Thirty years ago, long before I thought of making a living by writing about gambling, I got on a St. Louis riverboat to play a quick hour of blackjack.
As I boarded, a greeter placed a card in my hand. It would be used to track my losses, which, if I remember correctly, was limited to $500 over a two-hour period. The idea was that such a limit would slow compulsive gamblers.
I thought that moment had fallen out of my head forever, until my visit earlier this month to Cancun, Mexico. Seems that before people there can sit down to gamble, they must first obtain a card. Thinking that it was another loss-limit deal, and possessing only first-year Spanish skills, I left.
But it turns out you merely need to go to the casino cage or cashier to start the process of being able play. The casino staff helps you either deposit money on a smart card with an embedded chip (which also works as a loyalty card), or to buy a paper voucher with a bar code printed on it. Then you feed the card or voucher into a machine, and redeem it at the cage when done.
Those in the casino business know that anything that makes getting to the machines more difficult is a problem. And it got me to thinking about how the prevailing point of view that my state of Florida is far behind the times – with regard to gambling - is only a matter of perspective.
The casinos south of the border aren’t located in the beachfront hotels, and many times not even next to a horse or dog track. I stopped to play at The Royal Yak (why is the name in English?), which was the corner anchor of a shopping mall. The fact that it was smoky, dingy, and small was balanced by my surprise that it had an active sports book. I don’t know if the American Gaming Association is aware that even casino life just beginning to sprout in another country allows sports betting, but I figure if anyone can devise a way to employ that fact to their advantage, it’s the folks at the AGA.
Like I said, Florida legislators who argue for gambling expansion explain that our state is behind much of the rest of the country. But after my visit to Cancun – where the opportunity to create luxury casinos via partnerships with brand-name hotels has been missed – I am eager to see what unforeseen developments will tilt the gambling industry in another direction in future years. I do remember that not much more than a decade ago, Texas Hold ‘em was not the poker game of choice, slot machines actually used coins (which patrons collected in souvenir cups), and people smoked everywhere. Now we’re on the verge of gambling via handheld devices and seeing the video games we grew up become slots, in the name of “skill-based gaming.”
I also think those in the gambling business are too close to things, with each incremental development seeming to move at a snail’s pace. But if you take a step back, to take in another piece of the world, sometimes the bigger picture becomes much clearer.