Since it is open 24 hours, I proposed to The Editors of City Paper that I would occupy the new Horseshoe Casino on Russell Street for 24 hours straight as a paying customer, even though this is not a full-fledged casino, technically. I don’t mean to start off complaining, but I’m good at it, so look, this Horseshoe is not a 100 percent full-on Casino because it does not have a sportsbook, where you can get a bet down on all manner of sporting events, such as Your Baltimore Ravens, but also any other sports thing going. I support a well-regulated Casino, and I would like to say let’s get that Sports Book going, OK? Why draw the line at what you can bet on? Why call yourself a casino until a person can walk in and bet on Hockey?
Also, I do not feel bad that Gambling ruins people’s lives any more than I feel bad that alcohol ruins people’s lives or eating potato chips is bad for you, and in Full Disclosure, I did not make prior arrangements with anyone at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore with respect to me, a marginal member of The Press, being in their casino, and asking for special bullshit Press access, because I am here as a paying, playing customer, and my Experience is the Real. Furthermore, I am making an Adult Decision, a choice, freely, to push my own money into a slot machine or a poker machine, or onto a roulette or blackjack table, or onto a bar for some drinks, or into some of the restaurants here for 24 hours’ worth of Casino.
I am getting paid to record my experience, and I would like to take this opportunity to advise everyone to always bet with your head, and not over it, players. This is your Trigger Warning, and if you think you might have a problem with gambling, call 1-800-522-4700, or click click click mdproblemgambling.com on the World Wide Web, because according to the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center on Problem Gambling, 150,000 adults in Maryland are problem gamblers, and “feelings of shame, embarrassment, helplessness or hopelessness about the gambling problem may also discourage a person from getting help,” so you might be one, a problem gambler. Not me, though, I’m fine! I came to do this casino before it does me! I came to this casino to play. I also came to this casino to eat and drink, and inadvertently listen to bands play Led Zeppelin music or ‘Summer of 69’ or whatever. I did not come to this casino to sleep. I think this might be a bad idea.
HOUR 1, Approximately 11:30 a.m. Ample Parking
If you ever drive to the Horseshoe Casino, the parking is pretty simple to get at, and it’s free (on non-event days at the Stadium), because that’s a good way to get people to justify coming to the casino, right? I would suggest you park on the rooftop level of the garage, because that makes it easier to remember where the hell you parked your car.
I didn’t drive here, though, the Photographer, my companion for most of my 24-hour stay, did the driving, because even though Sleep Deprivation is my drug of choice, there’s no way I’m gonna drive here, spend 24 hours, and then drive home, are you kidding me? I plan on having a cocktail or two in the casino over the next day, and I ain’t going out like Michael Phelps, no offense.
Maybe Michael Phelps is in the system now because he found a place where you can get a drink 24 hours a day. He was here, he left, and next thing you know he’s over the double line in the Fort McHenry tunnel going 80. I used to commute to work via that tunnel every workday, and I always went 80 in that fucker when I could, when there weren’t a buncha amateurs going 60 or some unrealistic rush hour speed. Never mind what the speed limit in the tunnel is, you get in that tunnel, you want to get the fuck out of that tunnel because you start thinking about how much Harbor water is over your fucking head right now, especially if you are not a strong swimmer, which of course does not apply to Baltimore’s celebrated Olympian.
Anyway, Michael Phelps was doing something I bet lots of people have already done, after exiting a place that serves drinks 24 hours a day, and he didn’t have somebody driving his car for him. So keep that in mind when you’re out in Baltimore some evening and it’s 1:45 a.m. and the lights are coming on and you’re getting kicked out, but you wanna keep going, get another drink, now there’s a place to do that. I’m not in charge of what you do, any more than I am in charge of what the Photographer will do. He is on his own. I think we got here at 11:30 a.m. We had to stop and get money and pick up the cigars I bought for this occasion.
The first thing you notice about the Horseshoe Casino is that it’s, well, nice. In Baltimore I think we have been conditioned to believe we can’t have nice things. But since it’s a casino, it’s not really nice, it’s bad, right? It’s a bad thing. So I guess we’ll keep it, eh?
This place is all new, it’s not worn down from use yet, but the inside will never stink of stale cigarette smoke, and it’s got all these great endless-pattern rugs with horseshoes on ’em, and everything is shiny metal and high ceilings with decorative wall treatments and sleek giant chandeliers and tasteful slats of wood arranged to create divided spaces without interrupting the openness of the space and leather couches and relief-patterned ceilings, and I suggest you come here just to walk around and look at this place as if it is a Museum, it’s fucking fascinating, visually, all the crazy slot machines with goofy themes like sex and the city and omg! kittens and weird automated/video games that do not require interaction with any humans, there’s this open space right in the middle of the two-story general gambling acreage of casino floor, and when you walk through the fields of slot machines and gaming tables to get to the edge of this hole, you will reflexively look down from your spot on the upper floor, and you will see a bar, and probably the tops of the female bartender’s boobs, actually, since you are looking straight down, sorry, and behind and above the bar there’s a stage where there’s either a DJ, a band, or some hot ladies in abbreviated outfits dancing, depending on what time of day it is. For example, there aren’t any hot ladies dancing at 8 a.m., in my experience. Behind the bar/stage there are three gigantor video screens, and so when you are gazing down into this, when the joint is busy, it is a highly frenetic and visually stimulating sort of Interzone, the bustling bar, the stage action, the screens, the people down on the floor of the bar area hanging out or dancing, and you are surrounded by people milling around on both levels, and of course the sounds of music and people and the deceptively winning jingles and tinkles of the gambling machines.
