Lucky Larry’s state budget surplus

Shining, sparkly toys, video slot machines lined in rows, each with its own cushy chair and ashtray.

I spot a Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania video slot and insert cash. Push buttons. Whir, click, click, click. Cartoonish sea critters line up, and I win. They don’t line up. I lose. Win. Lose. Lose.

Besides whirring and clicking, the IGT game plays the B-52s’ “Rock Lobster.”

We were at a party. His ear lobe fell in the deep.

“Drinks?” a cocktail waitress asks, whether it’s 8 a.m. or 11 p.m.

Push button. Whir, click, click, click. I’m kissing my $20 good-bye.

Then, joy of joys. A bonus round! Sea captain Lucky Larry appears on the screen, telling me to pick bobbing lobster traps.

As he unloads bottom dwellers—alive yet oddly red—credits accumulate. I’m playing dimes, so 950 credits is $95. A little extra dough never hurt anyone.

Skee-doo-be-dee-bop, eaah!

Speaking of extra dough, I feel good about Nevada’s budget surplus. The money flying around Gov. Kenny Guinn’s State of the State address Monday was impressive. A couple billion for schools? Good start. Replenish the Rainy Day fund. Fund mental health facilities, uninsured kids, seniors’ prescriptions, Millennium Scholarships.

And send a check to vehicle owners?

Before Guinn’s speech Monday night, I’d been cynical about the proposal to rebate $300 million in DMV fees to We the Drivers. The fund redistribution seemed a contemporary potlatch, a tribal feast where hosts give the gifts, thereby increasing, um, political capital.

Now I think maybe it’s just a nice thing to do. How could I expect motives any more ulterior from a leader who wants to lease federal land in order to make affordable housing available to working families?

Getting stuff done in the Silver State, that’s the challenge. It’s hard to say how much of Guinn’s bold plan will see the light of day when so many don’t see the value of investing.

At stake in this legislative session will be more than the $300 million. It will include the millions proposed by Guinn to yank Nevada up from the dregs of social indicators. There will be heel-digging and calls to shift back Nevada’s tax structure.

“I know how to best spend my money,” goes the familiar anti-tax mantra. “The government will waste it.”

There’s talk of “throwing money at the schools” as if it’s silly to invest public money in our children, to hire more highly qualified teachers, buy needed textbooks and offer teacher training while maintaining, of course, accountability. Everyone likes growth until you have 35,000 new students in your schools.

So the DMV rebate? If it’ll keep the greedsters quiet, fine. As far as I’m concerned, the state can keep that money too. Put it toward school buses. Send it to a single mom who doesn’t own a car, who’s behind on her power bill.

Our public confusion about investments might stem from our gambling culture. To Nevadans, “Liberal 98% Returns!” is a billboard-worthy slogan. For years, gambling made no sense to me. Decades ago in my home state, I’d fought against a state lottery on the grounds that exploiting greed was an icky way to fund education.

Now on better terms with my own avarice, I’m doing my part to keep the Silver State afloat. Games are entertaining—$20 equals two to five minutes on a roller coaster of the psyche. Downside: It’s hard to quit playing when I’m ahead. Convinced I can turn Lucky Larry’s $95 into much, much more, I gamble. Whir, click, click, click. Lose, lose, lose. The machine efficiently sucks every last dime away.

Gambling—that’s flushing money down the entertainment toilet. Investing—that’s money spent to increase your bottom line. As far as state spending goes, Gov. Guinn seems to have that difference nailed down.