Casino Royale

I think the first casino I visited was in Luxembourg.  I did not go into the place since it was fancy schmancy but remained outside watching all the glamorous buzz about.  This adventure made me miss my train and I had to sleep on top of a public toilet in the rail station since I didn’t trust sleeping on park benches in those days.  When I finally got to France on the first morning train, I attempted to rest on the beach which was not fun since in those areas of the world the “beach” is where the water meets sharp black rocks and plenty of mosquitoes.  Come to the south of France for the topless women sunbathing, stay because all the blood has been sucked out of you and the sharp rocks have cut your feet to shreds.

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When I visited Russia after the fall of the SOVIET Union, the whole economy was a casino.  The SOVIET as well as the ancien regime shops, offices, and any building with a storefront held ringing bells and little machines if not entire card tables and enough thugs to populate a plethora of crime dramas.  Flashing lights and crummy buzzing neon bedecked some of the larger establishments in cities not yet full of advertising and signs.  It was strange to see entire facades, whole buildings, entire blocks downtown without more than a smattering of Coke signs and sex sells cigarettes.  This made these brash casino signs all the more frightening apparitions on darkened historically mismanaged streets of dull gray communism. Casinos were everywhere those days.  Even more plentiful than the stray dogs and street orphans.  The sign out front would say in English, NON STOP, which was Russian-English meant the crapshoot claptrap flummadiddle went on for 24 drunken hours, seven lung cancer days a week, 365 hopeless days a year.  In some provincial city, I cannot remember which, I stayed at one of the many cement SOVIET hotels now open to foreigners, and in the downstairs in the restaurant was a corner of whores, slots, and a few lucky guys in track suits.  I ate my idiotic soup wondering if I was to be next on the menu.

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When I visited Atlantic City for the first time, it reminded me of the 1980 film, Atlantic City.  What a dismal Blackpool of a place, minus the charm.  I was surprised by the stark buildings, the acres of rotting city just blocks away, and a northeast beach that while sandy, was cold and dismal with the soundtrack being the clang of rope on metal poles as flags flapped in the air and the call of seagulls as they discussed who to poop on next.  Beaches for the most part in the northeast are for fishing, suicide, a weird sunburn you get on an entirely cloudy day, and ostensibly little else.  I was with a friend and we toured the casinos, attempting to drink more than what we put in the slot machines.  We grimaced at the visitors, people I would then see all around the country but I did not know this then.  There was the elderly matron with the oxygen tank smoking.  The man in a wheelchair, corpulent and sallow just pressing a button and watching the machine nibble and nom nom nom away at life.  People who looked like those who used benefit cards in the bad neighborhoods I lived in spending money they didn’t really have, money that perhaps they saved up by not buying paper products or ready-made hot meals for the past year to blow it all in one weekend.  The tired, sick masses yearning to be wealthy with the stroke of the right luck and the flick of some card.  End enders, one lungers, has-beens, and never-weres were there that day, and every day at every casino I visited.

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True, there are the “normals” mixed in these places. These are the people who “don’t have a gambling problem.” They are the individuals who are excited that the casino has come to the area to provide jobs and revenue for the county/state or whatever benefit or children’s charity the profits may allegedly fund.  I find direct giving to charity or payment of taxes to support the commonweal not as efficient or effective as first giving it to the mob, or whatever multinational corporation runs the joint and calls the shots and slots before it goes to schools or homeless dogs or homeless dog schools.

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Nevertheless, like watching Arab Drifting fail videos, I never miss a chance to step inside a casino when I can to view the trainwreck that is our society and the economic powerhouse of a local area.  There used to be a time when gambling was in only a few locations in the United States, but in our new post-democratic society, like the former SOVIET Union, we have a casino economy everywhere from crumbling inner cities to postage stamp sized native reservations.  I was in New Orleans, and there the casino downtown is just another strange place in a city of oddities and fantastic corruption, a Madame Tussauds of the characters one finds in the Big Easy.  If I had the time, I could have visited the other three in the city, but ho hum, I suspected they were essentially the same side show.

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One delightful summer day, I was driving in the western flatlands I was flat broke, running out of gas a hundred miles from the cornfield I needed to be in when I discovered a sign on the side of the road that yelled, BIG NATIVE CASINO ON THE LEFT!  Well, this is a chance for gas minus the tax and perhaps the casino will have some free food, which it did.  As the White Man came and took the bounty of the Native Americans, so I also queued up with the elderly patrons of a typical Tuesday afternoon to get my free steaks from the buffet as expected to get whatever the natives would give me.  No time for shame.  No time for free drinks, as I had to make Bartow and bat country by sundown.  Sucking down the grub, I jammed in $5 into a slot machine, made $10, tossed that into my gas tank and burned the highway to Fort Mudge where I made a left, not looking back at the 6-foot tall gopher statues … or perhaps they were prairie dogs … Whatever they were, they were dressed as Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis or some Katsina god I was unfamiliar with and I didn’t want to see them again.

