Since it is open 24 hours, I proposed to The Editors of City Paper that I would occupy the new Horseshoe Casino on Russell Street for 24 hours straight as a paying customer, even though this is not a full-fledged casino, technically. I don't mean to start off complaining, but I'm good at it, so look, this Horseshoe is not a 100 percent full-on Casino because it does not have a sportsbook, where you can get a bet down on all manner of sporting events, such as Your Baltimore Ravens, but also any other sports thing going. I support a well-regulated Casino, and I would like to say let's get that Sports Book going, OK? Why draw the line at what you can bet on? Why call yourself a casino until a person can walk in and bet on Hockey?
Also, I do not feel bad that Gambling ruins people's lives any more than I feel bad that alcohol ruins people's lives or eating potato chips is bad for you, and in Full Disclosure, I did not make prior arrangements with anyone at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore with respect to me, a marginal member of The Press, being in their casino, and asking for special bullshit Press access, because I am here as a paying, playing customer, and my Experience is the Real. Furthermore, I am making an Adult Decision, a choice, freely, to push my own money into a slot machine or a poker machine, or onto a roulette or blackjack table, or onto a bar for some drinks, or into some of the restaurants here for 24 hours' worth of Casino.
I am getting paid to record my experience, and I would like to take this opportunity to advise everyone to always bet with your head, and not over it, players. This is your Trigger Warning, and if you think you might have a problem with gambling, call 1-800-522-4700, or click click click mdproblemgambling.com on the World Wide Web, because according to the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center on Problem Gambling, 150,000 adults in Maryland are problem gamblers, and "feelings of shame, embarrassment, helplessness or hopelessness about the gambling problem may also discourage a person from getting help," so you might be one, a problem gambler. Not me, though, I'm fine! I came to do this casino before it does me! I came to this casino to play. I also came to this casino to eat and drink, and inadvertently listen to bands play Led Zeppelin music or 'Summer of 69' or whatever. I did not come to this casino to sleep. I think this might be a bad idea.
HOUR 1, Approximately 11:30 a.m. Ample Parking
If you ever drive to the Horseshoe Casino, the parking is pretty simple to get at, and it's free (on non-event days at the Stadium), because that's a good way to get people to justify coming to the casino, right? I would suggest you park on the rooftop level of the garage, because that makes it easier to remember where the hell you parked your car.
I didn't drive here, though, the Photographer, my companion for most of my 24-hour stay, did the driving, because even though Sleep Deprivation is my drug of choice, there's no way I'm gonna drive here, spend 24 hours, and then drive home, are you kidding me? I plan on having a cocktail or two in the casino over the next day, and I ain't going out like Michael Phelps, no offense.
Maybe Michael Phelps is in the system now because he found a place where you can get a drink 24 hours a day. He was here, he left, and next thing you know he's over the double line in the Fort McHenry tunnel going 80. I used to commute to work via that tunnel every workday, and I always went 80 in that fucker when I could, when there weren't a buncha amateurs going 60 or some unrealistic rush hour speed. Never mind what the speed limit in the tunnel is, you get in that tunnel, you want to get the fuck out of that tunnel because you start thinking about how much Harbor water is over your fucking head right now, especially if you are not a strong swimmer, which of course does not apply to Baltimore's celebrated Olympian.
Anyway, Michael Phelps was doing something I bet lots of people have already done, after exiting a place that serves drinks 24 hours a day, and he didn't have somebody driving his car for him. So keep that in mind when you're out in Baltimore some evening and it's 1:45 a.m. and the lights are coming on and you're getting kicked out, but you wanna keep going, get another drink, now there's a place to do that. I'm not in charge of what you do, any more than I am in charge of what the Photographer will do. He is on his own. I think we got here at 11:30 a.m. We had to stop and get money and pick up the cigars I bought for this occasion.
The first thing you notice about the Horseshoe Casino is that it's, well, nice. In Baltimore I think we have been conditioned to believe we can't have nice things. But since it's a casino, it's not really nice, it's bad, right? It's a bad thing. So I guess we'll keep it, eh?