Meanwhile, as you are looking across the expanse of the bar space, you may notice an extra level, seemingly stashed between the two floors of the casino, and this appears to be where some VIP action occurs, weird little special cubbyholes, where there might be a few people lounging around in a very entitled bottle-service manner, staring off into space, and then right next to that, a completely crammed party bunker, full of people who are in full festive frenzy, dancing and piling on top of each other. Beyond the bar area on the lower level, there is an area resembling a food court at the mall, with a circular bar in the center, and past that, windows, sort of an unusual feature for a casino, I think, casinos generally don’t have windows easily within sight of the gaming tables, so you will get lost in time and space and play and play and play and lose all your money, right? But here at the Horseshoe there are windows, in this instance affording a view of the traffic of Russell Street, and beyond that, the new Royal Farms store across the street. There are also little porches connected to those windows, and people go outdoors, while still under the roof of the casino, and smoke pretty much whatever they’ve got, and there are slot machines out there, open-air slots, the option to puff and play! When it rains, the slot machines are covered up with big blanket-looking shrouds decorated with the Horseshoe logo.
Back inside, I keep wondering if there are a lot of criminals hanging out in the casino. Beyond the opportunistic types in attendance to maybe grab some money off a bar or snatch some chips out of somebody’s purse. Maybe some of the Senior Citizens I see here right now are crooks, sure. Everybody in this joint is engaged in what woulda been a Criminal Activity if we were doing this a few years ago in the very same place, but I wonder if there are like, Professional, dedicated thieves, drug dealers, etc.-type Hardened Criminals here today. I tried to visually and Unconstitutionally profile the crowd here, to judge everyone according to their appearance and my own personal prejudices, but everybody just looks kinda regular. I don’t know about criminals having regular working hours, so I guess maybe when it’s super-late, like three in the morning, there would be a higher criminal to non-criminal rate?
The guy at the total rewards desk asked me if I was famous, like somehow he recognized me from something, but I get that a lot and it’s just the sunglasses I wear, they make me look famous, and probably not in a good-famous way, I think. The total rewards desk is where you go to get your total rewards card, which you are supposed to present when you are getting ready to play a table game, or you put it in a gambling machine when you are playing and you get your total rewards, which is like having a loyalty card at a grocery store, and I stink at remembering to present any kinda bonus card at places, so this will prove to be an annoyance, every time I walk away from some gambling and I remember I didn’t show my stupid card. This is all about how if you are a big-time Player at a casino, they give you stuff, free drinks, food, a hotel room, but I’m not a big-time player, I have unrealistic expectations, I want to bet a little and Win Big, you know? It’s the American Dream! So screw the total rewards thing, it’s a pain in the ass, and I say that in full Sour Grapes mode, because I am bad at using my total rewards card, but you might be a more organized person and really like the system, so don’t forget to sign up for one of those cards if you come to the casino.
The bar closest to where we walked in is the Johnny Sánchez (see page 37), which is billed as a restaurant, but they have a really nice bar with all these wooden casks lettered with reposado and añejo and blanco on ’em, high over the TV screens for decoration. They are props, inasmuch as they do not currently have any tequila in them. Right now we are the only customers, so the bartender is expansive, and he tells us a story about what an asshole the famous local lawyer Barry Glazer is, he’s the guy who does teevee ads where he says he represents “the urinated upon,” something he’s built up over the years from telling people, in so many words, to not piss on his leg and tell him it’s raining. So anyway, somebody thinks noted prominent Attorney at Law Barry Glazer is an asshole, but that’s hearsay, and would be inadmissible in a court of law. I now enjoy my first cocktail of this adventure, a delicious and refreshing Manhattan. The O’s game is on TV, and I realize I can sit here and watch the whole thing, because this is a marathon, not a sprint. I must pace myself. It would be cool if this casino had a sportsbook, though, so I could get a bet down on the Birds.
Manhattan number two. Another bartender tells us some more famous-person stuff, all about how the late author Tom Clancy bought a whole floor of some condo at the Inner Harbor, the Ritz-Carlton, he says, and he gives us some suggestions for a late breakfast, the Mallow Bar, which is a dessert place with breakfast options, Lenny’s Deli (breakfast all day), and Piezzetta, a pizza place with a breakfast pie. I get sidelined on my phone attempting to execute a prank on a former coworker, which, if it pays off, will result in him removing his shirt in the press box of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Time for a beer, a nice Modelo Especial, in keeping with the theme of Johnny Sánchez, and hey, they have food here, the empanada is starting to look good, we don’t have to walk all the way across the casino to break our fast, right? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Day workers at this bar don’t make much money. Both bartenders have other jobs in addition to this one. One guy works at the Hilton over by the ballpark, which he says will be doing good business after the O’s game.
