The first time I went to a Casino was at Niagara Falls. My brother and I were supposed to be in Canada for a holiday in September but our flights were cancelled because of 9/11 so we ended up going in January. It’s a bit nippy in Canada in January and our day going down to Niagara was hit with a blizzard. To get out of the cold a bit my brother wanted to go to the casino whereas I didn’t. He won the argument and I became doubly angry when I realized that I had lost my bank card somewhere in the snow outside the casino. He went off to play some games and I was determined to sit at the bar and keep my money to buy some vinyl or something useful instead of wasting it in the casino. Then you get to the bar and realize that in a casino it’s usually about £8 for a drink.
A fairly horrible trip you might think but it’s not the casino story that I want to relate here. The one I want to talk about was much worse.
I went with my girlfriend to Malta for a little break. Even when going through customs they were giving us vouchers for a free drink and 10 Euros free betting at the casino. We thought we would save it for the Saturday evening.
I wasn’t particularly eager to go but she wanted to see it out of curiosity more than anything else so we decided to go on the 2nd night after dinner.
We both like Chinese food but unfortunately picked the wrong Chinese restaurant and after a slow and pretty shoddy meal with a professionally unhelpful owner/waitress we started the walk down to the beachside casino with the route we found taking us through some darkish little hidden walkways full of local neds (chavs).
After arriving we queued for about 10 minutes and did some ID checks before discovering that this was in fact not the casino that our tickets were for. We hadn’t really checked as we didn’t know there were two and from our hotel we could see the enormous red letters of “Casino” on the one we had just walked to.
So we did an about turn and marched back up the road to near where the awful restaurant was and we found the other casino near there.
In this one the queue was enormous and they were having technical problems processing people as well. The machine to make people temporary entry cards broke so we were moved from the long queue we had been waiting in to another one.
All the while we were waiting the casino regulars were going in and out without being subjected to the more than demeaning ID and background checks that everyone else had to do. These involved having your photo taken, explaining what your occupation was, giving your home address and providing them with ID.
All around us men in suits were milling about. Some were bouncers and some were customers but it must have been about a 2:1 female to male ratio. Most of them were also middle-aged women but all of them, young and old, were plastered in make-up and obviously out in the best clothes.
The difficulties in sorting out registrations meant that the queue was still building and when we produced vouchers and they had to check if they were valid for a Saturday night we could feel the resentment building in the queue behind us as we were stopping the more habitual and/or keen gamblers from getting in and blowing all their money.
Eventually we got through and just inside the door we were given a free glass of sparkling wine with a bit of fruit in it. From there we had to go to the cash desk to get our 10 Euros free money (to get which you had to add another 10). When we reached the window the people behind us in this line got angry as the same debate as before raged about whether the vouchers were valid. I heard a muttered “they shouldn’t let people like this in” from what looked like an old dear behind us – looked like being the operative here, the casino setting turns these people into harpies.
When it was finally decided that our vouchers were in fact valid we were shunted to the next queue and had to begin the waiting process again. Meanwhile in the window we had originally been at there was a man getting 1000s of Euros.
All done, we took a wander round the tables and after the truly advanced rudeness we had experienced we were even less in the mood than before. We walked over to the bar and got our drinks then decided just to go over to the machines and blow our 20 and get the f**k out as quickly as possible.
The next problem we encountered was getting on a machine. The very few empty ones were being jealously guarded with excuses along the lines of “I’ve been playing that for an hour and I still am” coming from women sitting on the next machines. They obviously needed two opportunities to piss their money away. The most uncourteous specimen was one that, when I asked “Can I play this [poker] machine?” just said “No you can’t” with no explanation given and then turned back to her friend whilst blocking anyone’s entry to the machine.
After about 5 minutes we located a couple of empty machines. They make them as complicated as possible so that you don’t really know if you are winning or not. We were laughing at the absurdity of the place now, and at the scowling faces all around us in a place that is supposed to be for entertainment. It might have seemed like we were the only two actually happy smiling people in the place, but it was really a kind of delirious exasperation rather than actual happiness.
I started playing a slot machine and trying to lose as much as possible as quickly as possible. From my 20 I got down to 11 and then I actually won and so was up to 28 and I shouted to my partner “oh for f***sake, I won”. This obviously strange reaction made the woman next to me give me a look which combined puzzlement, incredulity and hatred. The soundtrack to these events was a little sound effect from one of the machines that just kept saying “money money money” in an irritating high-pitched whine. It has been proved several times that subliminal suggestion doesn’t work (even if that episode of Colombo says it does) so the effect of this was annoyance and not a desperate need to gamble more.
My partner was having the same sort of “luck” on the machine and eventually after we had played for 10 minutes trying to lose it again we settled for leaving this entirely disagreeable place with about 15 left. This meant we had to repeat the unpleasant experience at the cash desk because you can’t take out the little credit card things they give you (you don’t use coins).
So that was it…our glamorous night out in the casino. We hadn’t expected anything of the sort but the impression that was left was of two sorts of people. The first were the desperate over 50 women, who were probably very nice outside of that setting, gambling a pittance and probably hoping to get something for their grandchildren. It was a very depressing sight to see the general disconsolation of these people.
The second group were the kind of people who didn’t think anything of blowing 10,000 in one go to impress their hangers-on or would be dates. I didn’t even want to look at these people for fear they would think that I was impressed. What I actually felt towards them was a welling-up of a kind of anger that I hadn’t felt for too long. I have been to some places where the kind of money they were flashing for show would make an enormous difference to many lives and could save plenty of people from dying. It didn’t seem like there would be much point explaining that to them though, even if they had understood it they wouldn’t have cared.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t go to these places if they want to. It’s not my business to tell people what to do, I’d just like to give people a notion of what these places are like that doesn’t come from a James Bond film.
The postscript to the evening was that I insisted to a tired girlfriend that we go for a nightcap in a jazz bar that was on the way back to the hotel. The reason for this was that I did not want the casino and the “money, money, money” noise to be the last memories of what had, until the evening, been a great day.
We got into the bar and we got talking to the owner and I explained what a god-awful experience we had just had. He promptly informed me that he had been in the casino business for 20 years and that was how he got the money for his bar. We left there too.