Winners &Losers

Winner & Losers
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One Dark Night>
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In The Casino

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Nevada & New Jersey

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The Game of Life
Real Until


Lesson 3

The principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty reversed under.  New Jersey ; a company has to prove it is worthy of a license.  A long list of sharp dealing, shady connection, questionable practices, was raised about Resorts during the run-in and the civic hearings.  The questions, as reporter Gigi Mahon showed in her expose.  The Company That Bought The Boardwalk (1980), remained largely unanswered.  In the end terms like innocent or guilty hardly seem to matter.  Who cared about all the question marks, the allegations of corruption in high places, the occasional stretching of the rules?  The point was that Resorts was in there.

            Even Al Merck, the gaming commissioner who attracted some public notice because of his outspoken reservations on licensing Resorts (he made no secret of his voting No in the referendum on casino gambling for New jersey), finally acquiesced in approving Resort ’s licence. There was too much going, too much money invested, to turn the company down.  An engagingly witty and cultivated man, who entered public service out of a sense of duty, (he is the elder scion of the family pharmaceutical company) Merck told me that he believes organized crime is not involved in the casino industry directly these days; it is in there, certainly, but primarily in the ancillary services – ‘Did you know that every restaurant in New York City gets linen from the mafia?’
            Atlantic City itself has not profited from the arrival of casinos.  It is a cliché, that can easily be verified on a bus trip into town, that Atlantic City is a dump, or, more precisely, a string of high-rise casinos in a wasteland of non-development.  Who cares if the mafia do provide the linen, one might say, if they keep the place clean?  The night Resorts opened its doors, people hit the tables and the slots like a swarm of locusts.  ‘The tables were jammed ten and twenty deep.  You couldn’t move through the aisles.  The smoke was so thick, it was as if the place was on fire.’  The fire was in the gamblers pockets – Resorts’ great faith was justified.  The operation started off making close to a million bucks a day.  Wall Street got the news, and casino stocks took off like rockets.
            Ten years later there are ten or eleven casinos along the boardwalk, but nothing else really nothing to show for it all, apart from a rising crime rate.  The employees who staff the casinos mostly come in from tout of town:  they have to because there is no new housing, no schools, no amenities of any kind.  And these people, the dealers and dicemen and other employees down the line, are all doing their job very efficiently, earning their pay the hard way no one is questioning their probity.  By the summer of 1982, the average monthly take her casino was $ 15 million.  Resorts passed the $ 1 billion mark in total revenues in February, 1983.
            Where did the money go?  Who did get rich?  And what happened to all the millions paid out in state taxes?  The question has been addressed in a study called The Atlantic City Gamble (1983) by two experts in urban studies at Rutgers University.  George Sternlieb and James W. Hughes.  Their conclusion is that casino gambling is not the be all and end all of urban renewal, the kind of ‘magic bullet ’ it was cracked up to be.

