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The International Writers Magazine
:Lifestyles: How to lose money the easy way

Clive Branson

I am in a place with no windows, no exit signs, no closing hour, no clocks, and the atmosphere of a shark with the scent of blood. Welcome to Casino Niagara, Niagara Falls. Within five feet of entering the concourse, an electrical current plugs through my bones as an explosion of light and noise tease my senses. North America’s silver and blue-haired cattle have been herded by bus-load and shuttled from their bingo parlors in upstate New York and beyond to the gilded halls of this adult carrousel. People are intravenously hooked up to the slot machines via umbilical cord to their Casino credit card. This prevents any human necessities like blinking, breathing or going to the bathroom. Even death is probably viewed as an inconvenience for a corpse prevents someone else from gambling. Gamblers at "coin machines" look like an assembly line of automated junkies as they press the "spin" button with acute determination, anticipating the clinking excitement of MONEY.

The place is like a bedouin’s tent filled with an arabesque of shimmering temptations and fleshy cleavages squeezed into sequenced vests serving drinks. Ubiquitous smiling hostesses, mirrors, the indistinguishable chatter and the smell of success. A myriad of green carpeted blackjack, poker and baccarat tables grace the interior. Big Six and roulette tables cover the areas where the one-armed bandits don’t. "Damn right," mutters a hefty man with a baseball cap and a vinyl Senator’s jacket on as he reads TODAY’S YOUR LUCKY DAY!, which blinks hypnotically from a slot machine. He proceeds to drown a large roll of loonies into the mouth of the machine. Within ten minutes he losses it all. As he sulks, a woman three aisles down, squeals as $300 worth of coins regurgitates into her metal tray.

The croupier solemnly wins another hand at the blackjack table. Gambler’s eyes glisten with imperishable hope on every bet. The dealer glides her hand over the Wimbledon green layout like a conjurer. Her hand floats smoothly above the table with professional ease. All five players watch it like an oscillating paino timer. A new deck is automatically shuffled by what looks like a black safebox, then spits it out from its lip. With deft precision, the croupier flips each card face-up in front of the opposing players. This prevents anyone from touching or tampering with their cards. Further scrutiny comes in the form of the floorman, who’s taciturn presence almost blurs into the background. One polished looking floorman informs me that a patron won over $150,000 at blackjack a couple of days earlier. The croupier looks at a 16 staring back at her, usually known as "gambler’s ruin." Without hesitation, she deals herself another card - a 5 of Diamonds. "Twenty-one," she announces flatly. A chorus of groans spread around the table. A blonde, tanned lady of indeterminate age curses and takes another gulp of her scotch. Despair that had swept the table turns once more to hope when the croupier deals a new pack and the human frailty called greed is again restored.

Black plexiglass bubbles regimentally dot the ceiling like a chess board. Behind each tint of glass, a tape is rolling; a cold, metallic eye surveys and scrutinizes each table and each dealer. It is trained on the tables, the slot machines, the counting rooms, and the cage where cashiers sell and cash-in chips. The "eye" knows there is a touch of larceny in everyone. This includes the dealers who make just enough to put up with the stress from gamblers and the tension from management. After twenty minutes of observing the blackjack players, three-quarters of them seem deflated. The games have no start nor finish but are just continuous - a monotonous yet anxious rhythm.

There is a deathly silence from the gamblers as the roulette ball spins, bounces, pokes and trickles into a slot on the wheel. "Twenty-five red," barks the dealer as the table erupts into a symphony of jubilation and angst. The table is alive with characters: shady high-rollers, divorcees, newlyweds who assume luck is on their side, voyeurs who look for excitement, hustlers who look for naïve prey, tourists, old women with their pension money and men with their welfare cheques, Native Indians and Chinese hoards. Dolled-up girls seek winners, while others find solace at the bottom of a glass. Most of all, everyone is consumed by the frantic speed of the action, the "live or die" scenario with each bet. I can feel the energy peak then wan with each roll of the ball. Their faces read of silent prayers. Anxiety jerks their movements as their eyes burn through the little white ball. It is organized desperation.

What makes it truly fascinating is watching the various gambling techniques. The compulsive player who bets heavily on particular numbers, never varying his game, seemingly unflustered by a flush of hundreds that steadily poured from his wallet. The "safe" player that plays opposing numbers so he never loses nor wins...until the ball hits "00", which it does three times whilst I am there. The diffident player who bets with a lack of decorum, never knowing when to stop, resulting in an inevitable defeat. The real winners were usually the same players: the casino, the City of Niagara and Revenue Canada. The experience taught me several things - To know when to quit. Know that the odds are against you. And that there is no thrill like the ultimate deal.

© Clive Branson May 2004

Clive is an Creative Director in advertsing living in Ottawa and former Parson School of Design Photography Grad. This is second of a series of pieces and images for Hackwriters
See also New York State Of Mind

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