The barback does not watch baseball, but she is amused by my interest. She says this is the quietest the place will be until the wee hours. She also tells us women are more mature than men, which may explain the baseball thing, but also explains a discussion she had with the Photographer, who, she determines, is a player with the ladies. She says does not want the Photographer to be a player. I recommend the guacamole, the queso fundido, and the suckling pig carnitas tacos, for a wonderful casino breakfast. I do not recommend the empanadas. The Photographer, not much of a gambler, wanders away, put five bucks in a slot machine, and wins 40 bucks.
I have not yet made a bet at the Horseshoe Casino. Maybe some roulette for starters? The barback has been doing bar prep for over an hour, with not one second of stopping, slicing up all the various fruits and stuff for the cocktails. I wonder when I will eat again? I’m really full from all the stuff we had. I better slow down on the booze and have a Pepsi or something, gotta pace myself. The Johnny Sánchez has electrical plugs under the bar so you can charge your devices. Amenities!
A band is tuning up, but I can’t tell if it’s inside or outside, where there is a bar under a tent and a stage and you can smoke and drink. The Photographer just sunk $50 back into a slot machine. I am still watching the O’s game and that guy Mike Rowe, from the “Dirty Jobs” show and some other show where he does stuff, is in the crowd. He looks like a guy who basically expects a camera to be on him all the time. The O’s win! There’s an ad for the new Ravens scratch-off lottery game on the TV, so I am in a place of gambling watching an ad for gambling while I am wishing I could be gambling on the baseball game. I wonder if I can buy scratch-offs in here?
I need a refill on my Pepsi, gotta get it together. I have made it about 150 steps from the entrance of the casino in five hours, time to move and get out there, man. The sound of the TV is off now and the mood music is flowing in the atmosphere of the casino. I’m gonna go out by the stage and smoke a cigar, maybe do some roulette along the way, not gonna play the slot machines though, those are for suckers. The Photographer just came back from wandering away again, and he won $400 on a slot machine. We’re outside now, O’s fans are filtering through the outdoor area, which is kind of a nice spot to hang out for a happy hour if you are on your way to your car.
Inside, I walk by the B’More Beers bar, packed with orange-shirted O’s fans, and it has pretty much every local or regional beer you can get around here. It’s a round bar, which I always find to be convivial, or something. I dunno, I like a round bar. The two super-friendly barmaids are big and super-busty, and they are wearing stuff that pushes everything way up there. I go outside to the smoking and outdoor slots area along Russell Street and drop $20 bucks into a double double bonus poker machine. Back inside, I realize I already lost my fucking total rewards card, shit. I musta left it in that poker machine along with my 20 bucks. I retrace my steps and notice someone has left my card in the vestibule leading to the outdoor smoking-and-slots area. An employee, whose function is to watch the vestibule and the outdoor area, points out a silver-haired old lady who turned in the card, so I thank the lady for turning in the card, and offer her two bucks to throw into a machine, which she politely declines, and then politely accepts when I insist. I gotta reward good karma, man.
The Photographer Develops a Gambling Problem
I’m playing blackjack, uncomfortably, in over my head at a $25 table. I get nervous when I start thinking about the money each little chip represents. For some reason my winnings include a $2.50-cent chip, bright pink. I decide that’s my lucky chip. I walk away from the table up a couple hundred bucks and we head over to the roulette table with a friend who has popped in for a quick gambling blast. He’s up $50 or so, he’s happy, and he’s the kinda guy who knows when to quit, but not just yet. Roulette is not a good odds game for the player compared to blackjack because roulette has zero and double zero, which increases the “house edge” to something like 5 percent, as opposed to blackjack, where, if you play strictly, the house edge can be as low as around 1 percent. So on the roulette wheel, I’m up, I’m down, I’m up, I’m down, I’m even, phew.
We order coffees from the cocktail waitress who gets drinks for people who are actively playing, although earlier I was just walking around minding my own business not playing anything and a waitress asked me if I wanted a drink, so I’m not sure if she was gaming the system to get a tip, or if that’s the policy right now, but I got a drink out of it and she got a tip, and then I remember about The Cameras. I look up and see them, studding the ceiling, cameras everywhere, watching everything. That’s why you are supposed to use hand signals at the blackjack tables, for the Eye in The Sky, in case there’s a dispute about what you asked the dealer to do, they can review the video. The coffee served at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore is really, really good, remarkably so. The music now is Led Zeppelin, “I was told what it means to be A MAN, la la doin’ la la la THE BEST I CAN. Awwwwwwwrrk.”
Roulette has weird math, man, the field of numbers on the table is divided into stuff like “1st 12” and “3rd 12,” and “2 to 1,” along with even and odd, and red, and of course, black, for the “Passenger 57” bet, in the Major Motion Picture of the same name, the great Wesley Snipes says “Always bet on black,” but don’t do that really, always, it’s not gonna come up every time, OK? Sometimes bet on black. The Photographer is now into me for 50 bucks because of his recent roulette problem, down from the hundreds of slot machine dough he had, damn.
We read one of the pamphlets available at the Horseshoe Casino, for Problem Gambling, and the Photographer does not test well on a self-evaluation.
