LAS VEGAS — There isn’t a dark spot in this town, says Joe, a bartender at Circus Circus. Not a single square foot that isn’t covered by a camera. Security guards walk by like clockwork everywhere. Police are an eternal presence on the Strip.
And the cameras that follow every roll of the dice, every minor bet made with some man or woman’s last dollar or yen—from Toledo or Tokyo—is followed by the eyes of whomever is employed by the casinos to be watchers. Those same eyes watch most carefully on “the whales,” the men like Stephen Paddock, who make a living or a retirement out of gambling their hours away in a city of forever-night.
“Cameras are on guys like him all the time, because his money actually matters,” said Joe, who asked The Daily Beast not to use his real name out of concern of retribution from his employers. “Our money doesn’t.”
Since Sunday night, reporters from around the world have been scouring the casinos, hotels, and bars of Vegas trying to find anyone who knew anything about Paddock, who for now is the most lethal mass killer in American history. As of late Tuesday—a full 48 hours after Paddock’s rampage—not a bartender, a dealer, a clerk, a host, or a bellhop had come forward to say they remembered anything about Paddock, a denizen of Vegas casinos, let alone even that they knew him.
That’s not at all surprising to Joe.
“Everything about this town is hush-hush,” he said. “The city’s reaction is something that we’re used to. We’re used to properties hush-hushing incidents that happen on their property.”
The hushing was drowned out by screams from craps tables on Tuesday night, and the constant dinging of thousands of slot machines across the city that rang with the sound of business as usual.
“In any other city, would it be like this?” Joe asked.
On Monday night it wasn’t, according to Martin Malmberg and Mike Briggs, devout Christians who stood on a bridge over the Strip for hours offering free prayers to any takers. A couple who survived the shooting approached and recounted their ordeal the night before: crawling to get away from Paddock’s bullets, hoping they would make it out of there with their lives.
“I just offered them prayers of hope. If that can happen,” Briggs said, looking toward Mandalay Bay, the hotel from which Paddock fired, “then there has to be something so much more glorious waiting for all of us.”
Just north of Briggs and Malmberg, a far different service was being offered. Outside of a CVS, Joe Mortell promoted some of the usual activities for Las Vegas, among them, the opportunity to fire a .50 caliber machine gun.
"For better or worse people have their vacations booked, and they're still looking for stuff to do," Mortell said.
Like most other business, gun ranges in Las Vegas carried on despite the shooting. At Strip Gun Club, a trio of men shot at paper targets just before 7 p.m. Tuesday. A spotless, shining .50 caliber machine gun sat on the counter, welcoming anyone who entered the front door. Behind the counter, AR-15s and other assault rifles were on display for those willing to spend about $100 to enter the range and start shooting.
“We’ve been inundated with media requests, and we’ve just decided to not provide any statements at this time,” said Nicholas Roop, the general manager. “We’re focused more on helping the community in any way we can than making statements to the media.”
Back at Circus Circus, Joe recalled that he had planned to work at the concert that Paddock targeted, but ended up having a scheduling conflict. Several of his friends in the service industry did work at the event, leaving it with stories of running over fences and fleeing for their lives. One of them didn’t make it.
Hundreds of questions remain. How, in this town of constant surveillance, did Paddock set up a camera on a room-service cart in a hallway that must have been monitored by security cameras, Joe wonders. How was there no alarm that went off the second Paddock smashed the glass in his hotel room? How is it that we’re already resuming normal operations here?
“I heard they were working last night at Mandalay Bay,” Joe said. Indeed, they were. An employee of a restaurant inside the hotel told The Daily Beast that business resumed at 6 p.m. Monday. The Associated Press is renting a suite in the hotel.
And then there is the why? In this case, there may never be a proven motive, which is always a troubling proposition for people. Without a defined explanation, it is difficult for many to make sense of such a senseless event. But that search for a motive and its possible discovery may be nothing more than a comforting distraction that allows us to avoid the reality of the issues we must face. Mental health, access to guns, the inherently violent nature of America and what it breeds in all of us.
Many things about Las Vegas—many of the things it advertises as its redeeming qualities to the outside world—are not real. It is a place of fantasy, excess and abandon. The city’s slogan is, What Happens Here, Stays Here.
The reality is much more grim.
“You hear stories about people OD’ing and being kept alive just long enough so that they don’t die on a property, so that the property doesn’t have to tell the press that something bad happened there,” Joe says. “You never hear about anything bad happening in Las Vegas. How is that possible?”