LOS ANGELES--On any given Sunday morning, a bunch of people congregate at the copious parking lot of a big retail store chain at the corner of Main and Carson Streets in the city of Carson.
But don’t mistake them for early morning shoppers . Instead, they’re a blend of ordinary workers and pensioners, who simply couldn’t think of anything else to do to battle it out with boredom. On such a given day, they made it a habit to wait for a private bus that will take them to casinos in Las Vegas Strip, Pala and Pechanga--two border casino resorts in California, to try their luck on gaming.
This is the usual scene here each Sunday morning. While the rest of the flock attend a mass at a nearby Catholic Church to atone for their sins on such a special day, they’re enjoying the luxury of exchanging pleasantries and whatever jokes they could afford to belt out in their own native languages—Tagalog, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and, of course, English.
From a distant, I could hear the echoes of their laughter, and their faces brighten up as the driver of the white shuttle bus approaches slowly to pull over along side. As the door opens, each one carefully climbs aboard and readily settle on his respective cushioned seats, which provides each one enough comfort to endure the five-hour long drive to the Las Vegas Strip.
As competition heats up in the gaming business, some casino operators have turned to this marketing strategy a long time ago as a means to lure people, many of them pensioners, to while away their extra time for a free commute to and from the different casino destinations in Las Vegas and other casino resorts close to San Diego.
And who wouldn't bite the offer? As a casino patron, each is given a small gift certificate amounting to $25, which he can initially bet on the slot machines. And the same bus will take the passengers back early the next day on the same spot where they were picked up.
No wonder many senior citizens and employees are spending their days-off by going back and forth to Las Vegas without let up.
“This is more convenient and economical compared to driving your own car, which can save a lot of mileage and gas,” explains one of the male passengers who declined to be named, an avid gambler who works at one of the private hospitals in Torrance, California.
Whether he likes it or not, he and his girlfriend are terribly hooked to this vice.
Sources told this writer that the live-in couple would always set aside some extra money which they could use as bets whenever they’re in Las Vegas. But I learned that they seldom or don’t win at all. As the borrowing grew, their debts are piling up.
What is it that he’s after for? “ I just want to win the jackpot. Then, perhaps, I can go home for good,” he told this writer once. Home is Cavite City, Philippines, where the famous Sangley Point, a U.S. naval base was located many years back.
However, dreaming of winning the jackpot is like “wishing for the moon.” For many years now, the gambler’s wish hasn’t come true yet. Who knows? It could be tomorrow or never at all.
While other pensioners are always dreaming of hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas, Jessie Belicano, 89, sticks around. Besides, he couldn’t leave his ailing wife, who underwent a heart operation a couple of years ago. On most days, he could be seen leisurely shuttling between stores in search for the lucky scratcher card that he expects to give him some instant jackpot. Once this happens, Belicano is likely to go home for good, especially now that his wife is getting weaker and weaker every day.
Facing this dilemma right now are some U.S. war veterans and their wives, especially those who have no life insurance as they’re no longer qualified to be insured due to their advancing age. And they’re in for a big trouble when they die in America.
I was talking to one of the daughters of a Fil-Am war veteran who brought up to me her parent’s concern. She confided to me that her concern at the moment is whether to bring her back home or not. At least, it is much cheaper to die in the Philippines that to die in the United States. Airlifting the body will already cost the family about $2,000. What about the embalming services and the coffin?, the daughter asked.
I had suggested that if anybody is in a limbo like her, the best solution is to go back home now while the concerned has the senses. Otherwise, the concerned family may be spending at least $10,000 for the burial services.