Los Angeles, CA
The walkway from the parking lot to the Crystal Casino in Compton is on the slight incline, interrupted by a row of four palm trees, which is set in the middle of the path. You have to walk around them and you immediately notice the little grease stains on the ground -- either superfluous bird feces or fallen dates left to wilt in the ominous California sun. The glass doors to the casino's side entrance are blacked out with two distinct messages -- one politely tells you about the dress code that shoes and shirts were required including no muscle shirts, and the other noted the strict curfew. Shoeless gamblers have never been a problem at any stops on the circuit, but not too many joints issued a disclaimer about a curfew.
The gamblers who stood in front of the casino were the types of people who did not want to be bothered. All in their sixties and older, they each stood about fifteen feet apart from each other, flashed cold stares from their vacant eyes, and huffed down on their cigarettes. Those were the regulars in the low-stakes bingo world.
When Barack Obama spoke of hope in his election speeches, I don't think he was discussing the atmosphere inside the bingo hall at the Crystal Casino. The sullen bingo hall is one of the first things that confront you upon entering the casino. The gigantic room had the charm of a third-rate nursing home. I was forced to walk by hundreds of plastic banquet tables lined up on shoddy and frayed continuous foral-patterned carpet. Each table had a mixture of colored chairs. Purple was the least popular, while red and green chairs dominated the landscape. Losing sheets cluttered the carpet, even though each table had a trash basket next to it. Elderly gamblers dotted out their sheets with jittery anticipation, like a junkie setting up a needle to get his first fix of the day. Even though it was a non-smoking casino, the dense odor of tobacco permeated the room and vaguely covered up the stench of feces from the incontinent woman in the wheelchair slumped in the corner. That's the standard scene in any bingo hall across America -- someone sitting in their own shit chasing down a jackpot.
When religious right wingers condemn internet gambling as the scour of our society, they always overlook the bingo halls that pump dollars into church tithes and instead they go after the scum of the earth -- online poker players. At the worst, a few online poker players smoke too much herb and a few others act a bit douchey, but as a whole online players are everyday people. Most of them are a bit smarter and nerdier when it comes to things like mathematics, statistics, game theory, and data analysis, but these are hardly the criminals that the anti-gaming pundits tried to pawn off as the domestic axis of evil.
If the moralists want to go after degenerates, then they need to pick on the lottery addicts, those sad cases who create long lines at gas stations because they're busy getting their fix and clutching their car keys and scratching away $40 worth of scratch tickets as sprinkles of grey flakes flutter to the ground. The sepia-tinged somberness of any local bingo hall should be enough to warrant it to be shut down.
The World Series of Poker is the largest room of gambling rooms that I've ever seen with an equally deafening and sometimes annoying nonstop clattering of chips. Also impressive was the spread inside the Asian gaming section in front of the poker room at Foxwoods Casino, filled with the chatter of multiple Chinese dialects mixed with the clinking of Pai Gow tiles and the rattling of dice that the dealer used to determine the dealer button.
The players are almost all silent inside the Crystal's bingo hall with a chaffing lack of jubilant gambling sounds aside from the faint echo of the voice announcing the action.
"B-24. Bee. Twen. Tee. Four."
Bingo players are a competitive breed. Everything is eerily quiet and tense. I carefully walked through the hall and carefully clocked everyone at one table. Which ones would slash one of their opponents with a box cutter if they were issued a bad beat? Which ones were the weak links, and couldn't endure the frustration of another losing night? Slumping gamblers are inherently irritable and it doesn't take much to set them off. It's been months since some those blue hairs haven't shouted, "Bingo!" Bingo suckouts are brutal and detrimental to one's health., especially if you miss out by a millisecond. Just last month in Simi Valley, a deadly incident occurred at Saint Miguel's weekly Bingo Bonanza when an 83-year old great-grandmother was stabbed with a a knitting needle after she disputed a winning card from her neighbor.
On my first night at the Crystal, everything seemed rather smooth and nothing resembled the sketchy scene like so many stories I've heard before. That was until I heard about the fisticuffs -- apparently someone was ejected for beating up another patron. Maybe they gloated about a bingo victory? Then again, who knows if anyone has been knocking back Four Lokos in the parking lot before they stumbled in to play their Bingo sheets?
Four Loko is a dangerous energy drink, sort of like the PCP of Malt Liquor, and it will put hair on your chest -- that is, if you can actually wake up the next day after blacking out, but not before you chugged three Four Lokos, took a dump in the back of a taxi cab, then punched three holes in your bathroom door by head-butting it.
I don't recommend the deadly combination of Four Loko and Bingo unless you have a high tolerance and a decent health insurance plan.