Assorted sordid thoughts about the big new casino in town.

April 8, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

I decided to take a walk this afternoon, an exercise break from a work routine which too often requires that I be hovered over a keyboard and phone. On a lark, I headed toward the northeast corner of downtown St. Louis to check out a well-promoted “Burger Bar,” which happens to be located in the largest casino in St. Louis, the Lumiere.

Everyone in St. Louis knows about the Lumiere Casino thanks to its huge electronic sign right in front, only a few feet from busy Interstate 70. On that huge video screen, you can often see pictures of buxom women beckoning you to have fun at the casino. Some of them are showing you to your room, showing you the bed on which you may sleep once you have been relieved of your money downstairs.  I’ve often wondered how many accidents have been caused on Highway 70 by people who were watching the gorgeous women instead of watching where they were driving.

Image by Erich Vieth

Image by Erich Vieth

I’d never been inside the Lumiere Casino until today. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw: slot machines and other gambling stations as far as my eye could see. The muscle-bound greeter (or was he a bouncer?) told me that there are 2,000 gambling machines and 80 gambling tables on the 75,000 square foot floor. The Lumiere, which has only been open for a couple of years in St. Louis, is quite a step up from the smaller casinos previously serving St. Louis area gamblers. This is definitely a major league casino.

As I stood there, transfixed by the thousands of blinking lights decorating the thousands of slot machines, the Greeter told me that business has been good, even in these difficult economic times. With a stiff smile, he advised me to come by if I had any further questions, and to otherwise go have a good time.

Before I go further with my story, I need to confess that I’m not much of a gambler. I’ve probably gambled a total of $100 over my entire life, and that includes three trips to Las Vegas (always en route to driving out to hike the Grand Canyon). I find gambling more interesting to watch than to do. Or, perhaps I don’t want to throw away my money. Or, perhaps, gambling is not my type of “fun.”

Casinos are such strange places, and Lumiere is no exception. On the way to the gambling floor, you pass many in-casino stores working extremely hard to sell you things you couldn’t possibly need, all kinds of things with which to decorate yourself and your loved ones. Lots of glittery high-priced baubles. Lots of opportunity to prove that you are somebody by putting on a peacock-like display by purchasing these exquisitely-marketed non-necessities.

Did I mention that the Lumiere is a fake boat?  It is.

Lumiere Place, St. Louis’s newest gaming palace, just dramatically raised the ante on the riverboat casino scene: it’s a $507 million, 24-story, Las Vegas-style complex that incorporates a “boat,” to technically satisfy Missouri’s legal standards for casinos. The building rises several blocks away from the Mississippi river, but the casino floor is actually an eight-foot-thick concrete raft afloat in a basin holding more than 1.5 million gallons of water. Secured in place by 100 vertical retaining rods, it’s said to be seaworthy, but it’s not going on any cruises. Casino guests never even see the water.

I never saw that water either, but I eventually found the “Burger Bar.   I didn’t stick around to try the food, however. I decided not to get that $16 American Kobe Beef Burger, or the standard burger topped with an order ($30) of black truffles. And I certainly didn’t feel in the mood to grab a $60 Rossini Berger which includes truffles, foie grass and madeira sauce (if you’re on a budget, you can get the basic burger and fries for $13).  I wasn’t enchanted with the atmosphere of the restaurant.  It seemed concocted, smothered with the same sort of tired oppressed smiles you see throughout the entire building. This is, after all the opposite of a family business. This is a business run by big corporate money working hard to get you to hand over some of your money by dangling hundreds of tired resentful human puppets in public view, puppets who would clearly rather be somewhere else doing something else . . . except for the money they are being paid to stand there and try to smile. When I next get the craving for burger, I will go to one of the many authentic bars in town, where I can order an unpretentious burger from a waiter who doesn’t seem so alienated from his or her labors.

As I walked out of the Burger Bar, I passed by the football field filled with gambling machines once again. This time, I watched some of the dozens of people parked in front of slot machines, most of them obese and sickly looking. It occurred to me that if I were an employer attempting to assemble a first-rate work force, these slot machine gamblers would be extremely low on my list. They looked like they had far too many pressing health issues (many of them self-imposed, evidenced by their weight and by the cigarettes in their hands). The fact that they were spending their free time yanking levers under hypnotizing lights raised red flags that they also had warped priorities.  I watched them for a while. Even when they won the jackpot they didn’t smile. But isn’t that supposed to be the point of it, that you’ll be “happy” when you win the jackpot? Instead, I saw them scrambling to feed more coins back into the machine even as piles of coins were spilling out their machines, ka-ching! ka-ching!

