Casino Disloyal

March 26, 2007

As I stroll past the Baccarat room I see his Asian, farmer’s face cupped in his hand. It is a striking face for its length, fifty or so years in the sun, and its whispery whiskers. And its solemn concentration. He looks like a rice farmer from the back blocks of Shenzen, and very well might be – or is a descendant of a Ballarat gold miner and longer in this country than I. Jostling his side are younger faces and more eager hands. Clamouring around the table for what he seems to know is not available. In half a pace he is gone and I am stepping around a fat man in long shorts, T-shirt and a colourful anklet around his ankle. Somehow he has gotten in without any shoes. Or he has lost them in here. He is looking for a Blackjack table but even on this Monday night the tables are full. He falls behind my stroll and I don’t look back at him. A pair of short denim shorts capping of long legs and high heels wiggles through the crowd and vanishes, like a lost catwalk model, but lost in a jungle of prosaic singlets, raucous laughs, intense gazes. Past two country boys in cowboy hats playing an electronic game of some sort and giggling at each other like two school girls. Finding the inane hilarious. They seem to be the only ones having a good time as the place fills up and the rolling din of pokies chatter into the night, the music volume lifts, the constant hum and chatter of the crowd and the rhythm of the calls from the game supervisors keeps up a constant chorus which seduces with the momentary thought is the only place to be.

You could write a PhD on those who frequent this place but as we had dinner in a restaurant that is part of this complex and watched the flood of visitors it is patently obvious that it attracts those who look like they can least afford it. OK, the Chinese lady who popped a nonchalant $800 down might have been deceiving us with her looks but she was pretty casual about her loss and moved on to another table to place other bets. The Asian farmer and his Asian baccarat friends intently focused on their game. Lebanese playing the blackjack, students playing the same. Old geezers placing sports bets looked out of place – more at home in a run down TAB, with an air of the drunk and the homeless about them. Sadly, while the occasional couple strolls through, as do groups of friends, most people shamble in on their own. Maybe attracted to the prospects of winning something but I wonder how many come here for the social interaction as well. Well, at least being around others, if not actually interacting. And how many come here with a movie induced notion that there is something glamorous about a den like this?

But in this place there is no discernment. That is one thing that might be said about gambling – its sucks them all. And accepts them all. Dressed in any attire. From any social strata. Look like a homeless bum? Come on in. Dressed like a poor student. Welcome. Knocking around with your spiky haired teenage mates. Place your money fellas’ just don’t come into the bar area. On the pension and can only play one or two cent games – Welcome too, we have dozens of machines for you. This is fiscal hell, with flashing lights, noisy demons, bandits that will play you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, red carpets, orange lights, and you can’t stay away. Bands and entertainment and coffee shops and fast food diners if you need them. Cup your farmer’s head in your hands and gaze at your table and be mesmerized as your hard earned cash is easily lost. And don’t be surprised when you run dry and our warm hospitality is no longer warm – at least not until you turn up again with more chips. We’re loyal to the last – your last.