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Pigeons at the Gate

I just got a hot tip on a pigeon that's a sure thing.

Pigeons at the Gate

Leave it to the international casino industry to keep the folks at PETA busy.

Back in the 1990s, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals nixed a plan by the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City to bring the fabled Diving Horse back to the Steel Pier.

The animal rights group just didn’t buy the argument that horses actually like to dive 30 feet from a platform into freezing cold, choppy surf. They do. Why, back in the Old West, cowboys had to avoid cliffs near rivers, because their horses would always jump in.

You could look it up.

These days, PETA’s dealings with the casino industry typically take them to more distant shores. As you may recall, around a year ago, officials in Russia raided an illegal casino that was taking bets on cock fights, rat races and even insect races. I remember wondering if they gave clever names to the bugs to aid in the wagering:

“Ten bucks on More Than Larva to win, and five each to place on Fuzzy Legs and Surviving Nuclear Holocaust.”

Last month, PETA’s warriors were in Taipei, Taiwan, where police raided a gambling club that had been conducting pigeon races. PETA says around 1.5 million birds a year are killed in pigeon races.

I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around that fact. Why don’t the pigeons just fly away? How do they get them to stand still so they can paint little numbers on them? How do they get the pigeons to speed up? Do they have freshly washed cars that they drive around the track? Do they lead the birds forward by showing them statues?

Do the pigeons run? Because I’ve only seen them waddle. Waddling pigeons would tend to make a race boring, I would think. Are there pigeon harness races? Maybe with rats standing in the little wheeled carts?

Hey, I’m always thinking.

My first thought was that this could never happen in America, because the sports leagues would take the pigeon racers to court, on the basis that wagering on pigeon races would lead to pigeon match-fixing and disrupt the integrity of the sport.

But anyway, agents from Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau searched the back offices of the gambling club, and froze about US$3.95 million in assets. So, evidently, there’s good money in pigeon races. (They must need it to clean up the mess.)

PETA Asia even issued a statement. “Taiwan authorities have shown the world that they take the accusation that pigeon racing is a cruel front for illegal gambling very seriously,” the statement said. “Taiwan’s pigeon-racing industry is the most extreme, most deadly, and most crime-ridden in the world.”

Wow. There’s even a “pigeon-racing industry.” According to PETA, there are 30,000 “pigeon breeders” supplying the industry with 2 million pigeons each year. Only half a million survive to poop on statues another day.

I always wanted to be a pigeon breeder. When I was a kid, I dreamed about having a big

pigeon ranch, where I could raise prize racing pigeons. I’d drive a big, expensive, poop-covered car, with a gold pigeon as the hood ornament. I’d wear pigeon-bling. I’d… I’d… No, that’s all I’ve got. Much like the Taiwanese birds, I think this bit has run its course.

Taipei, by the way, has one of the cleanest airports I’ve ever walked through. I’m guessing the absence of pigeons has something to do with it.

OK, I had one more.

Closer to home, my favorite Las Vegas locals joint, the South Point, just unveiled a $35 million tournament bowling facility, with 60 lanes to be used only for pro bowling, and a 360-seat viewing area. It says here the aim is to make Las Vegas “the competitive bowling capital of the world.” The new center debuted with the Professional Bowlers Association World Series of Bowling.

I love bowling, because it’s the only sport for which one can train while drinking beer. In fact, that was one of the big selling points for the South Point, according to GM Ryan Growney, who was quoted in one of the newspapers as saying bowlers are a good demographic to serve because they “like to drink beer, they like to have a good time, and they like to gamble.”

 The only casino demographic that’s better than bowlers, as I understand it, is pigeon racers. Maybe they’ll expand the equestrian center to include some pigeon tracks.

Oh, right. They can’t, because of PETA. And the sports leagues. Too bad. I just got a hot tip on a pigeon that’s a sure thing. I wanted to put down a bet before he was put out to stud.

On a statue, I’m guessing.


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 books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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