Casino

This is your first time gambling and after losing $20 in slot machines you’re feeling almost physically pained, and it causes a kind of crisis, because you’re really mad at yourself for having been hustled, for not observing the gambling statistic your dad’s always chanting about the house winning 97% of the time (“except in roulette, where it’s 99%”), but it also puts you in this frame of mind like, “At 25 years old am I still in such precarious straits as to be bleeding over the loss of $20?”

Go back inside to the slots that ate your princely sum and look at the people. Most of them middle age and plus. Tanktops and shorts. Sandals. Plastic bags stuffed with clothing. You go for a Corona at the little indoor bar and take a stool beside a guy who’s asking the bar tender which beer is cheapest and you think, What is he doing at a casino if he’s gotta count out the nickels between Miller and Coors? But go ahead and turn that question on yourself. What are you doing here?

Guys at rows of tables with their booklets and pencils are watching on the flatscreens overhead as the horses who hold their money go running along the track (which is right outside) and they’re yelling, the guys are, stomping their feet and hitting the tables, clapping, standing up and calling out the names or the numbers of their horses and then, explosive, the “FUCK”s, “SHIT”s, “GODDAMN IT”s and genuinely griefstruck “oh no…oh fuck…” People cradle their faces in their hands or smooth their hair back or toss their tickets and walk away.

Nobody calls out triumph. Surely there’s a winner among the lot, but it seems she’s keeping it to herself.

People at the slots are betting single-digit dollar sums and none of them smiling about it but focused, rather; not so much eager as they are guarded, brows all pinched up with their lips pressed tight.

The casino is a desperate place, constantly tense, with little discernible joy save for the optimism on the faces of those who just got here. Or maybe that’s just this casino. Because you had all these friends in college who’d go up to the Hard Rock every semester and yeah they’d all lose a little money but they also seemed weirdly happy about it.

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Step outside to the patio bar. It’s midday and you can see on these dozen-or-so customers probably the same spectrum of attitude you’d see at any other bar at this hour on a Thursday but here they seem more poignant. The excitement on the face of the guy who just sat down with his racing booklet. Dejection on that of the guy who’s been here since morning. You see people whose faces say they’re having fun, others that they’re taking hits, some saying both — and not one of them looks like the sort of person who can afford the sums they’ve been staking. But maybe that’s presumptuous.

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