I should add that I’m only commenting on the physical appearance of the people playing the slots–I could not see any of the tables from where I was standing and walking.

OK, I’ll say it . . . many of my friends occasionally go to casinos and gamble.  Nonetheless, I’m ambivalent about casino gambling.  I don’t think casinos should be outlawed, though I am highly suspicious about the claims that the taxes raised by casinos are increasing funding for schools (the original promise made to taxpayers when Missouri first allow gambling). Perhaps it’s that I just don’t see the point of gambling. Complicating things, I know of a couple lives that have been disrupted, possibly ruined, by casinos.

As I walked at into the fresh sunshine to complete my walk, I had some dark cynical thoughts about casinos.  I wondered about the best way to discourage people from patronizing casinos, short of passing laws prohibiting them. I thought of two ways to get the job done.

Number one: pass a law that requires casino advertising to use human models that resemble typical casino customers–you know, those unhealthy flat-affect sorts of people I saw parked at many of the slot machines. I guarantee you that images of sickly gamblers on that high-tech billboard would drive away thousands of customers.

Since this is supposedly a Christian nation (according to many Americans) casino owners and customers shouldn’t have any objection to letting Jesus have a little spot to preach right front of the main casino entrance, right? Therefore, my second idea is to allow Jesus (or someone who looks like Jesus) to preach out of front of the casino.

image by Erich Vieth

Image by Erich Vieth - based on 1890 painting by Bloch

“Jesus” would simply ask the approaching customers whether they had any money that they didn’t absolutely need, and he would also ask whether they would hand over that money to the poor instead of burning it up in the casino.

Then again, if their Savior was greeting gamblers with this sort of bleeding heart message, it might cause the gamblers to get irate. I would recommend that a few of those casino bouncers stick around to watch over Jesus in case there’s any trouble.  Come to think of it, don’t bother with the bouncers.  The money involved here is too big.  Jesus would end up in jail within an hour, even if he were the real Jesus.


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Category: American Culture, Art, Religion, Saint Louis, snake oil, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Danny says:

    Erich, I couldn't agree with you more in this post. I feel the same ambivalence and non-enjoyment about gambling and casinos, and have beat you in a contest of least amount spent ($50 over the course of 3 trips to Lake Tahoe). Also, I'm glad you cleared up my curiosity about how the casino appeased the boat clause.

    Lastly, I love the idea of discouraging gambling without outlawing it. What about something equivalent to the surgeon general's warnings on cigarette ads? Something like having the neon sign flash statistics about the average amount spent gambling versus what you could purchase with the same amount? Or maybe instead of advertising "loosest slots" they give stats about the real odds of winning a jackpot versus other more likely events… like having an anvil fall on your head.

    great article.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Danny: I like the stats idea. Let's put up percentage of winners and losers from the previous day, along with the average amount won and the average amount lost per gambler. Oh, gee. The "loosest slots in town" resulted in 84% of the gamblers LOSING money to the average tune of $142. "If you enter our opulent gambling palace, it will probably cost you $142."

  2. TonyC says:

    I have to admit, I've never understood the appeal of gambling.

    Growing up in the UK, gambling was bingo halls and bookmakers (betting on horses and greyhounds), and the weekly football pools. I worked in a 'bookies' office for a couple of years while at college (the hours were good, and it kept my brain active) but I guess it opened my eyes very early to the business of gambling: hundreds of people, mostly not well off, spending money on bets they should be spending on necessities.

    When they won, it was 'whoop-dee-doo' and off to the pub and the best piece of fish from the chip shop. When they lost (mostly) it was just another grey day.

    The bookie, on the gripping hand, never had a grey day. There was always enough for his expensive vacations, his & her new cars every year, and a house in the wealthiest part of town. He also paid well – so it wasn't as if he was some kind of neo-Victorian mill-owner stepping all over the poor.

    Gambling to me seems really really stupid. I'd much rather spend money on a new guitar (or new drum accessories for my son, or jewelery for my wife, or books for my daughter).

    Vegas never appealed to me – it always seemed like glitz and glamor with zero substance. I much prefer substance. (Times Square at least has a sense of gritty reality)

    I also have you both beat, hands down. I've spent a total of $4.39 on gambling (at today's exchange rates. 3 pounds total on a 'grand national' pool to assuage my friends.) total winnings – zero.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    If Jesus returned as Glenn Beck:

    If Jesus spoke exactly like members of the Tea Party.

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