It’s one o’clock in the afternoon. My shift just started and the line of guests stretches to the entrance. Some of them are young, but most are old. Many are men, but women make up the majority. Fewer than half the guests are white. Many use an ID other than a valid driver’s license. The casino accepts foreign IDs as long as it has an address on it, which we need for tax purposes in case they hit a jackpot.
That’s what everyone here is thinking: jackpot, jackpot, jackpot. No one thinks about the taxes, which are severe. The tribe’s sovereign status shields guests from having to pay state taxes, but nothing stops the Feds from taking their share.
There are 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States. Of these tribes, over 240 operate gaming enterprises with around 400 casinos and Bingo halls in 28 states. That’s a lot of casinos.
Indian casinos are big business. The National Indian Gaming Commission, an independent regulatory agency that reports to the Department of the Interior, holds that gross gaming revenue for 2008 was $26.7 billion—an increase of more than $500 million from 2007.
I’ve heard a lot of people say casinos are “recession proof,” but many casinos are taking in less revenue than they did last year. They aren’t losing their ass like the enterprises in Vegas, but there have been two layoffs since I’ve been here and rumors of more to come.
Anyway, nobody hits a jackpot on my shift.
If I want, I can look up the guests’ accounts on my computer and see if they’ve ever hit a jackpot. The computer tells me all kinds of things. I can see how often they come to the casino, what kinds of games they like to play, how much they bet on average per month, per week, per day. It never ceases to amaze me the things I can find out about my guests.
One thing I learned early on is that you can’t tell who the high rollers are by looking at them. You could scour the casino high and low looking for someone who fit the profile of a “high-roller” or even a “gambler” and you’d be severely disappointed. Sure, every once in a while you’ll see some older guys with fake teeth and expensive tans in BMW polo shirts (really) flashing thick rolls of $100 bills, but the portly little Filipina grandmother of six with the Louis Vuitton handbag will outspend him six days out of seven. (Unless she’s a Bingo player. Bingo players bring in less than 1% of the casino’s total revenue.)
Half the casino is smoking; the other half is non-smoking. I’m working the smoking half today. Things are more interesting on this side of the casino, but it bothers me to see people smoking who clearly shouldn’t be, like the severely arthritic woman in a wheelchair across the way. Go home, I want to tell her. Go take care of yourself.
It’s pretty much a guarantee that every member of the opposite sex over the age of 50 will flirt with me. I don’t mind. I like my exchanges with the guests to be pleasant and free of drama, especially our VIPs. I assisted one today. Let’s call her Darla.
Darla is 43 years old, Asian, bi-lingual, and married. Darla could pass for 33 in the dark and will be one of those women who turn heads well past 50. When she wants to anyway. Today isn’t one of those days. Darla just wants to gamble. She’s been to the casino every day this week, more than sixty days over the last three months.
Some of our guests practically live here.
I help Darla exchange her food comps for play. I really want to flirt with her, but don’t.
The machines make a lot of noise even when no one is playing them. This is called the “attract sequence.” If you’ve been to a casino you’ve heard them. The urgent three-note call—the electronic equivalent of a door knock. The frenetic jingle that spastically loops up and down the scale. Modulated excerpts from the jackpot sequence. It’s all very Pavlovian. Together they blend together into a kind of happy, mischievous soundtrack that drowns out whatever noise the humans in the room might be making and says, “Play me! I’m yours!”
I can usually block them out, but today there’s a machine that makes a noise like a high-pitched piano key being struck over and over again. It’s supposed to mimic the sound of a payout, but the machines in our casino haven’t paid out in coins for years and years.
I don’t get paid until next week and my back hurts.
There are a lot of reasons why someone might come to the counter in a bad mood. They could be having a bad day, which means they’re down. They could be very stupid, the mechanics of maintaining a valid driver’s license being beyond the scope of feasibility, thereby making membership in a casino rewards program and all its perks an easily frustrated hope. (Like the woman I helped a few years ago who had no teeth, no driver’s license, and no underwear. She did, however, have a pack of Marlboros tucked into her sweat pants.) Or they could have been waiting in line for a really long time. That’s usually what sets them off. Nine times out of ten, it’s the wait.
Thankfully, no one goes off on me today. I do, however, have a banned guest. A banned guest is a guest who has been banned from the property. The computer doesn’t tell me why. The computer tells me to call surveillance. My supervisor made the call because it’s hard to pretend to be helping a guest while you’re narc-ing them out on the phone. My supervisor tells surveillance where she is, what she looks like, what’s she wearing until they find her with the cameras. There’s no confrontation. My supervisor hangs up the phone, hands over her ID, and the banned guest goes away, thinking she’s pulled a fast one.
There are lots of reasons why a guest could be banned. They could have tried something illegal, like lie about their documentation, cheat at the tables, or steal from another guest. I say “try” because guests never get away with anything. They know this and get frustrated and sometimes their frustration gets them banned.
Bad manners will get you banned.
Most of my shift passes before things slow down enough to shoot the shit with my coworkers. One is Vietnamese, the other Chinese. They’re amazing at their jobs. Terrifically sweet people. We don’t hang out.
I’ve been working at this casino for over two years, which is two years longer than I’d originally planned, but I like it here. I guess you could say I like the people.
I finish my shift helping guests who were born in 1911 and 1989. I help an old man with Parkinson’s and a young woman with crazy tattoos. A guest offers to take me home. It’s not a tempting offer, but I pretend that it is.
I never do find out what my banned guest did to get banned.
One of my guests sets his beer down on the counter and leaves without his driver’s license. I chase him down and return it to him. He thanks me. He is so, so grateful. He doesn’t know what he is thinking.