Bursting Bubbles in Casino-Land

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It’s a gorgeous sunny day in Reno. From my 12th floor hotel room I’m looking out the window at the Circus Circus dome below, the city spread out behind it, and beyond the houses the mountains gently dusted with snow. Above the mountains the sky is patterned with the exhaust lines of jet planes. It’s the sort of day that gives the high desert a good name.

You wouldn’t know it wondering the antiseptic corridors of the large casinos, dodging in between the armies of slot machines and their robotic human players, listening in on conversations in the cavernous buffets, but there’s a lot of politics going on in the state over the next few days.

All three leading Democrats are here in Nevada, feverishly promoting themselves as economic saviors, even as the stock market collapses by the minute. As I write this, it’s down another 185 points this morning. Later today, Mitt Romney, fresh off his Michigan win, and California congressman Duncan Hunter arrive to add at least a minimum of GOP participation to the Western caucus. Ron Paul, the only other Republican to have put any effort into the state, has no plans to fly in for the caucus. Despite his pseudo-libertarian musings, the Texan isn’t really registering in the Nevada polls. As for the others, over the past month or two, there seems to have been a pretty direct transfer of support from a fading Giuliani to a resurgent McCain, and most of the numbers suggest Huckabee and Thompson are not really flying in the Silver State.

The candidates have their work cut out for them, convincing voters that they hear their worries and are equipped to deal with the tanking economy. Nevada has the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. As of November, one in every 61 homes in the states was under foreclosure, more than three times the national average. Poverty’s on the increase in the state, and getting on for twenty percent of residents lack health insurance.

Nobody knows better than Nevadans that life’s a crap-shoot. But recently, as the economy heads south for most Americans even as the number of billionaires increases, you could be forgiven for thinking the dice are rigged. Remember… the house doesn’t lose. Build an economy on bubbles and speculation and eventually that edifice comes a tumblin’ down.

—Sasha Abramsky

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