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Sep. 11, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


Reporter hits the Strip to learn the 'smack and flick' card trick

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Click on the photos to enlarge them...

Review-Journal reporter Corey Levitan, stationed on the Las Vegas Strip, attempts to hand out cards advertising the in-room services of exotic dancers.
Photos by Ruben D. Luevano.

Levitan and one of his rare card takers. Not surprisingly, most people do not wish to provide the reporter with insight into their motivation.

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 that?"

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 Mya.)

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 stack.

"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 overturning.

"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 attack.

"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 hats).

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 lonely!"

"That's about average," Romero says. "Of those, you'll get about 1 percent that call and maybe a half a percent that actually book."

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 reporter.

"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 minors.)

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 www.fearandloafing.com.




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