Bottoming Out

Bottoming Out

Tony McDew videotaped his own Las Vegas casino slot machine addiction with the hope of helping others, and ended up quitting gambling himself. (Las Vegas Sun)

If you take the advice of compulsive gambler Tony McDew, you can come to Las Vegas for fun, but ‘don’t try to live here.’ McDew gambled away over $35,000 in slot machines at the Palms casino, where a winning $5 beginner’s-luck bet turned quickly into a bad habit. This cautionary tale from The Las Vegas Sun uses cinema verite footage shot by McDew himself, who began using a camera as a diary to keep track of his gaming progress. It became a record of his inexorable downfall.

Although he says he’s ashamed of his losses and hides the truth from his friends, McDew is still willing to bare his soul to the camera. Holding the device at arm’s length, he speaks directly to the lens about every detail of his financial undoing — which can make the viewer feel uncomfortably voyeuristic. The video has a hypnotic quality, like watching a slow-motion train wreck, as McDew repeatedly drives his beater van between home, the Palms and the pawnshop. ‘Action Max,’ his favorite slot machine, almost becomes a character in the drama, as it whirls and clicks and takes all of Tony’s money.

Like many addicts, McDew admits being delusional about gambling, but still can’t resist digging his last few coins out of the ashtray of his van to try and win his money back. The conclusion of the piece shows Tony four months later, having quit gambling and reclaimed some of his belongings from the pawnshop. As he puts it, when a jackpot hits, “it feels like you’re getting high.” When it doesn’t, “you want to crucify yourself.”

CHANNEL: Las Vegas Sun

Length: 17:46

Producer, videographer, editor: Scott Den Herder
Videographer: Tony McDew


Bottoming Out: Gambling Addiction in Las Vegas
(3-part series)