Monday, January 02, 2006

Fool's Errand

I've played at three casinos: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and Le Casino de Montréal. The first was underwhelming; the latter two were impressive structures, Montréal's having been constructed as the French pavilion for the 1967 World's Fair. But in every case, I was more struck by the fact that I saw the exact same scene when I stepped inside.

I had envisioned huge rooms teeming with card players, craps tables and roulette wheels. In fact, you have to search for table games. The entire structure is devoted to slot machines. You wind through a maze, rows and rows of singing boxes with stools. When you read about the billions of dollars spent building these casinos, you expect to marvel at the care and skill taken in designing each room; instead, it looks remarkably like a laundromat.

Slot machines will never make sense to the Nintendo generation. We spent our youth marching Mario over Koopas — at home, for free. We don't understand the appeal of pulling a level and hoping to see three cherries. Today's AARP constituency notwithstanding, slot manufacturers are going to have to adapt if they hope to lure customers away from PlayStation.

But the most depressing aspect is the people you see. I grew up in a suburb outside Boston, one of the wealthiest regions in the United States. I've seen rich folk, and they're not difficult to recognize. Try this experiment: Spend a few minutes in an upscale mall like Copley Place or Chestnut Hill. Then walk into Foxwoods. You're going to see totally different people, and it's painfully obvious they don't have any money. Doesn't that tell you something?

Foxwoods earns more than $60 million every month from slot machines alone. You're standing in a massive auditorium filled with the sound of ringing machines, and you're listening to more than $1,300 change hands every minute; but you look around, and there isn't a single person in sight who appears to have more than $30 in his savings account. That's a clue, right there. If there were easy money in the room, you'd see Armani and Chanel instead of cigarettes and sweatpants. Take the hint.


At January 03, 2006 5:39 AM, Blogger Jan Vermeulen said...

Out here I've always found it amusing that the casinos encourage responsible gambling ("Winners know when to quit"): They even put up posters right next to the booth where you can apply for a loan.

To try and pre-empt the Devil's Advocates out there: I agree that it's a pretty logical place to put such posters, but I reckon it'll be a great leap for the responsible gambling campaign if you encourage people to gamble with money they have, rather than provide facilities to obtain money they don't.


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