Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Full disclosure, I like to gamble in casinos when I can afford it, which is not damned often. But I do find that if I take my time, bet right, and make sure there's twice as much money someplace I can't get to it as I brought into the joint; then I can have hours of fun for relatively little money. No, I'm not crazy. I usually bring about $500 in and leave with about $175 if I'm losing (and sometimes I get fried, too; but there's still a grand in my desk drawer at the house when I get back home). And sometimes I come home a few hundred bucks richer. I'm more or less pretty much breaking even, and by my lights it's fun.  I never bring plastic into a casino and I don't sign up for those "player's clubs".

My first experience with any kind of casino was in Wheeling, West Virginia in the spring of 2008. I went in at 2:15 in the afternoon with $850 and emerged at 6:45 the next morning with $645. That's sixteen and one half hours during which I completely enjoyed myself for the sum of $205. And much of that was food and drink. And, at one point in the proceedings I found myself the happy possessor of $2,500 in casino chips, which of course I used to prolong my stay (casinos are engineered to fascinate and to erase clues as to the passage of time).

I visited a few more times, sometimes winning and sometimes losing money, but having fun every time. But Wheeling is 300 miles from where I reside, and until two years ago the nearest "casino" was a slots barn in Charles Town, West Virginia that, although it was only a 70 mile drive, offered nothing but one-armed bandits. I prefer table games, especially those featuring a good dealer with some personality. So when it was announced that Charles Town would be offering table games two years ago, I was chomping aat the bit, and took five hundred to opening night.

I was completely appalled. Table minimums for blackjack started at $25. I AM NOT GONNA PLAY TWENTY-FIVE A HAND MINIMUM BLACKJACK. But then it hit me. Wheeling has $10 tables available almost all the time and there is usually at least one $15 table with a seat available (and on my last visit the recession had led to a proliferation of five-dollar tables). But Wheeling's customer base is generally from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania - and Wheeling faces competition from other nearby casinos. Charles Town was setting $25 minimums for a reason I can't argue with: the tables were four and five deep with gamblers waiting for a seat. Charles Town was suddenly the closest place for slots and table games to one of the wealthiest regions on the planet: the Washington Metropolitan Area.

Then Maryland began opening casinos practically smack-dab in the middle of the region. These casinos feature computer-simulated roulette, blackjack, baccarat, etc. in addition to slots; and lots of local D.C. area people now journey 25 miles up the pike to get their gambling fix instead of a 70 mile jaunt over two-lane mountain roads.  As a result, on my last visit to Charles Town I found 4-card poker with a ten dollar minimum and blackjack and "let it ride" poker with a fifteen dollar minimum. Ah, competition and the free market.

Now Maryland is toying with the notion of opening one more casino than was originally authorized and allowing table games with live dealers. And the sixth casino is being proposed to be located in the "National Harbor" development. (And if you've never seen National Harbor, let me tell you that if you view it from across the Potomac in Virginia you'll be surprised that there are not casinos there already.)

Predictably, the operators of the currently authorized casinos are screaming bloody murder. A casino right on the banks of the Potomac River, within five to fifteen miles of the D.C. area's wealthiest areas, would suck the big money right out of even Arundel Mills (located 25 miles outside of D.C. near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport).

Put it this way: if you want to drive burger joints out of business, locate a bunch of them within two blocks of each other. Each will dilute the business of the others until none of them is viable anymore.

It's the same with casinos. Regulate odds and payouts and let them proliferate willy-nilly, and in time the only ones left standing will be those which cater to people who can afford to gamble or which offer fairer and more attractive odds and limits.

Ah, competition and the free market.

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