Sinking into the casino abyss

By Greg Ellis

Entering the front doors of a casino in Calgary is a rare experience reserved for moments of boredom and feelings of risk. The lingering smoke, dreary faces, a dismal atmosphere underscored by an apparent quiet desperation. After completing three trips to Las Vegas last year, I incorrectly assumed my impression of gambling was accurate. Nothing could be further from the truth. The glamour of Las Vegas’ billion dollar casino resorts is not a far stretch from the clever marketing advertisements that promote them. The ebullient ambience, opulent buildings, suspense before a win, the smiling faces, laughter reverberating at a table, nubile waitresses, playing the dice–double down and hit on 14.

The quiet desperation of the clientele at local casinos represents more of an advertisement for AADAC than the misrepresentation witnessed in what Calgary casino pushers have produced. Entering the casino and looking around the room were faces: stolid, bleary-eyed and most certainly pathetic. As the blackjack dealer gingerly dealt the cards anticipation at the table persisted. Clinging to the hope, visualizing the card needed to win the gambler knows that this is his hand, redemption of a long fable of bad luck, the hope that the cards needed will fortuitously appear. Gamblers never perform elementary statistical analysis, they are far too engrossed in anticipation to calculate probability. They may follow rules written out on a laminated card yet for the most part they operate on sheer instinct.

As I continued to compare Las Vegas casinos to those of Calgary I could only be reminded that Las Vegas was a city that breathed superlatives. Hosting the world’s largest hotels and casinos, Las Vegas coincides fittingly with the fantasy of bringing down the house. My venture to Calgary’s casino had very little fantasy, it was a demented nightmare that rewinds and replays daily. Perhaps in Las Vegas losing money in a casino is assuaged by the visual stimulus the entertainment capital of the world offers; the beneficiaries of our misfortune stand proudly to prosper from it. In Las Vegas you don’t feel ashamed to give them your money, it is a contribution to a worthy cause and you witness the results–look at what they have built with it. The misery in Calgary’s casinos is compounded by the conspicuous bleak surroundings and customers that complement it, each having a story that brings them back every week, a non-fiction tale of lost opportunities and immeasurable regret.

The mentality of gamblers who frequent casinos regularly demonstrates meticulous selective memory. They cleverly boast of their wins and deny their losses, failing to ever actually verify a net gain. The allure of gambling is lost on me. Despite those cases where players are incapacitated by alcohol the explanation of why they gamble is baffling. The power of addiction I assume, a cruel prison warden monitoring a sentence with little chance of parole nor clemency. Casinos have an uncompromising melancholy, it is the ether the gambler breathes.

The scourge of casinos is not lost on our provincial government. The AGLC and AADAC have formed a synergy to carefully regulate their operation. As I searched the internet for research on this article I came across a website for The Alberta Lottery Fund. Melodramatic music played over black and white imagery of persons with visible disabilities, without showing the homely reality that is the source of the fund’s revenue. The site outlined its purpose of collecting revenues from Alberta’s gambling activities and pumping them back into noteworthy causes- Alberta’s Foundation for the Arts, Community Facility Enhancement Program, Human Rights Citizenship and Multiculturalism Fund. For a province with a conscience it would be unconscionable not to take revenues from gambling and put them towards worthy causes, the welfare of helping others in the domain of the disabled and needy. The fund cleanses the guilt and allays the sadness we witness in the victims of gambling. To be sure, it is our only option, to take something so negative, so detrimental and convert it into something positive.

As gamblers continue to live it up and double down on money, they are acting on borrowed time. If the house always wins somehow then the gambler will always lose. The evening’s most apropos memory was written on an apparently abandoned bank receipt left forlorn by a gambler. It read: insufficient funds. Try to double down on that.