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Hundreds bid on bargains at county auction in east Las Vegas

Updated November 17, 2018 - 6:17 pm

There are no playing cards or clacking chips, but Mark White likens the Clark County government surplus auction to a casino poker room.

For one, there’s profit to be made for those willing to gamble on an item they think they can resell. For another, White said, you need to bid the way a professional plays cards.

Stay calm, wear a straight face and keep your secrets to yourself. Otherwise, you could find yourself beaten by a high roller hiding in plain sight.

“Some of these guys don’t look like they can tie their shoes, and they have $100,000 in their pockets,” said White, a 58-year-old Las Vegas stagehand who’s a regular at the auctions. “This is a big boy’s playground.”

The county held its third and final surplus auction of the year Saturday. Hundreds of people attended, searching for deals in a smorgasbord of more than 1,500 lots spread across a gravel-covered storage property on the outskirts of east Las Vegas.

The event featured all the hallmarks of a government auction. Dozens of retired police vehicles shared space with used construction equipment and aging desktop computers.

But there were plenty of oddities too, including a Sea-Doo water scooter, traffic cameras and several boxes of bright-orange slip-on shoes from the Clark County Detention Center.

“We always use the saying, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,’” said David Johnson, a county employee who oversees the auction. “We can always find a buyer.”

That was certainly true at the south end of the lot, where a crowd of more than 60 people formed before the auction began at 8 a.m. At tongue-twisting speed, auctioneer Jarod Edwards hawked hundreds of items lost at McCarran International Airport or seized by police. Gallon-sized sandwich bags full of watches and jewelry brought in a combined $16,000 during the auction’s first 10 minutes.

“Just remember, if we can make money off it, so can you,” Edwards joked from the stage.

His words appeared to resonate with the crowd. A framed portrait of filmmaker Woody Allen fetched $35. Someone else threw down $100 for a binder of baseball cards, and an assortment of 14 gift cards, their value unknown, sold for $300. In a display fitting of Black Friday, bidders battled for more than 100 laptops, 130 tablets and 180 e-readers.

White watched from the back of the crowd while he waited for the auction to turn toward machinery and work equipment. He said he’s wary about paying for secondhand electronics that he can’t inspect first.

“Why would you pay $200 for a laptop you don’t even know will turn on?” he asked.

White said he hasn’t missed a county surplus auction in the past five years. He’s spent the time figuring out what will sell and what won’t.

He knows a backhoe bucket doesn’t look like much but has a lot of resale potential. Once he paid under $300 for a hunting bow that sold for $1,800 online.

“I like to try to find something that’s misplaced, that’s at the wrong auction, so people walk by it,” White said. “There’s a lot of opportunity out here. I’m just not telling anybody what it is.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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