Submitted by Susanne Bacon
Germany is famous for its stylish casinos in Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden, and a few other cities. They used to be part of the Grand Tour rich Americans afforded their children to get a wider knowledge of the Old World in the 1800s and early 1900s. For Europeans who want to experience the non-plus-ultra in gambling, Las Vegas is the destination to travel to. Exploring Western Washington, I have come across a lot of casinos … And I guess a history of attempted reconciliation might be what lies behind the density of these gambling houses here.Only recognized tribes in the US can open a casino – and those are quite different from those in the old world.
I remember my first casino experience with a German friend of mine back in my hometown of Stuttgart. The casino there had been open for just about ten years with Black Jack, Poker, Baccara, and Roulette tables. In Germany we call this the “Big Game” – you can find the “Small Game” aka machine games in any gambling hole, often enough in the less reputable parts of towns, not necessarily as part of a regular casino. Nobody cares what you look like when you enter a place stuffed with gambling machines. But you will be turned down at any “Big Game” casino if your wardrobe doesn’t match the dress code. It is jackets and ties for the gentlemen, dressy attire for the ladies. Ties can usually be borrowed at the entrance. A “Big Game” casino afternoon or night in Germany (casinos open only for a limited time a day) is time to show yourself off, while gambling away at a table.
By the way, you must have an ID or a passport on you when you enter a German casino. It is not just about your age. They check at the entrance whether there is a search warrant for you and whether you are barred from another casino.
Entering a Washingtonian casino, you have the Big Game and the Small side by side. Sodas and coffee are free (I remember I paid for them in Germany), and apart from a doorman who probably checks your age or your harmlessness by sight there are no limitations. Meaning that you see people in fancy attire sitting at a machine next to people who obviously don’t care for clothing styles at all, as long as it keeps them covered and warm. There is no showing off, no purpose of making this a special event in your life. It’s rather a popping in and staying as long as the money holds.
I have seen large piles of chips lie on Roulette and Black Jack tables in Germany. In some cases, I felt as if I were observing a scene from a mafia video. Faces were unreadable, attires immaculate, money was changed at the table – something that is usually only done when you hand over a higher amount of bills. Here, it seems to be a more casual affair, and the joy of winning is audible at the tables. A no-go over in the old world where you try to keep your poker face.
What else did I learn about the casinos here? That Asian casinos have only table games and that those have minimum stakes that can be pretty steep. That the casinos run by native Americans are only to be found on reservations, but that they include all the gambling machines as well. That casinos on reservations usually also have hotels, restaurants, and concert halls on site. And that you will find a famous name on the bill boards of such casinos. That one-cent-games are never one-cent-games, but that you have to check for the smallest bet to get the picture of how long a twenty-dollar-bill might last you. That there are people who stroke the monitors in order to achieve a better chance to win. That some people play up to three machines at the same time (I find this kind of passion for gambling a bit concerning). That a non-smoking area is not necessarily physically separated from the usually larger smoking areas. And that most cashiers are usually fun to talk to, especially when they are sitting alone in their cages and are not frequented by customers.
Do I gamble? Occasionally (which is rarely enough) I feel tickled by especially nicely designed machines, and I might lose a ten or a twenty. Usually I come out with as much as I went in with. No casino will ever become rich by me. I rather watch people, check the design or the theme of a complex, wonder about the employees and their stories …
And yet I feel some satisfaction when I see that a reservation is taking pride in opening a new community center or a supermarket, a lodge or some other improvements that look nice and maybe bring them further income. It’s little enough of a quid pro quo. So, when I lose a game, I keep thinking it might be for somebody else’s good after all. Maybe that is naïve. So be it.
David Anderson says
Will you be doing a story on casino’s dark side?
Susanne Bacon says
If you are talking about the murky light inside – that’s a given in any casino I have seen so far.-
And no, as a matter of fact, I try to describe what I see with my German-American eyes and without trying to speculate too much. I have no reach into the darker pits of life, and – to be honest – I think there is enough dark out there in this world to emphasize that there is also a brighter side of life. I’d like “Home from Home” to be a light-hearted column, one where people can understand how a German immigrant sees her new life in the New World.