This place is all new, it's not worn down from use yet, but the inside will never stink of stale cigarette smoke, and it's got all these great endless-pattern rugs with horseshoes on 'em, and everything is shiny metal and high ceilings with decorative wall treatments and sleek giant chandeliers and tasteful slats of wood arranged to create divided spaces without interrupting the openness of the space and leather couches and relief-patterned ceilings, and I suggest you come here just to walk around and look at this place as if it is a Museum, it's fucking fascinating, visually, all the crazy slot machines with goofy themes like sex and the city and omg! kittens and weird automated/video games that do not require interaction with any humans, there's this open space right in the middle of the two-story general gambling acreage of casino floor, and when you walk through the fields of slot machines and gaming tables to get to the edge of this hole, you will reflexively look down from your spot on the upper floor, and you will see a bar, and probably the tops of the female bartender's boobs, actually, since you are looking straight down, sorry, and behind and above the bar there's a stage where there's either a DJ, a band, or some hot ladies in abbreviated outfits dancing, depending on what time of day it is. For example, there aren't any hot ladies dancing at 8 a.m., in my experience. Behind the bar/stage there are three gigantor video screens, and so when you are gazing down into this, when the joint is busy, it is a highly frenetic and visually stimulating sort of Interzone, the bustling bar, the stage action, the screens, the people down on the floor of the bar area hanging out or dancing, and you are surrounded by people milling around on both levels, and of course the sounds of music and people and the deceptively winning jingles and tinkles of the gambling machines.
Meanwhile, as you are looking across the expanse of the bar space, you may notice an extra level, seemingly stashed between the two floors of the casino, and this appears to be where some VIP action occurs, weird little special cubbyholes, where there might be a few people lounging around in a very entitled bottle-service manner, staring off into space, and then right next to that, a completely crammed party bunker, full of people who are in full festive frenzy, dancing and piling on top of each other. Beyond the bar area on the lower level, there is an area resembling a food court at the mall, with a circular bar in the center, and past that, windows, sort of an unusual feature for a casino, I think, casinos generally don't have windows easily within sight of the gaming tables, so you will get lost in time and space and play and play and play and lose all your money, right? But here at the Horseshoe there are windows, in this instance affording a view of the traffic of Russell Street, and beyond that, the new Royal Farms store across the street. There are also little porches connected to those windows, and people go outdoors, while still under the roof of the casino, and smoke pretty much whatever they've got, and there are slot machines out there, open-air slots, the option to puff and play! When it rains, the slot machines are covered up with big blanket-looking shrouds decorated with the Horseshoe logo.
Back inside, I keep wondering if there are a lot of criminals hanging out in the casino. Beyond the opportunistic types in attendance to maybe grab some money off a bar or snatch some chips out of somebody's purse. Maybe some of the Senior Citizens I see here right now are crooks, sure. Everybody in this joint is engaged in what woulda been a Criminal Activity if we were doing this a few years ago in the very same place, but I wonder if there are like, Professional, dedicated thieves, drug dealers, etc.-type Hardened Criminals here today. I tried to visually and Unconstitutionally profile the crowd here, to judge everyone according to their appearance and my own personal prejudices, but everybody just looks kinda regular. I don't know about criminals having regular working hours, so I guess maybe when it's super-late, like three in the morning, there would be a higher criminal to non-criminal rate?
The guy at the total rewards desk asked me if I was famous, like somehow he recognized me from something, but I get that a lot and it's just the sunglasses I wear, they make me look famous, and probably not in a good-famous way, I think. The total rewards desk is where you go to get your total rewards card, which you are supposed to present when you are getting ready to play a table game, or you put it in a gambling machine when you are playing and you get your total rewards, which is like having a loyalty card at a grocery store, and I stink at remembering to present any kinda bonus card at places, so this will prove to be an annoyance, every time I walk away from some gambling and I remember I didn't show my stupid card. This is all about how if you are a big-time Player at a casino, they give you stuff, free drinks, food, a hotel room, but I'm not a big-time player, I have unrealistic expectations, I want to bet a little and Win Big, you know? It's the American Dream! So screw the total rewards thing, it's a pain in the ass, and I say that in full Sour Grapes mode, because I am bad at using my total rewards card, but you might be a more organized person and really like the system, so don't forget to sign up for one of those cards if you come to the casino.