1. Have you often gambled longer than you had planned? Yes__x__ No____
2. Have you often gambled until your last dollar was gone? Yes____ No__x__
3. Have thoughts of gambling caused you to lose sleep? Yes__x__ No____
4. Have you used your income or savings to gamble while letting bills go unpaid? Yes__x__ No____
5. Have you made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling? Yes____ No__x__
6. Have you broken the law or considered breaking the law to pay for your gambling? Yes____ No__x__
7. Have you borrowed money to pay for your gambling? Yes__x__ No____
8. Have you felt depressed or suicidal because of your gambling losses? Yes__x__ No____
9. Have you been remorseful after gambling? Yes__x__ No____
10. Have you ever gambled to get money to meet your financial obligations? Yes__x__ No____
The only reason he didn’t check “Yes” on Numbers 2 and 5 was because he just started gambling a few hours ago and hasn’t had an opportunity to go to sleep yet, and also as yet had not ever made an effort to quit, owing to the recent manifestation of his Problem, which technically was possibly also the reason he said “No” to Number 6, but that last one, Number 10, was the clincher, though—I mean, along with Number 7—because he was now officially gambling to win enough money to pay me back. So yeah, I’m a fucking enabler, man, but at least I wasn’t charging him interest on what I lent him, OK? The music playing now in the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore is ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles, and I notice nobody loses their shit because they hate the Eagles, nobody even notices.
HOUR 8, 7:30 p.m.
A full eight-hour Working Day under my belt, and I’m up $90, which includes my loan to the Photographer, and I may have changed my mind about charging him interest, in keeping with the spirit of being in a casino and all, OK? My friend who popped in for a Lightning Round ends up breaking even and heads for the door. Let that be a lesson to you, Gentle Reader, if you are a Potential Gambler. The Photographer disappears again, so I go to the outdoor stage area for a beer, a Sierra Nevada, three bucks. This outdoor area really is a great place to come and dance and enjoy reasonably priced beverages if you’re not picky about whatever the cover band is doing—which right now is that shitty ‘I’m So Fancy’ song—and you don’t even have to go inside the casino.
A gentle rain begins to fall, which is good for business, it drives almost everyone back inside to the casino. My most recent cigar did not agree with me, and I notice there are a lot of police out here. The band is now doing that M.I.A. song, with the “click” but a modified BANG BANG BANG gunshot noise, and I’m thinking that’d probably be weird for the cops, the full BANG BANG BANG. Man, I’m still not hungry from “breakfast,” I didn’t pace myself on the food part of the program. The drinking part is fine. There is a vague bathroom smell in one corner of the outdoor area, I mean it smells like bathroom smell plus bathroom-chemical smell. Right now the band is playing for three people. I spot the lady who found my total rewards card, she’s on her way out. I asked her how she did and she and her friend said they were tapped out. I asked them if they had fun, and they both said yes.
The band is now doing ‘Shout,’ and there’s a sudden wave of Nice People. Couples, men dressed in that certain semi-undecided-casual-but-dressed-up way, with the dress shirt worn not tucked in, and soft shoes, and the ladies all in a certain kinda expensive festive blouse, it’s like there was a pre-casino apparel meeting, seriously. I profile them, correctly, as customers for the “upscale steakhouse,” Jack Binion’s Steak, where a 16-ounce filet goes for about $50. The band is now doing a mind-bending mashup of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ smashed into Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Bulls on Parade,’ followed by that Taylor Swift “a player’s gonna play play play play play” thing. I don’t like Nice People.
I am at the B’More Beers bar enjoying a Jack Daniel’s and Coke. I am apprehensive. The late night is not yet here and I might not be sharp. I consult the oracle, and study the teaching of The Wizard of Odds with respect to video poker machines. I notice there are, suddenly, a lot of drunk people at this bar. I’m gonna play the video poker machine embedded in the surface of the bar.
Worried I am gonna lose all my money when the drinks and lack of sleep erode my judgment. Won’t know when to stop. I will make poor decisions, beyond any I have already made, of course. The House will win! I didn’t come here to get rich, but I gotta be careful to not get poor. I lose $40 on video poker at the B’More Beers bar. Time for another Jack and Coke. The inside band is playing ‘She Blinded Me With Science.’ Thomas Dolby lives in Baltimore now, did you know that? Finally, I’m thinking about food. There’s that bathroom-y smell again. I can only conclude that powerful disinfectants are being employed, and distributed into the air through the ventilation system, which reminds me of the old thing about casinos pumping in oxygen to keep people energized and playing at the tables. Indoor chemtrails. It’s just after 10, and it looks like a shift change, of gamblers.
It has continued to rain lightly, on and off. The outdoor slot machines are covered up with their protective shrouds. They remind me of horses in a stable, and if they were alive, I would bet on them. Jack and Coke number three. The Photographer just hit a slot machine for a hundred bucks. Stupid fucking steakhouse is closing at 11 p.m., the one place I wanted to eat. The Photographer hits the Heavy Seas Burger Bar. Outstanding burger.
Right now, this casino is really is a good mix of Baltimore, kind of like the way Artscape is, or Dougherty’s Pub on Chase Street, a legit cross section, not just seniors with walkers and oxygen tanks at the slots, there are all kinds of everybody here of all kinds of ages, legal ones, I trust.
