Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Philippine Casino Addiction

Manila Philippines

I walked through a few different areas of Manila but one day, just around the corner from my guesthouse, I came upon a large hotel/casino complex. On the outside hung a sign that read "Cashless Casino." I'd never heard of a cashless casino before, and the implications of it left me pondering the sign and wondering what the hell was going on inside. So being the curious cat that I am, I strolled through to check it out.

The air smelled great, if you like the smell of stale cigarette smoke, beer, and despair. I circled the vast, square room and peeped in the empty restaurant then looked over at the bar where a bartender was slowly drying glasses and arranging them on shelves.

I walked up the aisles for the slot machines, and I noticed that on all the machines there was a slot which read CREDIT, and I imagined it was as easy for the casino to rake in the cash from helpless gamblers as it would be to smack a baby and take his soother, if people were just using ATM cards, as I thought.

It was ten o'clock in the morning so there were only a few people hanging around playing, but what interested me were four women in their mid-sixties who looked like they'd been weight-lifting in there for the past six weeks. They glanced around with bored expressions as they robotically pulled the levers up and down with their right hand and lifted cigarettes to their lips with their left. Scattered at their feet were empty coke cans, paper plates and styrofoam cups. How long had they been here and how much longer were they going to stay? One of them turned to me and said hello.

'I'd kind of like to play,' I said, 'but I don't get the machines. How does this cashless thing work?' I stood beside her and looked over the machine. With a cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth, she pointed to a card that was perched in the slot, ready to give up money.

'See here? You put your card in there.'

'So this is linked to your bank?' I asked.

'No. No. You buy a card from the casino. And then you ring in the amount here.' She rung in 100P ($2) and pulled the lever down. The images spun around. She put her index finger on the screen.

'Now all these little pictures. See here? They have to be the same in order to win.' An apple and two bananas appeared.

'Ya see that? That's no good. They have to match.' She rang in another 100P and pulled the lever down again. Apples, grapes, bananas, oranges and pears spun around and came to a stop.

'Nope, she said, looking at the screen, and charged another 100P. She took a drag on her cigarette and looked up at me. 'You see how it works? It's pretty simple.'

'Yeah, it is. Are those your friends here?' I glanced around.

'No, but they're here all the time. Same as me.' She pulled the lever again, her cigarette dangling from her lips.

'So? You gonna get a card?'

'Well, I don't think I'll play today.'

'Bah. Go get a card. Come and join us.'

'Not today. Maybe I'll come around again tomorrow?'

She shrugged and turned her back. 'Suit yourself.'

I read an article about a man who was suing Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas because some woman had urinated in a chair before he sat in it. She didn't want to give up her place because she was sure she was going to win.

Gamblers who become addicted can enter a trance-like state where even basic hygiene habits are ignored, said Carol O'Hare, Executive Director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling. Their reasoning is so impaired by their addiction that they may go for hours and days without eating or showering. Gamblers have even told counselors that they wore adult diapers to relieve themselves to keep from losing their seat at a slot machine where they expected the machine to pay off.

I didn't smell anything suspicious in this Philippine casino, but I saw the stage two trance these four women were in.