Saturday, October 25, 2014

Casinos Part 1: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and Sarah

With all the controversy over the local casino deal, I took it upon myself to go out and do some first-hand “research.” Stop 1: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and the Sarah McLachlan concert.

Having never stepped foot in a casino, I attacked the project with complete relish, ignorance and objectivity. And, actually, if not for the extra set of tickets, the discounted room, and it being one of our dearest friend’s birthday, we probably wouldn’t have made the schlep. But, schlep we did, with gusto.

After a lovely lunch at Junior’s at Foxwoods, we move to the casino floor. The environment I find somewhat disturbing: dark, loud, smoky, over stimulating.  With a cacophony of bells, blings, and beeps, a downright sensory overload. And at the same time, completely cut off from the outside world – no windows, clocks, or TVs. Just aisles of people parked in front of their favorite machines, feeding their hard-earned wages and/or savings into the slots. Suze Orman would have a stroke at the sight of it all. It looks like some of them have been there for days. How can they afford to do this?  I’m mystified. I put in a twenty dollar bill, and bling-bling-bling, within a few minutes, it’s gone. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the slots and a paper shredder is that the slots light up and make noise, and jam much less frequently. On the bright side, I have joined my compatriots in partaking of the free drinks offered on the floor, and cradling a nice little free Bloody Mary, spicy with horseradish, just the way I like it. Heck, maybe I’ll take up smoking, too. The problem is that at this rate, I could go through an entire paycheck by sundown, offset only slightly by the number of free drinks I can down.

If I told you there was a terrorist loose in New England, draining our wealth and exposing our populace to noxious gases, you’d be alarmed. And, we want more of these? For the revenue, I hear. But, if revenues are down, I’d say maybe it’s because all the excess disposable income in the region has been siphoned off the local populace, and at best has perhaps reached steady state, where revenue rises and falls in rhythm with pay checks.

I can at least take solace in the fact that the profits from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are going to the Native American tribes. The fact that they’re benefiting from this venture is in some ways perfect payback, poetic justice for all the old bad land deals (Manhattan for beads) and all the other past wrongs, indeed atrocities, committed against the Native Americans in the name of progress and manifest destiny. Of course, no sum of money can ever fully right these wrongs, repair the damage done, or eliminate the suffering experienced at the hands of the white man. But, maybe it can help a little.

I live in Watertown, where our town seal captures the famous exchange of bread and fishes on the banks of the Charles River, which was maybe a more fair exchange, representing the best both worlds had to offer, much the way most partnerships are in the beginning, before the irreconcilable differences emerge. American culture is founded on an always forward-looking perspective, in stark contrast to Native American culture which considers the entire fabric of history, and how past events are still rippling and washing up on distant shores. History is a continuum, and we are one thread, a part of it. Western culture is focused longingly on the great horizon, putting all our stock in the hope and possibility of the future. There is double irony then, that this precise forward-leaning optimism is the same drive that motivates the gambler to take that next spin of the wheel. As a culture, we are obsessed with what’s next. This obsession – and the thrill in the chase – is the psychological motivational driver for gambling. And, of course, there is greed, and the desire to get something for nothing.  But, don’t discount the psychological aspect of it. And there is likely a third factor at play: the experience.

While the slots pay off in monetary terms, a trip to the casino also pays out in another currency: experience.  Case in point, after letting the slots shred a couple more twenty dollar bills, our party made its way to Michael Jordan’s steakhouse for a great dinner, and then on to the show, which provided another study in contrasts. While the casino environment by design tries to make people forget the outside world, Sarah McLachlan gently reminded the audience, while introducing the song, “World on Fire,” that we’re “walking a tightrope these days, with all the chaos in the world,” alluding to the unrest in the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the fighting in Gaza and Israel, beseeching us to “be kind, and be caring.”

This is the Sarah we know and love, the same one who played 20 years ago at a free summer concert at the Hatch Shell in 1994, when she had just broken onto the popular music scene. She was over an hour late, her travel from New York City delayed by weather, but the crowd was shockingly patient, mellow, enjoying their picnic lunches and the perfect summer day. Patience was rewarded by an outstanding performance, with Sarah alternating between playing guitar and piano. Her concert at Mohegan Sun – again, perfect, in terms of both her music and her message, a welcome reminder of the larger world outside and our common humanity.

And it all happened at a casino. So – do we really want more of them? In our back yard? And if so, what would we want our casino to be like? More research is definitely needed.

Next stop: Vegas!


This piece was written this summer after our trip to the local casinos, and seeing Sarah McLachlan in concert there. Thank you, Sarah!

© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.

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