A few thoughts on casinos

Today was my first real, prolonged exposure to casinos. They are a bizzaire phenomenon, an interesting evolution of architecture, desire, hope, and dispair. If I believed in an afterlife, I would think that a large casino floor would make a perfect hell.

First of all: the huge, tremendous spaces. From one end, you can’t see another end. They have an interesting light quality to them; from within the belly of a casino there is no way to tell what time it is, or what the weather outside is like. Whether it’s 2 AM or 10 AM, casino floors look the same. Even the number of people you see doesn’t seem to vary much from one time of day to another.

Second, there is a haze. It’s a kind of fog created by a mixture of smoke, alcohol, sweat, hope, and dispair. The fog permeats the entire floor. It’s a kind of phermone and to just that right kind of personality, it is irrestistable.

Third, there is the hum and buzz in the air. It’s the sound of wheels spinning, levels being pulled, buttons being pushed, the sound of dice clicking together, bouncing off velvet surfaces, the smack of a card being turned over, the ripple of a deck, the clanking of coins, the intake of a breath as a roulette wheel spins, all of it, all of it mashed together into a hum and buzz that fills the air and absorbs the more natural sounds. Voices are lost. As cavernous a place a casino is, there are no echoes.

Finally, there are the people. There are the tourists, playing the penny and nickle slots, cautiously inserting a five or ten dollar bill. There are the high rollers, placing five hundred dollars on a single bet, or a single spin of the wheel. There are the occasional hollars of the big winners, whose voices act as a kind of accompaniment to the blaring jackpot alarms. There are the hoots at the craps tables. And then there are the losers. These are not the tourists. These people, the losers, stand out and blend in at the same time. They are easy to identify. They sit in front of a slot machine, gray complexions all of them, so much so that they seem to mute the color around them. They are expressionless. Their eyes are completely empty, pits of dispair. Their movements are mechanical. A cigarette hangs from their lips, a long trail of ash waiting for an ashtray.

I used to say that a cross country-flight would be my idea of hell, were I to believe in an afterlife. Having seen a casino, however, I have a whole new image in my mind. It’s a image of a vast, endless casino, where busty, emotionless waitresses serve drinks that never quite dull the pain, where each pull of the lever, each “hit me”, each turn of the card, or roll of the dice holds out the potenial hope of recovering losses that can never be recovered. It’s a place where it’s always 2 AM, and where no one wants to face the horror of having to explain to their loved ones what happened to all of the money. But people keep betting and betting until there is nothing left to bet but their souls. And when they are ready to bet those away it’s too late–by then their already gone.


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