Sep. 11, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
the Strip to learn the 'smack and flick' card trick
Click on the
photos to enlarge them...
reporter Corey Levitan, stationed on the Las Vegas Strip,
attempts to hand out cards advertising the in-room services of
Photos by Ruben
Levitan and one of his
rare card takers. Not surprisingly, most people do not wish to
provide the reporter with insight into their
Fred Kamper, 53, works
for a competing handout company when not washing dishes at
Coco's. He claims the dominant "smack and flick" card
technique is unnecessary.
What are you taking that for?" the woman asks the guy on
the end of her elbow. "What are you planning to do with
Tonight I'm distributing hooker cards in front of the Denny's
across Las Vegas Boulevard from the Monte Carlo. And the volume of
the fight I just started diminishes only slightly as the couple
continues walking south.
My cardboard rectangles of sin display a photo of a
20-something woman covered by little more than the graphic of a name
there's no way she was born with. Instead of her lifetime batting
average and RBIs, there's a phone number and price.
Oops. My supervisor is correcting me.
"There's no such thing as hookers in this business," says Jaime
Romero of Vegas Black Book, an independent escort service directory.
"These are exotic dancers in the privacy of your room."
Yes, of course. Tonight I'm soliciting aficionados of the
choreographic arts by advertising Natasha, a curvy brunette, for
$39, and Mya, a blonde with stars Photoshopped over her bare
breasts, for $35.
No, the escort bubble hasn't burst, too. These pittances simply
get the ladies to your hotel room. When asked what they do once they
get there, Romero replies, "I don't know anything about that." (He
refuses entirely to comment on why Natasha goes for $4 more than
My official title is "handout." The job pays $60 for 10 hours,
regardless of the volume of cards distributed. (That would encourage
wholesale dumping.) And it requires a specialized technique. The
"smack and flick" starts by slapping the forearm with your
"This is to get their attention," explains my fellow handout,
David Perez, a 28-year-old former house painter, in Spanish
translated by Romero.
The flick part describes a wrist action producing two or more
different cards between the thumb and forefinger, followed by an
extension of the forearm.
There are variations. The handout to my left, who works for a
competitor, is staunchly anti-smack.
"If they want to take it from me, they take it," says Fred
Kamper, 53, who also works as a Coco's dishwasher. "I don't need to
make a noise."
Handing out is a perfectly legal job, as long as minors aren't
solicited. And it's one that's not going away anytime soon. Only The
Mirage and Treasure Island have succeeded in banishing handouts from
their sidewalks, and only temporarily — until a Nevada District
Court case is decided. The Venetian lost when it tried asserting
control over its public walkways as part of a battle with union
members, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider
"They're not gonna take the sin out of Vegas," says Romero, a
63-year-old former mechanic who says he switched careers 17 years
ago, after he lost his health insurance because of a heart
"That's why it's always been called Sin City," he says. "Vegas is
for adults. Disneyland's for the family."
Most pedestrians — who arrive in waves of 20 every 2 minutes,
bunched up by nearby streetlights — stare straight ahead, ignoring
me. I'm guessing many are my fellow New Yorkers. (Acknowledging a
street offer in Manhattan is like using a blinker in traffic — a
sign of weakness to be mercilessly exploited.)
Some are nice enough to shake their heads no. A few go as far as
uttering, "No, thank you, sir" (usually from beneath cowboy
One silver-haired lady eyes me like my grandmother once did a
Chinese waiter unfortunate enough to forget to omit the salt from
her beef lo mein.
I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. I'm smacking my arm like
the subject of an episode of A&E's "Intervention." Still, only
about 1 in 20 of my solicitations are accepted. This is the same
success rate I had with women in my single days (women who didn't
work with Natasha and Mya). And, not unlike my single days, this
rate is unaffected by brilliant ad-libs such as, "Hey you, you look
"That's about average," Romero says. "Of those, you'll get about
1 percent that call and maybe a half a percent that actually
Romero earns a commission only on callers who book using the
phone numbers unique to his cards. This is why he shuttles back and
forth all night between me, Perez and his four other employees
strategically dotting the Strip, making sure we're working hard.
Embarrassment is a good predictor of receptivity. One guy in
white Bermuda shorts walks by three times in five minutes before
approaching me. I feel his pain. I had to grab a dozen cards before
finding Vegas Black Book. And with each grab, it felt like all
witnesses were either friends with my parents or memorizing my face
in case I tried buying a house in their neighborhood.
Of course, there's also the handful of men (and women) who grab
handfuls of my cards and loudly compare them to others already in
their possession. (A high correlation exists between this behavior
and carrying alcohol around in giant, blue, bonglike mugs.)
"Full house!" shouts one such collector. She's playing a game
with her friends, she explains after I reveal myself as a
"We try to get as many cards as possible without getting
duplicates," she says.
The real prize, she explains, is the uncensored card.
"Nirvana," she says, wobbling slightly.
Vice officers patrol the sidewalks to ensure that cards don't
display nudity or sex, handing out $200 fines to violators. So most,
but not all, distributors cover up the naughty bits. (Incidentally,
ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Gary Peck says that no current law
forbids nudity or sex — only displaying or distributing to
After four hours, I begin to experience my own ethical problems
with this gig, and they're unrelated to naughty bits or what Natasha
and Mya do once they get to your hotel room.
Most of my cards, I notice, get discarded within a block of my
position. This translates into a distressing waste of trees and an
unsightly litter of nonbiodegradable glossy paper stock — not to
mention a field day for inquisitive kids.
Romero estimates that his company hands out half a million cards
a month. And Vegas Black Book is one of six companies doing it.
"This is rather annoying, don't you think?" asks Marilyn Simon of
San Clemente, Calif., who walks by about 11 p.m.
I can't disagree.
"Why don't you get another job?" she continues.
Next Monday, Marilyn. I promise.
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section.
Levitan's previous adventures can be found at