JACKPOT, Nev. — The eeriest part was how it snuffed out the lights.
“You don’t realize how much those lights really fill up the night sky,” Fatima Aguilar said.
Twenty-five-year-old Aguilar has always lived in Jackpot. She started working at Cactus Petes as a cocktail server when she was 17. For almost every night of her life, the gambling town has been a small oasis of brightness in the Nevada middle-of-nowhere.
March 17 was a slow night at Cactus Petes, but Jackpot was still lit up and loud. At work, Aguilar carried trays of drinks with one arm, walking across the casino floor through a thin haze of smoke; past blackjack tables and rows of dinging neon slot machines.
Then, at midnight, Nevada closed all its casinos. Aguilar went home early, and the town went dark. She figured she’d be back in a couple of weeks. She hasn’t been back to work since.
The lights came back on when the casinos reopened in early June, but residents say the town has changed. It’s quiet.
Town leaders say they’re worried the pandemic’s impact on gaming could cripple the community. More than a dozen families have moved away from town to find jobs. In search of a solution, the town’s fighting harder than ever to land a marijuana dispensary. And bring it fast. Pot could bring jobs, tax revenue and desperately needed visitors.
“We need something now,” Jackpot advisory board member Monica Burt said. “We cannot wait until next year or two years.”
Gambling on gambling
In some ways, Jackpot’s pandemic experience mirrors that of many Magic Valley communities. The “ghost town” vibe that residents say spooked them in March and April — that vibe was present in much of Idaho’s Magic Valley, too, although it didn’t last