Saturday, May 05, 2007

public service announcement to anyone in st. louis, or anyone who is planning to come to st. louis:

the president is the skeeziest casino i have ever seen. you think you've seen skeezy casinos before, and then you enter the president, and realise that you've seen absolutely nothing.

i've never seen an out of order slot machine in a casino, much less an unplugged one. at the president, there were quite a few slot machines right out there on the casino floor that were out of order. there were quite a few people playing at the machines that did work, but everyone was just so dishevelled. it was the antithesis of the glitz and glamour of the casinos in vegas; it was even the antithesis of the glossy feeling of walking through the harrah's casino out in st. charles. walking through that casino felt dirty. it felt like everyone was there for one of two reasons: either because they're from out of town, staying downtown, and didn't know to go out to st. charles instead...or because they needed their fix. the feeling of walking through that casino sticks to a body like a layer of dust, like a wrapping of shame.

then...the poker room. if the floor with the slots and table games was skeezy, the floor with the poker room was just sad.

the signs in the casino said the poker room was on the bottom floor. right off the elevator, there's no poker room, and no sign telling where to walk to get to the poker room. there were bare walls, empty spaces, drop cloths...it looked like an area under construction, and not part of a functioning casino! there were no lights! there was no apparent gambling! a casino is supposed to be shiny, and this part of the casino had no shiny objects in sight.

and yet we kept walking. there was a poker room down there. it was surrounded by a short wooden barrier. the cage where we could buy chips wasn't labeled. when you bought chips, they did not hand the chips to you in a rack--you had to grab a rack yourself out of a rickety metal wheelbarrow. who to talk to to sign up for a table...that wasn't well marked, we had to ask around. there were a few neon signs near the poker tables, almost all of which were advertisements for various permutations of anheuser-busch beer. the poker room was so quiet...most of the ten or twelve tables were populated, but there was a strange hush over the room, the likes of which i had never before experienced. usually a poker room is a jolly place, at least for some. everyone was so somber there.

everything around the poker room contributed to that abandoned feel. along the left wall of the poker room were at least fifty broken slot machines: unplugged, some with paper signs on them, stacked three or four deep. on the other side of the poker room, across from the slot machines, there was a carpeted area, a metal grate, and then another area behind the metal grate with some bathrooms. it was unclear if that area was under construction, or if it was just closed--space no longer needed in that clearly dying casino. behind the poker room was a snack bar. the snack bar was closed, the curtains over the service area, despite the fact that it was ten thirty on a friday night, prime casino gambling time.

whether it's in a thriving casino, a dying casino, a living room, or a smoky basement, the game of poker is still the game of poker. despite the depressing ambience, i still felt right at home once i plunked my chips down on the table and started to play. i just had to focus on the players, focus on the dealer, on the cards and on the chips. i had to focus on the game. once i was at the table, i was surrounded by what i knew. i felt like myself again.

but, i couldn't look around outside the bounds of the table. because, if i started looking around, i started feeling a little sad again.

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