            ‘Nothing of consequence has been done to improve the poor housing conditions that predate legislation … nothing has been done to relieve the hardships that displacement causes …The situation for minority groups is even worse … the projected bonanza to Atlantic City …has been largely offset by the stresses on the municipal treasury that the casinos have brought the casino in their wake… particularly public safety …Perhaps most detrimental is the vast potential for corruption…to buy political influence and patronage.’
            It ’s not all bad.  A lot of people have made money and a lot more have had a good time losing it.  It ’s the old story in a new setting.  Authors Sternlieb and Hughes do not take an admonitory line at all  their concern is to point up the lessons of Atlantic City, so that jurisdictions thinking of bringing in casino gambling will benefit from the experience.  There is certainly a lot of experience to learn from.  The civic administration in Atlantic City was ludicrously under powered to do the job.
            By 1986 the casinos were lobbying for round-the-clock gaming as in Las Vegas.  There restricted hours of opening.  10 a.m. to 4 a.m., 6 a.m. on weekends and holidays, prevented them from making an adequate return, they complained.  If casino gambling comes to Florida  or New Orleans or one of the other places that have been pondering the pros and cons, will things turn out any better?  Atlantic city, one is tempted to say, can only improve. I used to know a French journalist, a good colleague, who personified to a high degree the chauvinism of the French.  Everything was bigger or better or more logical in France.  One day, when I  telling him about a terrible murder case that was case that was being reported in the British press, he interrupted me: ‘Bur you know, ‘aver much bigger murdairs in France!’
            It is in a distinctly cautionary spirit, therefore that I say there is much less crime in England than in America so far as gambling is concerned.  The British have their own gangster and con men in plenty, there have been cases of bribery and corruption and skimming in the past, and there will no doubt let be others in the future.  One operator of a popular London casino had the nerve to write a book on casino management, before deciding to skip to sunnier climes climes with most of the takings, and has not been heard from since.  But the British have been successful in keeping the mafia out.  The reason is that the whole structure of gaming is different.
            Typically, in Britain, offences in gaming are ‘technical’.  They involve minor infringements of the network of rules laid down by the Gaming Board, not the lurid excesses of organized crime.  Such technical offences are nonetheless taken very seriously indeed by the regulatory authorities, leading on occasion to multi-million pound  casino game groups being shut down and put out of business.  Comic rather than tragic, and wonderfully revealing of national character, as the most spectacular case of all demonstrated.

           It involved the rivalry between the British bookmaker Cyril Stein and playboy extraordinary Victor Lownes.  The casino industry in London, which accounts for over 80 per cent of the country, had benefited wonderfully from the new Gaming Act at the end of the ‘swinging sixties’. The rules were restrictive, yes but provided the management kept to the rules, they had in a famous phrase applied to television franchises a license to print money.  The casinos clustered around the bottom of Park Lane, which was the focal point of gaming in London. a kind of My fair ‘strip’ could hardly go wrong.  The public at large was able to indulge its habitual craving for gambling anew.  The big tourist   hotels were crammed with Americans still searching out swinging London.  And above all, there where were the Arabs.  The oil boom, followed by successive upheavals in the idle in the middle East, notably the collapse of Middle east money to London.
            Where else could these oil-rich exiles disport themselves, in a town where the bars shut at 11 p.m. but at the casinos?  And how they gambled! They dropped not tens of thousands but hundred of thousands collectively.  The stories of the largest of the Arabs out his palm, on ushing. 
            The casino managements understandably fell  over themselves to attract and hold on to these high rollers.  But if the desire to gamble is deeply rooted in human nature, greed goes even deeper.  In their rivalry, the casino poker avarice far outstripped their judgment of the risks.
            The dilemma the big operators faced in catering to the Arabian high rollers was that, under the Gaming Board’s regulations, they could not offer them anything very showy in return.  Effusive greetings on arrival, naturally dinner on the house, of course a car to carry the sated punter back to his hotel at the end of the night, obviously.  But not much else.  (The Gaming Board’s annual report for 1984 spoke solemnly of diaries and pens as acceptable Gifts.)  In Vegas by contrast, a high roller is taken care of like a prize pig his every whim and wish is indulged in an environment that is enclosed and totally self–sufficient.  He need never leave Caesar’s or the Nugget or the Sands (while his credit lasts).  It ’s a town where anything the favored customer wants goes as a casino manager once put it to me: ‘If a guy says he wants six ladies in black suspender belts and red garters let down from the chandelier okay, he’s got it.’
            Every night in London the big clubs had the same awful worry that Abdullah or Ibrahim or Mohammad all on first name terms in that jokey deferential way the English have might stroll a few yards down Park Lane or Curzon Street and be ushered through another set of swing doors.  Gamblers are always changing over according to whether they fell lucky in one place or unlucky in another.  And when one of the middle Easterners crossed the street, there went maybe half a million quid’s worth of profit.

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