All Bets Are Off

by Mike McHugh

140112 All Bets Are OffIt’s ironic that I live in the heart of the Casino Belt—that stretch of the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast—the one place in the world where gaming establishments outnumber Starbucks locations.

The irony is that I don’t gamble. I feel like a priest living in the red light district.

My fascination with gambling ended about five minutes after I first set foot in a casino upon moving here. That’s about how long it took for the slot machines to consume all of the change in my pocket. The only other place where I emptied my pocket so fast was on a toll road in Connecticut.

I dumped about forty bucks into the machines, and not once did I get anything back. The company that made them must have been the same one that supplied the vending machines in my office break room.

The experience blinded me to the allure of casino gambling. That’s probably a good thing. Otherwise, I might have ended up in the same boat as all those giving souls who swarm here from out of state to dump money into the Louisiana economy. The average parking lot of a west Louisiana casino has more Texas license plates than a Dallas Cowboys tailgate party.

I often notice the same cars in the parking lot time after time. I wonder whether these belong to Texans who are particularly giving, particularly foolish, or more likely, were just abandoned for lack of gas money after a long night at the tables.

I have to believe that the few Louisiana vehicles I see there belong to people who came for the same reason as me—to see the shows. I can’t see them coming to gamble, as I haven’t noticed any Bourré tables in the gaming establishments I’ve visited.

The concerts are one advantage of having casinos located in your back yard. They usually draw big-name, classic acts. I’m talking bands like The Temptations, The Beach Boys, and Grand Funk Railroad. If it weren’t for casinos, you’d have to travel by time machine in order to see them live.

Granted, such bands generally consist of just one original member accompanied by a group of younger replacement musicians.  The original guy, usually kept alive by virtue of a respirator, and in some cases actually embalmed and propped up against a loudspeaker, is key in these ensembles. It’s his presence onstage that lets the band tour under its original name and charge sixty dollars a ticket. Without him, they would be just another cover band, playing at Annie’s Juke Joint for tips while constantly ducking as the patrons hurl empty longnecks in their direction.

It’s all good, though, because the replacement guys work hard to make their sound true to the original. If you just close your eyes, you’d swear you were hearing the band in its heyday.

And you might as well close them, too, because it’s hard to get a glimpse of the stage when you’re stuck behind someone dressed in sackcloth and a ten-gallon hat.

Fleur White Small

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