Jack and Coke number four. Fucking steakhouse is still closed. The band is now playing “I Melt With You,” and I wanted some steakhouse with melted butter on something. Crap. There are five kinds of Red Bull on offer at the B’More Beers bar; Cran Blu, Green, Silver, regular, and unleaded. There are guys with clipboards walking around counting stuff, and it occurs to me there are always guys walking around the casino counting everything, right? I spot a pal of mine I play cards with sometimes, a friendly game, he’s on his way to the big poker room here. Man, I wouldn’t go in that poker room, I’d be afraid I would get cleaned out right away, jeez. Hey, maybe I shouldn’t play cards with him anymore. The Photographer, fully realizing it is a Bad Idea, wonders about dropping acid at the casino. I told him it has been done before. The band is playing ‘Urgent’ by Foreigner.
HOUR 13: The Hard Luck Hour?
We are at the Guy Fieri’s Baltimore Kitchen & Bar (see page 37), looking at the “Late-Night Menu,” which has a skull on it. Everything on this fucking menu seems to have three ingredients or adjectives too many. I’m hungry, but I kinda don’t want to eat any of this shit, so I lowball it with the DOUBLE-BARREL BBQ WINGS, which have onion stuff on top that is tasteless. The wings are an odd “lollipop” configuration, like a lamb chop, sorta forcing you to strip the whole thing in one shot. The BBQ sauce is nice, and at least they serve it with a coupla pieces of celery and carrot because THAT is what you dip in the fucking dressing, not the fucking wing, philistines. The “lollipop” treatment might explain why I keep almost breaking my teeth on bone fragments. Jeezus, the dip is salty, yow. I recommend pairing your wings with a seasonal Sam Adams Octoberfest, while it is available. I need Coke.
We are out at one of the outdoor porch areas with a lovely view of the Russell Street Royal Farms. It occurs to me the casino is on the former site of a chemical plant. The Farms Store is hopping, 20 cars parked in the lot. Money and energy is coursing around and through the Horseshoe Casino. The Photographer wonders how many people will die for a box of chicken by crossing the busy street. He proposes a gambling scheme, betting on a human Frogger game. What the fuck is happening to us? It’s 2 a.m. The Photographer loses any remaining slots discipline on $5 slots. $100 invested and disappeared. After walking both levels of the casino a few times, Ruby 8 Noodle and Sushi Bar, the Asian restaurant, is the one with the most enticing aroma, and they are open until 6 a.m., so I might get hungry again.
Jack and Coke.
There is a Dancing Gent working it down on the floor of the center bar. He’s wearing what appears to be a mutation of a Members Only jacket. He is a fun magnet, and many ladies step in for a quick dance with him. Good times. I wonder: Will I see this place get ugly?
The hot lady dancers are getting it done on the stage above the bar, and vibe had shifted to hip-hop-tinged dance music. There is an interesting graphic running up a column rising from the bar, it is the gears and workings of a mechanical clock. It does not of course tell you what time it is, but there is a sensation of time being observed. I did not drop acid at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore. On The VIP level the bays are fully loaded, and as I watch the scene I am approached by a gentleman in a yellow shirt. “The pictures need to stop,” he says genially, referring to the taking of photographs. I text an associate, inviting him to the casino, and he declines, but offers remote gambling suggestions.
Play the Wonka slots. Play it and you’ll win like me. Get to a roulette Carrie Ann. 20 black. Do it. Do it. 20 black I’m good for it. Take 20 lay 20. One more blk then red. Do it Doug. Do it! Do it!
I lose $125 at roulette.
Fuck! I move to another roulette table. The croupier at this table is very upbeat but in control of a boisterous group. A guy calls her a bitch and she admonishes him pleasantly. I lose $80 at roulette. I did not call the croupier a bitch. I move to a blackjack table, and there is an Irregularity. I see the interaction, conflicting hand motions, the “stay” motion, meaning “no more cards,” immediately followed by the “hit” motion, for another card, a scratching of the table, toward your cards. I notice the dealer sees only the first motion, and when he lays the next card down for the next player at the table, the double-motion player squawks. Reviewing the video. I abandon the table, I’m out of money. Did you know you can get a cash advance on your credit card at the casino? There is a chart, and you can get between $501 and $600 for a fee of $38.30.
The Photographer is back down to zero after a disastrous run on blackjack table. He played correctly, and the cards destroyed him. The results of the controversial video review are in, and it is ruled two hand signals, so player loses the argument. After 3 a.m., it seems pretty much no guys wash their hands after they piss. Everyone is in too much of a hurry to get back to the games.
Jack and Coke.
My bartender remembered my drink order after the first one, and he remembered it the next three times.
He discusses the change of the crowd based on time of day. “Polar opposite, the crowd changes after midnight. From 5-8 is when the bartenders, strippers, pimps come in.”
All quotes are guaranteed verbatim with a plus-minus of 10 percent for slurred hearing. The music right now is some sorta dance bounce version of ‘Seven Nation Army’ followed by Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me.’ It’s 4 a.m. and the tables are packed.
