Tourism bureaus and travel professionals that represent destination have a particular image they want to portray. You’ll see ads, website and print materials of young, well-to-do, intelligent and diverse people smiling, laughing and having a good time.
Then there’s the harsh reality of the people who go to these destinations. Never is the gap so wide when it comes to casinos and major gambling destinations.
There are two scenes in movies that come to mind. There’s Swingers when Vince Vaughn and Jon Faveau head to Las Vegas in suits and looking “money.” They head to an old school casino on Fremont St. where they are surrounded by senior citizens. The other is Martin Scorsese’s Casino, where Robert De Niro’s character explains how the mob lost hold of the gambling mecca and the corporations took over to make it more like an amusement park. There’s a shot in slow motion of a herd of senior citizens using walkers and canes walking through the casino doors.
That was the 90s. Today, it’s not better. The dealers and slot machines have been replaced by arcade-style games and artificial intelligence, which I’m sure is fair, on the level and not prone to hacking or manipulation by the casino owners what so ever.
Joining the elderly are people gambling away their disability check, families shopping at the outlet malls (which are a scam all its own), bros douching it up with other bros, the girls out on the lamest girls weekend ever and the riff-raff of society. The only people wearing suits to the casinos that are not workers are the old timers complaining how things aren’t what they use to be.
While Las Vegas has done a great job of creating a city where there are plenty of things to do besides gambling, other cities — not so much. I had to go to Atlantic City over the weekend, and it was shocking how sad it looked. The city (motto: The Reno of the East) has been on the verge of bankruptcy for almost a decade.
Walking through a casino didn’t inspire me to take a chance on the Wonder Woman or Britney Spears slots. It made me depressed. This is not an exaggeration — I saw row upon row of disabled people on motor scooters on the slots. I saw mostly old and destitute people with a dead-eye stare hitting a button and watching the screen light up with random in computerized patterns. For a detailed look at how these machines gives you the illusion of wining which leads to addiction, read this Atlantic cover story.
Outside the casino, it was more pockets of people wondering around and seeing what else there is to do, which is nothing because it’s the winter outside and windy. The action in the bar area consisted of groups of post-college aged boys and girls playing beer pong. Now that’s classy.
“A casino is not like a movie theater or a sports stadium, offering a time-limited amusement. It is designed to be an all-absorbing environment that does not release its customers until they have exhausted their money.” — A Good Way to Wreck a Local Economy: Build Casinos
Basically, casinos are the anti-travel, you are meant to go nowhere.
The last time I gambled was in Hong Kong at the Happy Valley Race Course and Macau. While Macau is 3 times the revenue of Las Vegas, it lies somewhere between Las Vegas high-caliber entertainment and Altantic City’s level of desperation. There’s one casino near Old Macau, while the bulk of the hotel casinos are few miles away.
I won $10 total with the horses and $90 (720 pataca) in Macau on my second spin of a slot. I figure stop while I was ahead. Plus, if I converted to HK or US dollars I would have to pay a fee, so I spent it right there on drinks, egg tarts, fancy socks and a cab ride back to the speed boat.
In all, gambling is a tax on stupidity. Casinos are a temporary fix to bring in tourists and low income jobs. Building arts and culture that benefits locals and brings in travelers to experience the local flavor is what’s sustainable.