We have been asked to choose a few sites to conduct observation on people, and their interactions with places, things, rules and other people. For my primary site, the bingo was suggested as a place to go. However, i have been to the bingo before and realise it is generally a niche place where older people tend go to spend time socialising whilst doing a spot of hardcore gambling. I was however interesting in the gambling aspect of people’s interactions and wanted to look to a broader range of ages so that is why i made the decision to make the trip to the local casino.
It is not a place I am overly familiar with, and having only been there once or twice, i’ve never tried my hand at playing any of the games. At first glance, the casino is an impressive building, this continues into the interior entrance where, everything is clean and modern chic, giving it an exclusive feel. This, alongside bouncers positioned at the door and barriers inside the entrance suggest the casino is only interested in a specific clientele (probably middle/upper class people who are relatively sober). Another thing which immediately drew my interest was what people were wearing. In general, people seemed to be dressed to impress. Suits, shirts, dresses, fancy skirts, you name it, it was there. This may have had to do with the fact it was late night at a peak time. However, the impression given was that you had to present yourself in a high standard at any time whilst there. This was only backed up by the fact that my friend was refused entry until he removed his Scotland football jacket and put it in the cloak room.
After swiping my ID card through the machine (again, displaying traits of exclusivity and security), we proceeded upstairs to the cavernous casino hall. This is even more impressive than the entrance downstairs and the reflective surfaces, deep red walls, dark wood finishes and layout gave the place a classy air. Upon trying to capture this first money shot, i was promptly approached and asked to put my phone away as it was against policy to take photos whilst the gambling was taking place. This gave the whole experience a more serious, slightly sinister tone in my head. I’m not against gambling, but i have a clear opinion that in gambling, the company is always the overall winner whilst the customer lose, thats how they make their money.
The hall is divided into a number of different stylishly arranged sections. The game tables in the centre, bar and seating area off to the side and restaurant off to the back. The first thing i did which i had never done before was wander about the middle tables for some time. Eventually i picked a roulette table to stop by and observe. Standing slightly back from everyone I could sense the tension in the air. The table was fairly crowded with 4-5 people around it all mute and staring intently at the spinning wheel. It stopped, the tender gave out chips to two people and took the rest off the table back into the slots.This all happened so fast I didn’t know what to make of it. From those walking away empty handed and muttering it was clear that they had lost. Strangely enough, the people who had just been handed sizeable piles of chips were poker faced and didn’t seem to react at all. This suggested they were regulars and were used to either outcome, even if it was losing or winning substantial amounts of money.
Something which was clear to me was how the chip system worked, you pay for chips and then use them at the tables (often rather ruthlessly). They are an invented currency, only used at that location, this made people far less reluctant to dish them out compared to handing out ten or twenty pound notes. Complete insanity! I was thinking.
In the meantime I stood and watched for a few more rounds, trying to figure things out. Apart from the jargon the tender was saying, he didn’t offer any help to myself, bewildered and standing trying to figure out what the squares on the table meant. Of course though.. I had expected as much. His main concern is looking after the people who are playing at his table. This made the whole thing slightly intimidating, it was meant for those who knew what they were doing. For me it read as “no newbies here, this is a serious game for serious people and serious money” If i had asked, i’m sure i would have received a basic overview of the game but i felt it was out of my comfort zone to be doing that right in front of the veterans.
It appeared that most people at the tables were men and the women who were there tended to be older. I got the feeling that most of the women were there to try and win money as they often (but not 100% of the time!) sat or stood alone and didn’t talk to anyone. On the other hand (contrary to the first experience) many younger men seemed to be with friends who were laughing and talking whilst gambling, this suggests it is also a social pastime for younger adults, and everything isn’t just about the money for all parties. However, with that many people crowded around such a small place, there would be more interaction between them if it were in a more social space, say a bar for example. This again demonstrated that the social and game rules were always lingering in people’s subconscious.
After standing at the blackjack (one game I do know the rules for) table for a short time, a man swore after losing a hand. All the tender said was “please do not swear at the table sir” in a very robotic manner and continued dealing cards. The tenders seem like they are being told to act indifferently to the customers and do not interact unless directly spoken to or there is a breach in the rules. I find this very strange to observe as human behavior. It seemed mechanical for them going about their tasks as if they had left their personality behind when they started work.
Around the tables we saw a couple of people at different slot machines. They were often by themselves but occasionally the younger guys were in small groups and making a lot of noise. These seemed to be much more relaxed small atmospheres without staring eyes and unknown rules. I could understand why some people preferred these as a method of gambling. I thought it might suit me better so I went over to one and had a quick go. To be honest I didn’t find it very enjoyable, the machine was purely based on luck even if the instructions were all clearly printed on the side. After losing a few pounds, I promptly gave up and joined my friends at the bar (Unmanned profit making stations I think i’ll call them).
The bar was a whole new story, a big semi circle worktop with neon under lighting and bottles of every kind stacked to your head, very classy. Typically a noisy bar, lots of people crowded around, chatting and drinking or sitting down chatting and drinking. On that note, i won’t lie and say this was an uncomfortable part of the casino to experience. One interesting thing I noticed which I hadn’t realised before was that some people were using chips to buy drinks. Clever tactic to pry more money from people I thought. Casino’s literally have their own currency for anything you want to purchase inside.
On a couple of side points there was a very conveniently placed ATM next to the cash/chip exchange, again adding to the vibe of money grappling from the institution. Also the ‘pit boss’ (as my friend later named him) stood in the centre of the tables hawk eyeing everyone and everything to make sure no cheating was going on. No messing here.
To me it seems like the casino is a place to go for anyone as it has a bit of everything. Whether you are partial to a drink, like the thrill of gambling or simply want to have a nice meal in the restaurant, it’s all there on offer and marketed very well. It is very well presented and attracts a certain standard off class however different the people may be. However, I personally feel the place has a bit of an uptight, serious tone to it, especially when gambling. It is in the nature of the game I suppose. I felt a bit out of my depth around the gaming tables, although it was an interesting experience from which i learnt alot. I think i’ll stick to the bar and restaurant areas for the time being though.