I give the Photographer a hunski and quiz him: “How many hours left? Divide that into 100 and round it down. You get $15 an hour. Pace yourself.” He says he’s going back to his thing, the slots. Again, I lose him.
Now there are lots more guys in yellow shirts and lots more cops, all over the casino. I step out for a cigar, and try to stay away from a heated interaction on the Russell Street balcony. I don’t wanna know.
I realize I can’t profile any pimps or bartender or strippers, everybody just looks like they belong here, with me. Jack and Coke. Music: “Don’t you wish your girl was” whatever, ‘Don’t Cha,’ I think it’s called. I find the Photographer near a roulette table. We observe some bearded types in the skinny jeans, and spend some time in a lively debate on the topic of “What is a ‘Hipster’?” Primarily, I argue, a Hipster is a young person who is annoying to older persons. The croupier at this table has his hands full. This is a tough table. There is a lot of hollering and negativity. At one point the croupier waves his hands to push air away from his face and toward one of the players, and his face contorts in revulsion, apparently at some stink emitted.
Who is a bad person?
People just want to play and win. They aren’t being greedy, they just want a positive experience.
I notice a lot of the gaming tables have video screens nearby playing a movie, “Get Smart” (2008), starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. That movie was awful. Why the fuck are they playing that movie in a room full of shouting people who are trying to win money? It’s 5 o’clock in the fucking morning, who the hell wants to watch “Get Smart” and you can’t even hear the inane dialogue? Anne Hathaway is a bad person, I bet. “Get Smart” is over, and now they are showing an episode of “The Office,” starring Steve Carell. What the fuck?
Overheard: “Are you as bored as I am?” Also: “Which way is downstairs?”
Wow, I’m hungry again, time to visit the Ruby 8 joint for the last supper.
The Asian Room
Easily accessible from the main casino area is a room featuring a golden bamboo-inspired entranceway and pretty much everyone in this room appears to be Asian, including the dealers. The game is Midi Baccarat, which I have never heard of. I’ve seen Baccarat, the game James Bond always plays, usually against a dude in an eye patch, but never this. The game tables are set up for seated play, and there is a video screen with all these little colored dots on it. I am gonna consult the Wizard of Odds site on this.
Baccarat, also known as punto banco, is one of the oldest and most popular games in casinos all over the world. It is especially popular among high-rollers and Asian gamblers. In Macau, baccarat is extremely dominant. Although the game seems serious and elegant, it is really as simple as betting on the flip of a coin.
It turns out Midi Baccarat, a variant of Baccarat, “is usually found in the high-limit rooms, as opposed to the main casino floor.”
Anyway, Ruby 8 Noodle and Sushi Bar is my fave restaurant in the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore. You don’t have to gamble to eat here, but you do have to walk all the way across the casino floor to get to it. I recommend the Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce, the Shrimp Tempura, and the Kimchi Fried Rice (kimchi, Spam, egg).
It’s 6 a.m., and back on the casino floor, the crowd has thinned considerably. I stop for a Jack and Coke and notice the Yellow Shirts again. They do not come in heavy, they are low-confrontation, restrained, usually a smile and a gentle admonishment or hand signal. It’s time to find that quiet $15 blackjack table. I observe a Yellow Shirt defusing a situation with a rude, angry, overreacting man and a lady. Today I learned 4 a.m. to noon is a shift a bartender might work at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, holy crap. The music right now is ‘Young Americans,’ by David Bowie. I miss Luther. The weight is on me now. I don’t know how long since I sat down. The Photographer is dealing on women. Out on one of the smoking balconies, some dude said I look like the bad guy in MIB 3, which hurts a little, but maybe that’s what the total rewards guy was trying to tell me a hundred million hours ago. Fuck that guy. Still holding out for that quiet $15 blackjack table.
Sunrise is at 7:05, so the Photographer and I make a plan to go and greet it on the roof of the parking garage. Now I see old guys dealing three- and four-card poker. If you are a dealer and nobody’s at your table, you just stand there, waiting, like a fucking vending machine. I see Greg Schwalenberg, the guy who’s been slinging beer at Camden Yards for a million years, and Memorial Stadium before that. He works here. Holy crap, man, when do you sleep? “I don’t!” he says.
The music is now ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ by the Beatles, followed by some fucking crap shit garbage by Phil Collins. Somebody definitely pays attention to this. It is 25 minutes to sunup. Hennessy time. The music now is ‘Back Stabbers’ by the mighty O’Jays, followed by ‘Mockingbird,’ as performed by James Taylor and Carly Simon. The Photographer is up $80 on slots. We greet the sun. Well, we attempt to greet the sun, but it’s too cloudy, a warm day, but shitty-looking. I hear somebody say: “We should rob this place.”
I’m back at the bar, the Photographer had someplace to be. The bartender says, “Jack and Coke? Guess you wouldn’t be here unless you were still winnin’!” Music: ‘The Last Thing’ by the Cutting Crew, ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Brothers Gibb, ‘Needles and Pins’ by the Searchers, ‘Africa’ by fucking Toto, and ‘Borderline’ by Madonna.
Music: Allman Brothers Band, ‘Whipping Post.’
