Wednesday, July 04, 2007

atlantic city

This Monday just past marked my first visit ever to the Atlantic City casinos. To borrow a phrase from Alan Quartermain, I'm waiting to be impressed.

I wasn't there to gamble. In fact, about ten minutes after we entered the casino where my mother-in-law was staying, I realized that I had a pocketful of change that I had left back at the house when I knew we were going to a casino with hordes of hungry slot machines. It had never occurred to me to bring the coins.

But walking into the casino, I was struck, well, by everything. The place was one vast assault on the senses. There was loud music playing overhead, bright lights coming from the gambling areas, a man walking around on stilts and greeting people as they came into the hotel, garishly colored carpet and walls, and of course the auditory onslaught of the slot machines themselves.

Later I saw a woman dressed as a statue and a man carrying a fishing rod and wearing fuzzy slippers, with a plastic shark affixed to his rear end. As I said to Evangeline, the whole thing is designed to ravish your senses and keep you off balance so you don't keep enough of your wits about you to do the math and save your money.

On the other side of the casinos was the beach, which I must confess was much more to my liking than the twenty-story monstrosities that loomed over it in a never-ending row.

I don't get the appeal to gambling. I understand the allure of easy money, and I understand why a number of cities see legalized gambling as a cure for high property taxes. Amid all the lights and the glow and the simulated ringing of slot machines, it seems glamorous and it holds money just out of reach like grapes before Tantalos. But I don't get the appeal personally.

Evangeline wanted to know what was going on, and why she wasn't allowed into the gambling areas, so I explained how casinos essentially offer a chance at easy money but always rake in far more than they give out, that gambling is an essentially predatory industry that taps the elderly, the needy and the desparate for its wealth, and that it's a fairly common (though not standard, by any means) for people to lose their houses to cover their gambling debts, and that for all the purported good the casinos have done for Atlantic City, they've also fed the underside of the city, with increased drug and alcohol abuse, increases in poverty, and so on.

And because I wanted to paint a more balanced picture than just the one side, I tried to point out that legalized gambling has helped Atlantic City relieve the tax burden on its populace, although that only works because it's a destination gambling resort.

As more places try to tap into the perceived lucrative market of legalized gambling, all they'll end up doing is redistributing the burden within their own areas. (After all, who's going to drive somewhere to lose their money if they can do it at home?)

And I told Evangeline that casinos have a list of people who they must escort off the premises if they are found gambling, because of a registered gambling problem.

Still, as she considered all this, Evangeline said gravely that she would put an end to gambling, if she could. (Great. I've created a moralist.) Alas, child, it is not that easy. Once something becomes legal, it is virtually impossible to make it illegal without considerable opposition, and even making it illegal usually just means driving it underground.

This struggle between finding the world as it is and working toward what we believe it should be is something that should occupy us for the whole of our lives.

Copyright © 2007 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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