Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bright Flashing Lights

It lures you in with the promise of an all-you-can-eat buffet – seafood and prime rib. I can't vouch for the vats containing mounds of homogenneous, mostly unrecognizable food, but the shrimp skewers are lovely, and the crab legs divine. Plus, the staff hardly even look at you sideways when you fill a soup bowl with garlic butter sauce for dipping. And if that wasn't enough, the guy at the dessert station practically begs you to take a third scoop of ice cream, makes you feel like it's hardly worth a trip to the buffet at all if you don't leave with at least your weight in pie.

Only a casino can afford such generosity, and it does so, calculatedly, for one of two reasons:

1- to entice you through its doors in the first place
2- to keep you within its doors once you're there

The casino makes every effort to deny the world outside of it. There are no windows. The machines sing their songs 24 hours a day. The bright lights make it so that there is no day and no night, just gambling time and more gambling time. A crappy band in matching sequined vests plays on a continuous loop so that fleshy middle-aged women who mistakenly think they're still sexy can slither around to Mustang Sally. There are no clocks, of course, no reference to the passing of time at all if they can help it, but eventually the hour makes itself known by the rumbly in your tumbly. Your belly growls, you are hungry, and those measly little bags of chips clipped to the drinks cart just aren't going to cut it. The casino fears that if you followed your urge to eat, say, to the nearest restaurant, that you might not come back. That you might waste your hard-earned dollars elsewhere. And that would be tragic.

So they erect a massive gorging hall on premises – a buffet, naturally, something for everyone, and always at the back of the building so that even if you attempt to leave without hemorrhaging cash, you'll have to bypass at least 13 000 one-armed bandits first, each of them calling out to you: Hey baby, why don't you drop a quarter in my slot. You know you like it. Give it to me, stud. And people do. They stay, they pull up a stool, and they part with their money. Only not their physical money – the days of dropping actual quarters into the machine are behind us. God forbid the handling of tangible coin would remind you that this is real money we're talking about. It's way less intimidating to put a plastic card into the slot, and to print out a paper voucher when you're done. Makes the whole thing feel like Monopoly! Like it's just a game, and not your savings account. And when your plastic card runs dry, there are easy reloading stations right on premises that tap into your bank account so there's really no need to leave, ever! Hell, you can even remortgage your house at the casino. This is solely for your convenience, I imagine.

The casino is a beautiful place. It's all ornamental and shit. It's fancy so you can feel good about yourself while you lose th money you should have been spending on pampers and formula. Even the bathrooms are classy: the countertops are marble, the stall doors are cherry wood, the mirrors are lit up by individual glowing bulbs as if they were vanities belonging to celebrities, even the toilet seats are velvet-lined. Okay, that last part's not true. But the bathrooms really are quite posh, except for the sharps containers affixed periodically to the wall. Sharps containers are usually found where a lot of needs are used, like hospital emergency rooms and gas station bathrooms known to be popular with junkies. It's funny that an establishment that goes to such lengths to convince us of its great esteem also admits to a seedier underbelly. Funny but realistic, I suppose. An addict is an addict, no matter what the dress code.

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