The daylight coming in through the windows is disturbing. It’s 8:30 in the fucking morning and the filthy naked daylight is streaming in to remind me of all that is bad, all my mistakes, starting with the casino. I figured all along I’d make my last stand playing blackjack, the game where a player—if everything goes well—enjoys the best chance of beating the house, that’s all I need to get out of this a winner! A few hands at a quiet table, recoup my losses, pay for some of the drinks, a nice quiet $15 blackjack table, get serious. I find one, a nice quiet $15 blackjack table, but the Dealer seems kinda shaky. Some of the dealers, croupiers, whatever, here, do not seem very experienced, and they project a lack of confidence. They make mistakes, the kind of mistakes that arguably can affect a bet, moving chips indecisively or incorrectly, rushing the play, not giving people enough time to make a decision, fumbling cards, etc., and players will look for any excuse, any minor irregularity, and then they will attack and complain. I slump into a chair at the table and the Dealer tells me I might want to find another table, since he is changing the shoe, the thing they put the multiple decks of cards in for dealing blackjack, and it will take some time. They do that to discourage card counting, which the casinos consider to be cheating, and if they catch you doing it, they ban you from the casino and send your picture to other casinos. Just the other day, a guy got thrown out of the casino down at the Arundel Mills mall for counting cards, and even the famous celebrity actor Ben Affleck was caught counting cards several months ago, and personally, I don’t consider it to be cheating, because it’s hard to count cards! You have to keep all the info in your head, keeping track of the cards played and assigning a point value, plus one, minus one, or zero, to each card you see. Here’s an example from the Wizard of Odds site as far as point values:
If the first ten cards to come out of the shoe were 3, 5, K, 7, Q, A, 8, 5, 4, 2, then the running count would be 1 +1 -1 +0 -1 -1 +0 +1 +1 +1 = +2.
Then you take that total and divide it into the number of decks you figure are left in the shoe, and that tells you how much you should bet, and you’re doing this while you are playing the hands, what a pain in the ass, good for Ben Affleck, seriously, it proves he’s not a dumb movie star, you know? I can’t count cards, and I’m not even a movie star.
HOUR 22, 9:30 a.m.
The Dealer is working at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore because he got laid off from a casino job in Atlantic City. A lotta casinos are closing up there. He wasn’t a dealer in AC, he was some sort of office guy. This is all he could find, down here, and as I watch him open the factory-fresh bulk packs of playing cards, I have unkind thoughts. I’ve seen other dealers perform this task, and it can be a fun little show in itself as the cards are pushed out of the table in elegant arcs and then flipped over in a precise movement, causing the cards to ripple across the table as they turn over, and that’s why I tell the Dealer to take his time, I’m just gonna just chill here at the table and watch him work until we’re ready to go, because I figure it’s gonna be entertaining, but it’s a tragic performance.The Dealer’s hands are stiff and unsure as he opens each deck of cards and awkwardly fans them out over the table, to check for imperfections, misprints, the right amount of cards, each deck needs to be perfect, and each Dealer needs to be flawless in throwing the cards to desperate players looking for any kind of edge. There’s a another guy at the table, a big guy, the Dealer’s supervisor. He’s helping with the process, taking the old cards from the previous shoe and bagging them like they’re biohazard, in thick, clear bags. “Did you know they started rating you guys?” He says to the Dealer as he helps crack open the boxes of cards. “The way you did the money? You can’t do that, OK?” The Dealer is sweating, trying to smoothly tip a deck of cards up on edge, and have them flip over in that elegant wave as he pushes them from the side, but it never happens, each time the cards flop over early in the attempt, and the Dealer has to stop and turn over a bunch of the cards so they’re all either face up or face down. It’s like watching a child, that’s his level of skill in doing this, and he’s sweating hard now. I am attempting to appear like I’m not paying attention, and I would like to get up and go to another table, but I feel like that would be disruptive, I wanna support the Dealer, somehow, in some minor psychic way, be here when he finishes, we can both get through this, I can play some cards and get well. The Dealer told me his family didn’t want to come to Baltimore, his children are old enough to have a life up in AC, and his wife wants to stay with them, so he sleeps here in town someplace, and drives up to AC when he can to visit his family. I don’t know what being “rated” means, but I can guess, and I don’t feel good for the Dealer’s chances. The Dealer is breaking my heart.
Somehow, all the cards are checked and rechecked, and the new decks of cards are ready to be loaded into the shoe. The Dealer offers me a blank marker-card that is to be inserted into the deck at a random spot by a player, and I put it really low in the stack so the shoe will last a long time and the Dealer won’t have to do all that business with some new cards for a while, Jesus Christ.