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I had an adventure entering abandoned buildings in Detroit some years ago.  I am surprised I wasn’t killed except that I was startled by more pheasants and rabbits than human beings.  Creeping about the old formerly wonderful church it was like being in a zombie apocalypse, minus the zombies of course.  I rode about the city and came across a a place where people were feeding the homeless.  By a van were a few white spry college/divinity school-age youth who were giving out styrofoam containers of food to people in various stages of disrepair while flocks of gulls came flying and snapping at them.  The street once had buildings but now just had piles of clotted bushes and grass marking where the lead paint and asbestos shingles of the dwellings had been piled after they burned on some distant Devil’s Night.  It was a ball of people and birds.  One woman was passed out on the sidewalk with a bag next to her.  The half-eaten container of food was being rummaged about by those large seafaring birds now wandered up to the Great Lakes to make a home where few wished to live.  Hitchcock could not have dreamed up a similarly disturbing scene, and I suspect Rachel Carson would have wished for a more silent spring than what was fighting and squawking there. I returned to my hotel at Motor City, one of three in the city helping to rejuvenate it. If you don’t have a conviction for a DWI, you can visit Canada for a fourth casino.  There, I stayed in a fantastic room, ate good food, won minus twenty-five dollars, and washed the image of the homeless feeding station out of my mind with plenty of free, bad, booze and the constant din of the games.

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Maryland now has six casinos to choose from since just a few weeks ago.  I had been to one of the others, the one in downtown Baltimore, but I didn’t care for it much since it didn’t have free food.  I did eat at a restaurant close by named after a hotel they blew up to demolish.  Pictures of the planned demolition were all about.  They were proud that grand building was turned into a parking lot.  The newest and hottest casino in Maryland, the MGM Somethingorother, turns out not to have free food either.  Close to Washington, D.C., the MGM has everything you would need if you have a gambling problem.  It is a bounce house for adults where each time you hit the cushy boobtastic floor more of your pocket change is knocked out.  Expensive restaurants, shopping with Sarah Jessica Parker and Company, a convention center for all your LARPing and Furry needs, and of course a hotel where most of those living in the county cannot afford to stay.  However, this is a local boon since the taxable revenue from gambling will pay for schools, libraries, and vocational programs so that the local property taxes don’t have to be raised as high as previously expected.  Since we all know corporations don’t stuff their money into socks and hide them in the Cayman islands, Bermuda, or Delaware but report it honestly, there will be plenty of money for schools and good minimum wage jobs that will certainly turn into careers.  For a God Fearing Nation, such as ours, the Tenth Commandment wasn’t entirely clear on the activity of gambling and the New Testament never said explicitly “put it all on black” the texts just vaguely said don’t love money and never said anything definitive about loving free money.

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I was encouraged to visit the new gambling centre before traffic was again clogged.  The weekend prior, the place had been filled to capacity, and they were turning people away at eleven o’clock at night.  The taxi drove about asking various personnel for the entry point of this vast structure, and while the official taxi drop off was back a ways, we were allowed to use the area typically reserved for valet parking.  It was a fine crisp Tuesday, and there was room enough to move about outside and inside.  I was not surprised when I entered the gambling floor that the high stakes tables were active with the usual sort of high-rolling tour busloads of Asian gentlemen and Kanye West wannabes.  I wandered about the slot machines looking for the penny slots.  I hunkered down at a flashing blinking screen and touched it until it started moving and taking my money.  Sadly, and quickly, I discovered that there were no free drinks and that the minimum bid was forty credits, which translated into forty cents in the real world.  I moved to another machine and another, but the cheapest I could find was thirty credits, or about thirty cents USD.  No free drinks, no free food, this was a total waste of time.  Possibly the oldest person I have ever seen gave me advice as to how to use the machine, and in no time at all, my twenty dollars was gone, and I was sober.

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Leaving the game floor, I wandered to a gilded beer spot to have a sud and plan my escape.  After some intricate negotiations with UberLift as to the opening I needed to use in order to exit and have a soccer mom driving a Toyota pick me up, I made my way out the door and back to the relative safety of the District of Columbia.

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Vladimir Putin closed Russia’s casinos in 2009.  In my area, they are looking to open three to add to the three that already exist in the Empire State and the roughly Nine Hundred Eighty-Three that operate in the United States and its territories, depending on whether you count Native Reservations as full sovereign nations or not.  It is no wonder that our school and libraries and vocational programs throughout this Great and Storied Land are so well-funded and vibrant.  Remember to put it all on black and let the wheel spin.

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