Once a month from Salt Lake City, Utah, Mormons leave their homes undercover of darkness to board unmarked buses headed for Las Vegas, Nevada. Along the way they change their clothes. Their constitutions, chemically. And cosmetically their appearance as well. Hours later, they arrive in Sin City. Disembarking from their motor coaches disguised as slightly inebriated Chinese tourists.
“It’s part of the transition they undergo,” said the bus driver. “You know, like grasshoppers into locusts.”
Free to roam the neon lit city, dressed in straw hats, brightly colored Hawaiian shirts and cameras dangling from their necks, the Mormons draw little attention to themselves as they hit every casino in town. Gambling away their hard earnings at whimsical games of chance.
“We work hard,” said “Mr. Chang”, intermittently pausing to sip on a mini umbrella mixed drink, while throwing a pair of dice. “And we play harder still.”
However, since Mitt Romney’s ‘$10,000’ slip of the tongue, which may have inadvertently exposed the secret gambling lives of Mormons, some in the church, working for change, fear a backlash from fellow churchgoers, as well as religious intolerance from outsiders.
One such man is Aaron Johnson (a.k.a. Mr. Yen), a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and veteran Vegas tour guide.
“People actually expect something from us, Mormons. Not like those lazy Catholics,” Mr. Yen says, glancing from side to side. As he cautiously walks the casino floor, wary that he will be recognized despite his disguise.
Mr. Yen says Mormons are locked into a stereotype. Held captive to a reputation only a few have rightly so earned.
Suddenly, Mr. Yen notices a young couple staring at him from across the room.
“Excuse me,” says Mr. Yen, as he steps aside to snap a few photos of the casino’s interior flora: a decorative arrangement of potted plastic plants. Causally, he drops a few coins into a nearby slot machine as well. It pays off almost immediately.
The young couple shrugs their shoulders, as they proceed on their way.
“Boy, that was a close one,” says Mr. Yen. “Too close. Been like that ever since you know who announced a little wager on national TV.”
From within the church, Mr. Yen helps run an Underground Railroad of sorts.
“One that works to liberate Mormons from the stereotype of the faithful spouse, hard working laymen and shrewd businessmen,” says Mr. Yen as he boards the bus along with the fellow members of his congregation headed back to Salt Lake City.
In the back, a drunken brawl breaks out over the disputed results of a game of craps.
“Excuse me,” Mr. Yen says again. Only this time, he does not reach for his camera or the lever of a slot machine. Rather, he pulls out a blackjack from under his tropical patterned Hawaiian shirt instead. “Looks like I have to breakup another unauthorized ‘Bible Study’.”
Copyright © 2008-2011 by Robert W. Armijo. All rights reserved.