I play a few hands and claw back some of my losses. I’m getting into a good rhythm at the table, I’m focused, paying attention to the cards, making the right plays for a strict game, knocking the House edge down to almost nothing, motherfucker, yeah, that’s right. There’s a sharp player on the other side of the table, talking through the game, noticing trends in the cards, all kinds of inside stuff, we’re a team, working the table now, us against the Dealer, but in a weird way, all working together, it’s getting to be a good table, we’re in a groove, playing fast. There is a new player at the blackjack table, where I figured I’d make my last stand, a few hands at a quiet table, the new player looks like he’s been working all night, and for some reason it seems like he’s been wearing a wig or something, I’m not sure why I think this, there are marks on his forehead from like, compression, or tape or something. He also looks like he’s been wearing makeup and he cleaned it all off, but there are residual traces, little smudges. This guy looks tough, he looks like he’s seen a lot. He looks kinda crazy. The new player throws down a huge pile of cash on the table. He wants chips, but no red ones, he says, he doesn’t want a lot of small chips for all the money he’s putting up. Now we have a problem, the Dealer’s chip bank is low, there won’t be a way to give the New Player the chips he wants, the way he wants them. The Dealer and the New Player agree on a smaller amount of chips, and the Dealer hands the New Player a thousand dollars cash, and now there’s another problem, the cash isn’t right, the New Player says he handed in $1,250, not $1,150, and the money has been recounted, and now the New Player is shouting. Now we’re not playing cards. Full stop. I’m trying not to stare. “THAT’S A GODDAMN LIE. Y’ALL BETTER GET SOMEBODY UP HERE I’M GONNA TAKE MY MONEY.” The New Player looks at me. “YOU SAW, RIGHT? YOU SAW $1,250.” I shake my head, “naw man, honestly, that’s a lotta bills out on the table, I couldn’t tell you how much was there.”
Another supervisor shows up. Minutes pass. The Sharp Player bails on the table, scoops up his chips, and walks off. I feel like if I bail on the table it’s gonna be worse for the Dealer. Why the fuck do I think this? Five minutes ago I was rooting for the Dealer to bust on 15, but that was different, we were in it, playing. What the fuck is this? Did the Dealer fuck up and count it wrong, or is this just a mistake? A scam? Everything seems like a scam, but for a hundred bucks? It can’t be. All I wanted was a few hands at a quiet fucking $15 table, motherfucking fuck. A lady shows up, another supervisor, she’s a bigger boss, it seems, she’s on the phone. Now there’s a supervisor huddle. The New Player starts in again: “ARE YOU THE FLOOR MANAGER THAT WAS $1,250.” The Sharp Player returns, to see we’re still not playing cards. The New Player starts in on him. “YOU SAW ME YOU SAW $,1250.” Sharp Player says he doesn’t remember, it was a lotta 20s. Boss Lady says it’s $1,150. “THAT’S A GODDAMN LIE.” All these dude bosses have shaved heads. “Sir, you tried to buy in for $1,150.”
Another, tougher-looking Security guy walks up. “You need to calm down. Keep your voice lowered or we’ll walk you outta here.” Now one bald guy is on a walkie-talkie. Security guy looks at me. I’ve been pecking notes on my phone. “YOU NEED TO PUT THAT PHONE AWAY RIGHT NOW,” he barks. “YOU CAN’T BE DOING THAT AT THE TABLE.” A super-obsequious guy comes up and talks soothingly to the New Player, “I’m sorry, sir, very sorry, it’s $1150, very sorry, I know, they looked at the camera, I know.” New Player says, “LET ME LOOK AT THAT TAPE.” Super Obsequious Guy says, “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t do that, very sorry.” Tough Guy says with finality, “It’s $1,150, camera says that’s what it is.”
We are done with this. Now we’re playing cards again, somehow. New Player is playing two hands at a time, and he takes one more shot, “Hey, how about a meal or something?” My concentration is shot. A hand comes up where I should probably double down on the bet, but I don’t. “Can I do it for you?” the New Player says. I don’t understand what that means, so I just shrug noncommittally. He puts a chip down near my chips. We lose. I get up from the table. I am upset. I go and find one of the bald guys who was dealing with the scene at the table. I want to complain to him, not because I want anything, but just because I felt like they shoulda handled it with less yelling, and less yelling at me, you know?
This guy is working on a set of dice for the craps table, like that little scene in the Major Motion Picture “Casino” starring Robert De Niro, where he’s measuring the dice with a micrometer or something, and then he gives them a spin, before approving them as dice and turning them loose on a table full of happy craps players. My guy with the shaved head is working on row after row of dice, measuring them, doing the spinning thing, it’s like 40 dice, he does not look up as I stand there staring into the side of his head, five minutes go by, now I’m watching him with the dice, measure, measure, spin. This guy’s powers of concentration are fiendish. He will not acknowledge me. I walk away and find Obsequious Guy, and ramble on to him about how unpleasant that all was, and I don’t want anything, don’t want a “comp,” a meal or whatever, I just wish they would handle stuff like that differently because it was really a bad scene. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you, Joe.” How does he know my name? I didn’t tell him my name. Ohh, the total rewards card, of course. I wander around the casino with a few bucks. I put the rest of my money into a slot machine. I’m busted, except for my lucky $2.50 chip, of course.
I step out to a smoking area for one last Jack and Coke and my final cigar, my Victory Cigar. I’m at ground level, and a Baltimore City Fire Department paramedic truck turns in off Russell Street and pulls up in front of a side door. A stretcher is unloaded and the firefighters disappear into the building. I’m too tired to give a shit. I finish my smoke and head for the door. I’m outside now, it’s a beautiful day. They are pulling the covers off the outdoor slot machines on one of the balconies. The BCFD truck is still parked outside, the side door to the casino remains closed. Here comes my bus, the 27. I shoulda bet that number on roulette.