by Gary Alexander
In Las Vegas, on Saturday night, July 16, 2022. at 10:45 pm, the Freedom Fest had just concluded with a banquet, a talk by Senator Rand Paul, the Anthem Film Festival awards, a great Beach Boys-style band, “Good Vibrations,” and goodbye to friends, so I left for my hotel across the street for a last chance to win some video poker money to celebrate my 77th birthday. I was doing great, up about $180, so two young burly bartenders, about 6’3 each, were chatting with me about the virtues of holding two pair or tossing the low pair and going for four Aces, when a mob of about 200 young people came in, screaming and running at full speed. The two bartenders, four eyes opened saucer-wide, quickly took off running, too.
Was this some stunt, some hazing ritual, a gang race to the elevators? But soon, everyone was running.
Customers at our bar slipped off their stools and crouched behind the bar to hide, so I followed their lead.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
One lady said, “There must be a shooter out there. Be quiet, and he won’t see us here behind the bar.”
Me: “But there are no gunshots. There would be rapid fire from a semi-automatic weapon, wouldn’t there?”
She: “Maybe he’s still on the Strip, or he’s working his way through the casinos, one by one…..Shh”
Me: “Listen, there is no greater security in the world than on the floor of a Las Vegas casino. If there were danger, they would likely announce instructions – or they would just take him out. I’m getting out of here.”
So, I emerged, to a scene out of a hurricane aftermath or random riot scene – tables and chairs overturned, large men with bloody handkerchiefs held to head wounds (from tripping and falling into hard objects).
People were crying. Security staff kept asking if anyone heard gunfire. Most said, “Yes.” I said, “No, I heard things falling and banging around, but that was after the panic started. I heard no gunshots.” People looked at me as if I were deaf – which is partly true – but I know a gunshot from a falling table.
Sure enough, Las Vegas police quickly reassured the public there was no shooter, and the World Series of Poker (WSOP) quickly resumed at 11:15, saying, “Rumors of shots fired at Bally’s/Paris/WSOP are false. We implore players using social media to be responsible and not spread rumors creating panic.” For instance, here are some tweets from folks between us and the original “incident” down at MGM Grand:
• “Was walking out of Paris as people started running, screaming, shots fired, fell and got trampled.”
• “Rumors are swirling that there’s an active shooter somewhere. Seek hiding if you’re playing now.”
• “Bartenders called out ‘Active Shooter.’ Told to run. Friend heard gunshots.”
• “My brother just called me…shooting on the casino floor at MGM Grand??!!! What is going on?”
–Sample Tweets from around 11pm Saturday night, July 16 in Las Vegas
This is how mass panics get started. Apparently, some disgruntled patron sent a rock through a big window at MGM Grand, more than a mile south of my casino, and a bunch of people with “smart phones” (and dumb thumbs) thought they heard a gunshot, so they sent around “tweets” to their friends, and hundreds of re-tweeters, who assumed that a mass killer (or gang) was shooting up the Strip.
There is no way the sound of a broken window caused a panic inside a noisy casino a mile away. It was almost certainly a thumb-driven social media-caused lemming-like run for safe spaces, with tweets. Those with faces glued to phones passed it on and a group near our hotel must have yelled a warning, so the race was on. How else can a rock a mile away cause 200 people to run into our casino at the same moment?
There are few photographs of the melee that followed. Besides my own shots of fallen slot machine chairs (above), all I found was this one from Poker News from the aftermath of their “duck and cover” drill.
I also watched a private video of what sounded like casino employees hiding beneath gaming tables; only a few words came through clearly describing the arc of fear, questioning, then logic and a return to sanity.
0:15: “Where’s the SRT” (Special Response Team?)
0:55: “Why is everyone running?”
1:48 to 2:05: “Just stay low” and “Everyone stay down.”
2:40: “Cover up the boxes. That’s the most important thing right now.”
4:50: “Are we good? Are we clear?”
5:30: “All right, I think we’re done.”
As it turns out, those comments could describe a stock market panic – with each minute equaling a month.
Six Minutes of Terror Paralleled the Last Six-Months’ Market Decline
In 1841, a young Scotsman, Charles Mackay, age 27, wrote a timeless summary of classic “bubbles” and panics in monetary history, starting with Dutch Tulip bulbs of the mid-1630s, then continuing through the twin stock market bubbles in Paris and London in 1719 and 1720. Reading those first three chapters alone provide the best insurance policy you can ever read about for avoiding similar future panics.
An update of Mackay’s theory came out last year in “The Madness of Crowds: Why People Go Mad in Groups,” by William Bernstein. It covers more than markets, including belief systems and public panics.
Here’s a capsule six-month stock market version of the six-minute casino panic of July 16, 2022:
0:15 = January 5-10, 2022 (Where’s the SRT?”) The S&P 500 peaked at 4,818 on January 4, 2022, and fell 5% within a week to 4,582 on January 10. “Where is the Plunge Protection Team or circuit breaker?”
0:55 = January 27, 2022 (“Why is everyone running?”) By January 27, the S&P closed at 4,326.51, down over 10%. “Hey! January is supposed to be a historically strong month, so why is everyone running?”
1:48 and 2:06 = February 22 to March 6 (“Just stay low … everyone, stay down.”) The S&P 500 is staying fairly level at around 4,200, and February is a weak month, so “just hold on, It’s almost over.”
2:40 = March 20, 2022 (“Cover up the boxes. That’s the most important thing right now.”) The S&P 500 dipped below 4,200 in mid-March, so “hold on to your strong stocks. That’s the important thing now.”
4:50 = May 25, 2022 (“Are we good? Are we clear?) The S&P 500 dipped to 3,900 on May 19, but then it recovered, briefly so “we seem to finally be in the clear now, right?” WRONG! One more dip to come.
5:30 = June 16, 2022 (“All right, I think we’re done.”) We saw a drop to a lower low, at 3,700 on the S&P 500, and a close at 3,666 on June 16 – that beastly “666” number again. ‘This MUST be the end.”
No, there’s nothing new under the sun, whether it’s a stock market panic, casino panic, or a lemming run.