Theres an even darker side to the gambling mecca a homeless community in underground tunnels that struggles with addiction
Broken glass crunched under shoes, alerting tunnel dwellers that outsiders had arrived. Deeper in the dark, squat-ceilinged space, 25ft below the Las Vegas strip, Kregg Nattrour rested on a pile of gutted mattress foam.
I wanted to make this my last month down here, he said. I cant handle another month of this.
Matt OBrien, a homeless advocate and writer who visits the tunnels twice a month, said Nattrour looked skinny; apparently casino trips prevented the 54-year-old from eating well. I gambled all my money! he complained.
Our flashlights shone on empty water bottles and jugs of urine on the tunnel floor; fidgeting as he spoke, Nattrour moaned about a man further in who pisses and shits where he sleeps.
Hundreds of homeless people live in Las Vegas flood channels the citys literal underbelly, according to homeless advocates. They include full-time wage workers, panhandlers and self-described hustlers.
They say theres no better place to be homeless than the Strip. Tourists drop money on the ground. Gamblers give winnings away, or leave slot machines loaded with credits. Sometimes people nod off at gaming machines, allowing men like Nattrour to withdraw cash vouchers on the sly.
Yet theres an obvious dark side to trolling Las Vegas for cash round-the-clock access to gambling, drinking and drugs .
I should have been out of here a couple months ago. I just got depressed, Nattrour said. I dont even drink, but I bought a cocktail. And the next thing I know, Im gambling. I spent $60 of my [social security] check on dope and over $600 playing slot machines.
After 16-years as a truck driver, Nattrour moved to Las Vegas when his wife died. Three months later, he was broke and homeless sleeping on, then under, the street. Ive had some problems since Ive been down here, he admitted. Last month I put $400 into a video poker machine, and I never got a four of a kind! It pissed me off so much. I hate losing, so then Im chasing that first forty bucks. I say fuck it, its only money!
OBrien gave him a sandwich, new socks and underwear. In 2007, OBrien published Beneath the Neon, a book about tunnel dwellers that he hoped would inspire the city or a nonprofit to help. Yet neither panned out.
God dont live here. Only me is painted on the wall near John Aitchesons camp near the tunnel mouth. Aitcheson, 59, sleeps there between his shifts at a Strip convenience store.
I could get an apartment, he said. But all my money would go to rent, food, electricity, water … By the time I was done thered be no money left over to do anything.