Beyond the Casino

A gambling dinosaur looks back on the days when we actually kept cash in our pockets

Beyond the Casino

After three decades of going to casinos while covering this industry, I seem to have become something of a dinosaur.

No, I’m not talking about my physical appearance, since obviously, dinosaurs don’t have mustaches. I’m talking about the fact that my main reason to be in a casino is, still, to invest my disposable income in the art of gambling.

(Yes, there are more wise investments. But they don’t come with a free buffet.)

There was a time when casino operators considered a customer like me the bee’s knees. (And when people actually used the term “bee’s knees.”) Operators loved a gambler. The casino was the center of the industry universe, so operators devoted themselves to keeping you in the casino for, like, the rest of your life—or until your pockets were empty, whichever came first.

Yes, back in those days, we actually kept cash in our pockets.

We didn’t have cash-out tickets, debit cards or smartphones. We smoked cigarettes, wore fedoras, and complained about “that damn Roosevelt.”

But anyway, a casino used to give away everything outside of the casino, to keep you coming back to the casino. You got free shows, $3 prime rib and free rooms, which were just uncomfortable enough to keep you out of the rooms and in the casino.

Today, at least in the case of the Las Vegas Strip, non-gaming revenue dominates, as operators try to create the “complete resort experience.” Translated, that means you pay for everything. Hundreds of dollars from what used to be a gambling budget now go for shows, fine dining, nightclubs… even parking, for crying out loud.

Of course, there also is a lot of entertaining non-gaming stuff that wasn’t available in the old days. There are virtual-reality attractions, zip lines, bungee-jumping, eSports tournaments and lots of other stuff to keep you occupied outside of the casino. Because of this, when I visit a Strip resort these days, I try to look for fun new things to do.

Granted, the main reasons I do this have to do with gambling. The minimums at the craps tables generally require financing plans, and I’ll have an easier time finding the exhumed, reanimated zombie corpse of Liberace than locating a full-pay video poker machine on the Strip. So, I often look around for other things to do.

Hot nightclubs? No thanks. I can’t see the value in paying $400 for a bottle of hooch, or $15 for Maker’s Mark on the rocks, for that matter. Also—and being a child of the ’60s, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever say this—the music is too darned loud.

Egad, did I just say that? I’ve become my dad. Heck, I’ve become my grandfather.

But honestly, even though I’ve played bass in actual, live rock bands for decades, DJ hip-hop music that bops me up and down with vibrations is simply not an experience I find pleasant. Besides, it distracts me from figuring out how I’m going to pay for the booze.

Hip-hop music even chased me out of a bar last month at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. I ended up at the Pig ‘N Whistle. (No, that has nothing to do with casinos, but since I mentioned it here, the Hollywood trip is now tax-deductible.)

So, what else is there? Zip lines and bungee-jumping are out, since even a simple rollercoaster will turn my ancient back into a twisted wreckage. Virtual reality? Makes me nauseous. Grand retail facilities? I hate to shop. Fine dining? OK, but since I’m based in the East, I’m usually alone for my Vegas stays, and if I have no companion to impress, I’ll go for In-N-Out Burger over a French restaurant every time.

Hey, there are no In-N-Out Burgers in the East. Barely even a Fatburger.

The eSports tournaments could be a fun non-gaming activity for me. I’ve always wanted to watch pimply teenagers play video games, and now I can even bet on them. I will have to familiarize myself with the eSports stars, though. Let’s see… There’s JesusStick, FruitDealer, Balls, SaintVicious, Faker, and my personal favorite, Dr. Peepee.

And they all look like they just got back from the junior prom. Can they be my new heroes? If I gamble on them, and they win, damn right they’re my heroes. But then, that can’t be considered a non-gaming activity, right?

I’m so confused. Meet me at the $5 craps table, and we’ll talk about the non-gaming phenomenon.

Oh, right. No $5 craps. Well, meet me off the Strip.

And if you can, bring Dr. Peepee with you. I want to get his autograph.

Frank Legato
Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the recently published book on gaming, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying.