The man, dressed in a black t-shirt, khaki pants and worn loafers, was standing in front of me. He looked rattled, as if someone had just told him a friend decided to leave town.
Yeah, left town. The friend was cash from this man=s pocket.
This gentleman, not more than 35 years old, sporting a black beard riddled with pockets of visible skin, was smoking Marlboro Lights as fast as he could breath. But he was not enjoying the leisurely drag-and-exhale rhythm of a relaxed smoker.
Nope, this man was in the suck-and-blow zone, holding the burning cigarette between his third and fourth fingers of his left hand.
A trembling left hand.
The trembling undoubtedly was related to the $1,200 he had just lost.
Lost may be the wrong word. He knew where it was, what hole it had gone into. It was in someone else=s pocket
The man in black turned and walked my direction, rushing by, going somewhere, eyes looking past me. Maybe he was headed to an ATM machine.
While Las Vegas is the glittering land of opportunity, both grand and false, and all of Nevada calls casino gambling legal, Detroit is holding onto hope that casino gambling can cure one of the city=s main diseases – the lack of reasons for people to visit one of the nation=s largest cities.
Within the last 12 months, a decrepit Detroit has become home to a pair of full-fledged, land-locked, could-be-Vegas-after-a-few-drinks gambling establishments. The MGM and the Motor City Casino have invaded territory once and still crumbling, giving Detroiters a reason to believe their city may still be alive. But like Atlantic City before it, Detroit may have simply turned a couple of old buildings into places for state residents to give their money away.
While those who like the idea of casinos in Detroit point towards Canadian city neighbor Windsor as a reason to have gambling (Windsor had casino gambling for a few years before Detroit residents voted to have some too, fearing they were missing out on a giant windfall), one trip to Detroit=s slot and table establishments seems to make one thing clear.
Tourism isn=t what is winning.
No, nearly all of the auto license plates in the new Motor City Casino parking garage are from Michigan. There is no on-site hotel. Both casinos are in situated on a well-worn Grand River Boulevard, hardly a sparkling street full of pedestrian traffic.
Those doing most of the gambling on this particular Wednesday night were residents of the city, and commuters who lived close enough to drive a couple hours back home.
Not that any of the experience is wrong. Hey, it=s your money. Spend it any way you want. Only not everybody starts with the same amount of cash, and those who lose the most usually have the most.
Let=s wander over this way, towards the valley of the small-time gambler. The nickel slots, tucked into faraway corners of the first and second floor of the four floor Motor City Casino, are populated predominately by women, though most look like they can afford to lose a couple bucks and still be able to buy a cheeseburger or three on the way home. Coins clink into the metal slot machine trays, lot of noise signifying little profit. A top-end jackpot on these machines might net a player 1,000 nickels – 50 bucks.
Quarter slots are very everywhere, as are 50 cent and dollar slot machines. Most of the folks hopping from machine to machine don=t seem to excited to be playing, other than a twenty-something African-American fellow who spins and wins $600 on a dollar machine as I walk by.
AI=m out, dude. No kidding, I=m done,@ he tells a friend standing alongside as the machine spits out his winnings.
“Really, we=re out,@ he repeats, trying to convince himself he needs to quit.
But most people playing don=t get to make that kind of decision. After a couple hours, and a hole $140 deep, I have begun searching for interesting people to watch. I have reached by self-imposed limit and it is time to find others who lose better than I.
Sitting at a blackjack table alongside the woman with silver hoop earrings, gorgeous jet black hair and a low cut black dress is a man who could be president. He looks like Bill Clinton, with the same coifed gray hair, similar bit of a bulb nose, and a seemingly endless supply of cash.
Sporting a denim shirt with a button-down collar, here is a guy who thinks he has it going on. While the woman is not with him, he glances at her, especially when he wins a hand. He is betting enough on each hand to make my house payment.
This guy is playing blackjack at a table marked with a A$100 minimum@ placard. He starts most deals with $300 per hand, and he is playing two hands.
He is losing, and doing it consistently.
The woman is not glancing back. Through one rack of cards, lasting no more than ten minutes, he puts more than $5,000 on the table, any is down about $2,000 in the few minutes I have been standing three steps behind him, centered between him and the lady.
Were it not for one spectacular hand that saw him win $800, he would have lost close to $5,000 as I watched. Ten minutes. Lots of green chips, worth 100 buck each, went into the
casino=s rack. Twice, when he lost both of his $300 dollar hands, the Bill Clinton look alike turned around, making eye contact with me. Like it was my fault.
And maybe it was, because it sure was compelling to watch someone lose that much money.
But even the thrill of success found through watching other fools Ago toilet@ with their money gets old. Four hours in a room with no clocks, no windows, and no free drinks is enough when you are not winning money. So I left.
On the way out of the building, passing the last row of table games, I spot the man in black again. He=s must still be losing, because he is spinning his body 180 degrees just as I walk by. He must have been dealt a bad hand. His luck must still be bad, because he has the same third-and-fourth finger shaky hold on his Marlboro Light and is still sucking and blowing, as if the harder he smokes, the more quickly his money will magically reappear.
Shoot, maybe he won it all back. He was still playing as I swung the double glass doors open to a lit parking garage. Making tracks towards my car, a man in a tattered Detroit Lions shirt is standing at the end of a parking row. As I walk past him, he asks if I have a dollar. I say Asorry, not today.@
But buddy, just inside the glass doors, that=s where the money is. But most of it isn=t coming into the parking lot tonight. Or any night.
And just for fun, watch a Detroit legend….