We Talked to a Magician, a Bookie, and a Sex Worker about the Election
Magicians for Bernie, Bookies for Trump, and Hookers for Hillary. We chat with some unconventional voters in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Natasha Vargas-Cooper
We went to the Nevada Democratic Caucus in Las Vegas this weekend, where Hillary Clinton took home her expected victory, but with Bernie Sanders ever hotter on her heels. Of Nevada's 35 delegates, Clinton has snagged 19, and Sanders 15 (there's still one more delegate to pledge, as not all the precincts have been totaled as of Sunday morning). Just a few months into the primary race, Sanders' campaign has gained more momentum than most pundits could have predicted, which has resulted in smaller margins of victory for Clinton.
We took the opportunity to chat with voters about their thoughts and issues heading into general election this spring. Broadly wanted to talk to people who aren't typically included in man-on-the-street interviews come election season. So we talked to a sex worker, a bookie, and a female magician/fortune teller/hypnotist.
Maritess Zurbano, a veteran magician of 23 years, cut her teeth in Las Vegas, grinding it out as a black jack dealer, then doing sleight of hand tricks for tips. Over the course of seven years of diligent work, Maritess is a respected name in the magic field with illusionist shows in Japan, a nomination in the Federacion Internacionale Societe Magique (considered the Olympics of Magic), and has served as the magician in residence at the New York Public Library.
Chatting with Zurbano on caucus day, she admits that she's freaked out about a "Trumpian future" and if he becomes president, she's considering going to Seattle's "Spokane Nation Reservation and starting my own political revolution, because I just cannot handle that!" She invites all Broadly readers to join her.
Zurbano is an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter. "I'm not satisfied with the status quo. I want radical change and Hillary Clinton doesn't talk passionately about change. I'm only hearing that with Bernie," Zurbano says. "Bernie's an idealist and we need that right now." She adds with a big laugh: "even though I don't know how any of his policies will get approved!"
At the same time Zurbano says, "I'm kind of tired of white men and their bullshit, so if it comes down to Hillary, I'll obviously vote for her." She continues, "I feel for Hillary. I think the relationship between and her and Bill is fascinating. She's certainly had to put up with a lot of his bullshit." Zurbano also sympathizes for Clinton because of all the gross misogyny she feels Clinton is subjected to.
"A male magician, a top name in the business, I won't say who, but when Hillary was running in 2008, this guy came up to me and he has a little brass pig trinket in his hand," Zurbano recalls. "He told me to look into its butt, and sure enough, there was a little hole and inside you could a see a picture of Hillary Clinton." Zurbano laughs in disbelief. "You mean to tell me some asshole called a manufacturer in China and figured out how to get a picture of Hillary to scale inside a tiny pig's butt? What the hell is wrong with people?"
Nevertheless, when I ask Zurbano for her prediction (she is a fortune teller, hypnotist, and a mentalist after all), she responds, "I would tell you but I don't want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know who is going to win, but I don't want her to."
Jimmy Vaccaro is a legendary Las Vegas bookie, opening sports books at the Barbary Coast, the Golden Nugget, and the Wynn Hotel. He's been in the odds-business for forty years and gave us his audience at his newest gig inside the South Point casino.
"I've been doing this for nine election cycles," Vaccaro says inside his office, which is decorated with football memorabilia. "This is the first election where people come up to the sports book desk and ask if they can bet. And we're only in February!"
When people want to bet on something, that means they're thinking about it, arguing about it; it means they're invested. "I knew when Trump got in the race that this would have a lot of entertainment value," Vaccaro says, "but it looks like it's gone beyond entertainment. He's all anybody can talk about. When he came to Vegas to do a rally, it was like the Super Bowl. We had him on all the screens. We ran out of seats in the casino for people to watch him."
Vaccaro's odds on Trump being the Republican nominee are 2/1 with Ted Cruz as a 5/2 bet.
South Point is about twenty minutes off the strip and while clean and respectable, it's a mid-range casino, pulling in patrons that throw down about $200 to $300. Not high rollers, just middle class folk with a libertarian bend and from diverse backgrounds. "We're on the pulse," Vaccaro says. "I can typically predict what the polls are going to say before they come out, because the cross section of America is in the casino."
A lot of casino-goers were chatty about Ben Carson in late 2015 but by December, Vaccaro says, "I knew he was done. People stopped talking about him."
Nobody talks about Jeb Bush, Vaccaro says, except to pity him. As Bush's sad fate would have it, an hour after our visit with Vaccaro, he dropped out of the race and endorsed Marco Rubio.
In terms of vice presidential nominee odds, Bush and Trump are on equal footing, according to Vaccaro. Both are a 50/1 bet. "They're both a long shot because I don't think Trump would ever accept a second place seat. And for Jeb, the odds are equally long because I don't think anyone wants him on their ticket. Everyone's tired of the Bush family. Enough!"
Hillary Clinton has proved to be the biggest surprise of the race. "When she announced her campaign, she was all but anointed as the inevitable nominee," Vaccaro says laughing. "Now look at her, she barely won today. No one expected Bernie Sanders would get as far as he has. It's been great to watch."
Vaccaro's prediction for the general election is a Clinton versus Trump match up, with the odds favoring Hillary (-160/+140).
In past elections, Vaccaro himself has voted for Senator Bob Dole, Barrack Obama, Mitt Romney, but as of now he's still undecided. "I like Bernie, but I don't want to pay more taxes. I came to this town with $14. I think I'm a good person, I don't want to pay more in taxes to prove it." Vaccaro is leaning towards Trump. Why? "He reminds me of a bookie."
Inside the Dennis Hof's Love Ranch, a brothel about an hour outside Las Vegas, Lydia Faithfull, zipped inside a pleather catsuit, leans back into a plushy sofa inside the honeymoon suite ($2,500 a night, just to sleep; anything more will cost you extra) to talk politics. "It's imperative to me that a feminist is elected into the presidency. It's time," Faithfull says. Faithfull is a hardcore Clinton supporter.
"I want to make sure Planned Parenthood stays open and I just don't want to deal with another guy in office telling me what I can or can't do with my vagina. I wanted to vote for her in 2008. I was glad Obama got the nomination but I really wanted it to be Hillary."
Before the Love Ranch, Faithfull used to work at a fetish dungeon in Oregon, issuing spankings and punishment to various clients for negotiated prices. The money was not great and before the Affordable Care Act, she could not afford health insurance because she was and still is an independent contractor.
"I'm in the sort of profession where I need to get my blood checked often," Faithfull says grinning. Before she took up sex work, Faithfull's insurance was covered by her employer, a major fashion retailer, several of whose items I was wearing that evening.
"Health care has always been a major concern of Hillary's, ever since she was First Lady, so I'm pretty confident that she's going to protect Obamacare."
Faithfull's also casting her lot with Clinton for her foreign policy experience. "We've got tensions with Russia, Syria, and the Middle East in general, and out of all the candidates she absolutely has the most experience and is the least polarizing."
Faithfull says she doesn't talk politics too often at the cathouse. "It can get really contentious. Sometimes a girl will say, 'I would never vote for a woman president,' and I'm like, 'Jesus, talk about internalized misogyny.'" She also hopes if Obama isn't able to get a Supreme Court nominee through, Clinton could, and wants it to be a woman.
I ask Faithfull if her clients ever talk politics with her. "Ugh, yes," she groans, "and I find it makes me want to fuck them less. Some Canadian guy came in here trashing Justin Trudeau, saying he wished someone would assassinate him. Thank God it was a fetish party, so I could pee on him. And I totally did, peed all over him. Those pillows were never the same."