jaded.  A surprising number of the customers are on autopilot, especially at the slot machines. Then again, I guess discovering that you’ve blown your entire paycheck and have to start pawning your jewelry for gas to get home might be pretty exciting. This sort of thing happens fairly often. It’s one of the reasons that there are so many pawn shops around casinos. Gamblers don’t just happen to be passing through town with a truck full of dear departed mother’s estate, which they’ve been meaning to sell back home in Sacramento for the last year, but now that they happen to be in Nevada, they thought they might see whether they can’t sell all that stuff for a premium, and maybe dodge sales tax while they’re at it.

The pawn shops don’t cater to the holy grail of the “gaming” industry, the “gamer” who “games responsibly.” Neither do the casinos. The Pareto Principle isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s a fairly accurate guideline for determining who’s spending what in the casinos. The same thing goes for booze and coke. Liquor stores like their winos, and cocaine dealers love Charlie Sheen. Looking at some of the amorphous wonders one sees on the streets, not to mention the ones one doesn’t see because they’re too fat to get out of bed, one might think that the same thing applies to McDonald’s. The casinos don’t want their customers to gamble responsibly, particularly not the ones who gamble irresponsibly. They won’t want anything of the sort until tort law advances, or perhaps metastasizes, to the point that aggrieved relatives can claw back the money that their gambling fool spouses or parents were supposed to spend on groceries. Ain’t likely to happen: America is a place that believes in personal responsibility and free will, at least when it comes to the right to be successfully manipulated by shyster casino owners and state lottery commissions.

This newfangled conception of gambling as “gaming” is just a cherry on top of the crazy sundae. We’re to believe that aggressively marketed games of chance are as innocuous as a boardwalk pinball arcade. Hell, we’re suckers enough to believe that sort of shit. If I’m not mistaken, Utah is now the last remaining state in the union without a lotto. Not even Idaho and Oregon are Mormon enough to hold out, and if you’re wondering about fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptists, we lost them long, long ago. The conviction that gambling is a destructive folly is an ancient relic, like the guy that Lawrence Welk dressed up in a ten-gallon hat and a sequined purple suit to sing about settling down in the fresh air and open spaces of the San Fernando Valley. It got out of Dodge, and the Murfreesboro Bible Baptist Holy Ass Foursquare Fellowship, some time ago.

Winchester Cathedral, you’re gettin’ me down; that notion left town. Come to think of it, my baby probably stole it around the same time she stole my heart. She’s probably keeping them in the same place. (By the way, you do not want to listen to “Winchester Cathedral.” It sucks. Lawrence Welk had some fine music, but not that.)

The weird thing is that the same people who promote gambling as a game (or fall for the hype as marks) also promote the notion that gambling is somehow a sound investment strategy. The very word “gambling” has negative connotations such as those I’ve described. It connotes an element of risk, and also sometimes an element of fuck I just blew this month’s rent. These are related but different situations. He who doesn’t put his month’s rent on the table will not lose his month’s rent in a bad round of blackjack. The received wisdom among the gambling set is that you have to be in it to win it. There’s no denying that, but there’s also no denying that you have to be in it to lose it, and statistically speaking gambling is a matter of pissing your money down a mineshaft. What, you say you have special lucky numbers? Well, that’s nice. By the way, I’m Elvis Presley.

No, actually I Confucius, and Confucius say, man who seek advice from bakery products make great busboy; ask waitress for application. If your numbers are lucky, can you explain why the hell you keep losing money playing the lottery? And if you believe that sort of bollocks, would you care to buy a $500 beautiful home for rental to own San Gabriel Valley? Because there are some assholes who would be glad to sell you one.

Actually, that’s one of the most disgusting situations I’ve encountered on Craigslist. I’ve flagged the things, but they’re like a goddamn whack-a-mole. I honestly don’t know how that fraud keeps getting past the overpost and spam software.

The idea behind euphemizing gambling as “gaming” seems to be to make it sound like it isn’t risky, or maybe that it’s an easy, reliable con to play on the lottery or the casino. Maybe the idea is that the system can be gamed. Regarding state lotteries: bull fucking shit. If you do that, you’ll go to prison. Regarding casinos: you don’t want to try. You probably don’t even want to think about trying. Security will be all over you. Those guys are like a mercenary version of the Secret Service. You don’t want them on your trail.

The only possible exception is if you’re a genuine badass who likes to shake casinos down and is really good at playing that game. You don’t want to get puffed up about it, either; you’ll want to know that you’re the genuine article and not a shit-talking poseur, because security knows the real deals from the fakes and the bluffers. You’ll need to play what Amtrak engineers call a really aggressive game.  I’m talking about Casey Jones aggressive, maybe with a little Robert Sanchez multitasking thrown in, but watch that damn curve and keep an eye out for freight traffic, dude. If you mean to extort casinos–I mean, offer them your consulting services, you need to put that fucker into Run 8 and damn the 80 mph speed limit, but you also need to keep your other hand on the brake. Any texting needs to be to your lawyers, not your train buff buddies.

As I said, you need to be really good at playing that game. Don’t worry; you almost certainly are not.

Calling gambling “gaming” is like calling a Brighton Beach mob hustle “a pleasant afternoon of chess with Ilya Abramovich.” You still got your ass hustled in a bad way, but you’re too proud and stupid to admit as much.

It doesn’t matter that Ilya keeps saying he’ll give you a line on the mother of all meal tickets if you stay with him and pay your dues; you need to realize that the guy is a sadist and a crook. You need to stop telling concerned friends, “Oh, he only sometimes attaches electrodes to my junk,” or blaming it on the weird proclivity of your balls to accidentally brush up against the third rail on the subway.

This country is full of idiots who blow their very scarce money on lottery tickets or slot machines because they swear they’ll strike it rich someday. Not content to quit while they’re ahead, they often plow their winnings right back into the system in the hope of a bigger payout. It’s an insidious and inequitable process. Worse, it’s abetted by the authorities because the portion of the electorate that actually cares enough to exercise its franchise finds other people’s gambling less objectionable than its own taxes. Problem gamblers alone don’t make up a critical mass of the electorate, but combined with their compatriots who would sell them down the river for a pay raise, they do.

A friend of the family once told us about his friend “who went to Reno in a sixty thousand dollar Mercedes and came back in a three hundred thousand dollar bus.” It didn’t actually happen, but it’s a true story. This is a country that celebrates the winners and studiously ignores the losers who pay for their winnings and then end up begging for bus fare back home. If there are reasons for damnation and ruin to come down on a nation, I figure that’s one.