Friday, April 20, 2007

The city that's 'Always turned on'

‘Always turned on’ is the caption for ‘Atlantic City’. This is a caption adapted consciously for the sake of branding.

Atlantic City is located 2 hours from the New York, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. And it’s designed for one purpose: to be the Las Vegas (The Sin City) of the East Coast. And how do you do that? Build flashy casinos and legalize gambling. All ingredients of a ‘Sin City’ automatically come in. You’ve got money, casinos, gambling, stage shows, lots of tourists, and lots of shops, lots of lights, a fabulous beach, and dance bars. I’m not sure if prostitution and assorted stuff is as prevalent as in Las Vegas - which is probably why people say Atlantic City isn’t there (as a Sin City) yet.

The picture below is that of a tourism office that’s bang on the edge of the city at the entry point. You can’t miss it because it’s beautiful. You don’t have to know anything about the city before you plan to visit since these guys assist you in everything.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk, which is the world’s first boardwalk. It’s now filled with all kinds of stores selling exotic stuff. Just walking here is a great time-pass. Wonder why Indian cities with much better and larger shoreline beaches – like Chennai – haven’t implemented the boardwalk concept.

The Ripley’s Odditorium.

The Trump Taj-Mahal theme based Casino. Actually it isn’t anything close to Taj Mahal in its style, but I don’t think people from this part of the world know that. I read somewhere that Donald Trump spent 1 billion dollars to build this, and he sold junk bonds for the purpose. The jazz just oozes out.

Casinos are generally divided into two sections. One is full of slot machines like below where you really don’t have any say in the output. You just keep putting in money one unit at a time – from a nickel to a dollar depending on how risky/wealthy you are – and press the slot machine wheel. If the machine gives you a good combination, you get rewards. You lose otherwise, which is what happened most of time. I gave up after wasting 20$. People just sit there and feed in 5 cents at a time and spend 100$ a day.

This is what was surprising: you have a lot of old and poor-looking men and women playing in these machines. Most of the players were over 40/50 year old. I guess these guys want to gamble but just don’t want to think. Just watching it was like waiting for an absolution that’s never gonna come.

The (shaky pic, which is all I could get) is the second part of the Casino – which is what most of us have seen in movies. There are different types of games here. I picked up the Big Six Wheel of fortune, the Double attack Blackjack and American Roulette here. I tried hard to understand Craps, but it just didn’t sink in - maybe since it was late in the night.

At the end of playing in the Casino for about 9 hours, I broke several myths I had about Casinos:
  1. You don’t lose big time unless you are real stupid and/or bet real hard.
  2. Its 25% brain, 15% speed and 60% luck.
  3. The chances of winning and losing are 30% and 70%. Yes, you do get to win. We started with 500$ in bets, hit a bottom of 240$ at one point, and came out in the end with 492$ after playing 10$ as tips. And this was our first time. I’m not implying we were smart - you’d do just as good.
  4. The Casino floor had at least 5% Indians – all youngsters, all into the games. Indians gamble - and gamble real hard - given the chance.
  5. It’s all professional. And there’s not even a security guard to vet you at the entrance, let alone brick-bodied bullies.
  6. Gambling is like dope or alcohol. Stupid people get addicted, and smart ones just use it to pass time. I don’t see why nations like ours are too conservative.
  7. Casinos make a truckload of money because there are truckloads of people who want to pass time. I could relate to what DeNiro said in 'Casino': "Running a casino is like robbing a bank with no cops around. For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It's like a morality car wash."
  8. Casinos don't trick you to make you lose money. Games are purely built on probability, and, like most things, the probability is designed not in our favor in the long run.
Just watching different players bet was an entirely different experience. It’s just amazing. People just throw 100$ (and these are not real wealthy people) bet on 1 square out of 35, and just lose all that in no second. No sweat.

I closed the mad-day starting the mad-drive back at 3.00 in the night and reached home at dawn, on what is usually a 4.5 hours drive. Still waiting for any over-speeding tickets I might’ve picked because over-speeding is an understatement to what I did the entire route on a stormy, slushy night. See ya around!

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