The history of casinos does not begin with “fabulous Las Vegas”. Casinos began in Italy in the 1800’s as part of a carnival. People have always had derived great pleasure when engaged in two things: playing games and making money. Combine both desires and we have a potent mix for one of the most profitable recreational activities in the world: gambling.
And you think adults have a monopoly on this ancient vice? You have not heard of internet gaming? Our kids are champions and aficionados on this modern version of the old arcades where parents and their children bonded while doing the rides and shooting the galleries. Today and with computers, kids can do it alone at home, in school, in bed and anywhere they want.
But back to casinos. We must admit that Vegas raised gambling from being a prohibited activity to a legalized one and given a status of legitimacy and respectability, no matter how dubious, it never had before. A visit to the popular city has become a must for many tourists in the US, maybe not to gamble but to catch the world-renowned shows of such past celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Elvis Presley, Celine Dione, to name a few. And because of Vegas, boxing has become both a lucrative global sports and pay-per-view spectacle as well.
So, when we talk of playing and of money, we actually talk about recreation and business – two human activities that are as essential as basketball to a teenager or selling to a vendor. Happy, in fact, are those who make a good living doing what they enjoyed doing as kids: athletes, musicians, visual artists and toymakers, among them.
As elementary kids, I and my friends played Lucky 9 or Black Jack under the floorboards of our old wooden schoolhouse – a place no principal or teacher ever visited. Not even girls were welcome. What happened there, stayed there – for only boys having fun knew. In our time though, money was never involved. Or, at least, I never gambled. Do you realize the overreaching influence of casinos? Those cards look innocent enough in the hands of an elderly person playing solitaire or, perhaps, in the hands of a magician. But such is the nature of trickery, of sleight-of-hand and of deception.
A lot of human follies and misdeeds are born of the desire to be diverted from the hardships and pains of living. And at times, from the monotonous rhythm of daily life. Students hit the billiard hall after class to be with the gang or to supposedly apply the laws of Physics. Unwinding employees visit the bar to drink and laugh off their fatigue and woes at work. And housewives don their tights and rubber shoes to dance the Zumba and escape the fattening and dull home scene. All part of our natural desire to refresh and recreate our bodies, minds and souls.
Until enterprising individuals discovered a way to put all the fancy ways of “refreshing and recreating” within one place. Hence, today, a casino houses a disco or ballroom place, a movie house, a theater stage, an arcade, bars, restos, hotels, shopping malls, gyms, spas, pools and — Shazam! — a casino joint. And before we forget, they have added an exclusive place for kids as well. It is no longer a simple casino but a “casino and resorts”. And since the children gradually appreciate how much fun they had at the casino – er, “casino and resorts”, or is it merely “resorts” now! – they grow up thinking how nice, educational and well-meaning these joints really are. The newer ones avoid using the word “casino” totally and use more fancy titles or neutral, exotic names. Sleight-of-hand! Welcome, Mammon, to our modern city and our modern lives!
And people are buying it! Talk about quick hands and you have bundles of money passing from the hands of otherwise smart and hardworking people to the hands of smarter and easy-working high-rollers. Or even just some loose change accompanied by a prayer for winnings. Gambling can be defined simply as investing some money to make more money — the same definition as that of enterprise or business. In this case, your chances of making more money, however, are as thin as mist on a hot, clear day.
Government officials are obviously caught between pleasing the conservatism and morals of those who totally oppose casinos and the need to strike a balance between regulating gambling and raising revenue. Like rebellion, gambling has ceased to be merely a vice or habit but has become a socio-political problem, which spawns in all levels of society. Hence, casino operators and their promoters in officialdom have effectively ingratiated themselves into the welcoming arms of the people. The modus operandi works: Give part of the loot to the poor and to worthwhile causes — a patent conscience-salving political smokescreen – thus, government also plays magic! Wash dirty money and use it for a good purpose. Remember the bishop who received an expensive car from the president through a donation from the games and amusement office? A special case of divine spell!
Yes, almost everyone has a finger in the pie. Play and Win – as the ad for a scratch game goes. You put your faith and your fate on the possibility that you will address your financial needs through a worldly system meant to entice you to put your last hope on their promise until you lose all your hope on everything else. Mammon, the god of money, is not a fictitious internet-gaming character but is a living being reigning in the economic systems of the world. You probably know him by his many other devious names; but he rules this world. And he uses governments, businesses, leaders and ordinary men and women to make sure that more and more people put their trust in money or gold than in God. For example, in California, charitable gambling (such as bingo and church raffles) generates a lot of money and attracts all sorts of criminal acts by robbers and scammers.
The very center of our metropolis is now dedicated to this burgeoning enterprise, which grew out of a desert place in Nevada. Las Vegas was founded by outlaws and criminals – remember? Today, we have welcomed the casinos’ ability to help government finance roads — including skyways so people can get to the casinos more quickly. From Vegas to Macau and, now, to Manila, we have casinos galore, including all the social and cultural extravaganzas only a modern city can host.
The casinos’ glittering lights will attract the hungry birds and animals, as well as the night owls and the crawling preys. The radiance will even reach distant lands, beckoning rich dwellers there to this exotic place of exotic people with exotic habits. Many, however, just fly in and go straight into the casino, sleep in the hotel and fly out without ever seeing the city. If night owls in fancy human clothes ever sleep at all! At least, they saw the exotic dances in the hotels.
The hungry vultures and beasts and all the flying and groveling vermin among us and coming from other shores would love to have a place where they can enjoy themselves along with other unwary creatures of our land. Creatures whose simple desire may be to rest a while and drink the refreshing water and hear the beautiful songs of birds in a Paradise-like lagoon. A magical place to see and visit. A hopeful and happy time to have and experience. Why not? Looks real enough.
Abracadabra. . . . Poof!
(Composite photo above from www.google.com)