The bar closest to where we walked in is the Johnny Sánchez (see page 37), which is billed as a restaurant, but they have a really nice bar with all these wooden casks lettered with reposado and añejo and blanco on 'em, high over the TV screens for decoration. They are props, inasmuch as they do not currently have any tequila in them. Right now we are the only customers, so the bartender is expansive, and he tells us a story about what an asshole the famous local lawyer Barry Glazer is, he's the guy who does teevee ads where he says he represents "the urinated upon," something he's built up over the years from telling people, in so many words, to not piss on his leg and tell him it's raining. So anyway, somebody thinks noted prominent Attorney at Law Barry Glazer is an asshole, but that's hearsay, and would be inadmissible in a court of law. I now enjoy my first cocktail of this adventure, a delicious and refreshing Manhattan. The O's game is on TV, and I realize I can sit here and watch the whole thing, because this is a marathon, not a sprint. I must pace myself. It would be cool if this casino had a sportsbook, though, so I could get a bet down on the Birds.
Manhattan number two. Another bartender tells us some more famous-person stuff, all about how the late author Tom Clancy bought a whole floor of some condo at the Inner Harbor, the Ritz-Carlton, he says, and he gives us some suggestions for a late breakfast, the Mallow Bar, which is a dessert place with breakfast options, Lenny's Deli (breakfast all day), and Piezzetta, a pizza place with a breakfast pie. I get sidelined on my phone attempting to execute a prank on a former coworker, which, if it pays off, will result in him removing his shirt in the press box of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Time for a beer, a nice Modelo Especial, in keeping with the theme of Johnny Sánchez, and hey, they have food here, the empanada is starting to look good, we don't have to walk all the way across the casino to break our fast, right? It's a marathon, not a sprint. Day workers at this bar don't make much money. Both bartenders have other jobs in addition to this one. One guy works at the Hilton over by the ballpark, which he says will be doing good business after the O's game.
The barback does not watch baseball, but she is amused by my interest. She says this is the quietest the place will be until the wee hours. She also tells us women are more mature than men, which may explain the baseball thing, but also explains a discussion she had with the Photographer, who, she determines, is a player with the ladies. She says does not want the Photographer to be a player. I recommend the guacamole, the queso fundido, and the suckling pig carnitas tacos, for a wonderful casino breakfast. I do not recommend the empanadas. The Photographer, not much of a gambler, wanders away, put five bucks in a slot machine, and wins 40 bucks.
I have not yet made a bet at the Horseshoe Casino. Maybe some roulette for starters? The barback has been doing bar prep for over an hour, with not one second of stopping, slicing up all the various fruits and stuff for the cocktails. I wonder when I will eat again? I'm really full from all the stuff we had. I better slow down on the booze and have a Pepsi or something, gotta pace myself. The Johnny Sánchez has electrical plugs under the bar so you can charge your devices. Amenities!
A band is tuning up, but I can't tell if it's inside or outside, where there is a bar under a tent and a stage and you can smoke and drink. The Photographer just sunk $50 back into a slot machine. I am still watching the O's game and that guy Mike Rowe, from the "Dirty Jobs" show and some other show where he does stuff, is in the crowd. He looks like a guy who basically expects a camera to be on him all the time. The O's win! There's an ad for the new Ravens scratch-off lottery game on the TV, so I am in a place of gambling watching an ad for gambling while I am wishing I could be gambling on the baseball game. I wonder if I can buy scratch-offs in here?
I need a refill on my Pepsi, gotta get it together. I have made it about 150 steps from the entrance of the casino in five hours, time to move and get out there, man. The sound of the TV is off now and the mood music is flowing in the atmosphere of the casino. I'm gonna go out by the stage and smoke a cigar, maybe do some roulette along the way, not gonna play the slot machines though, those are for suckers. The Photographer just came back from wandering away again, and he won $400 on a slot machine. We're outside now, O's fans are filtering through the outdoor area, which is kind of a nice spot to hang out for a happy hour if you are on your way to your car.
Inside, I walk by the B'More Beers bar, packed with orange-shirted O's fans, and it has pretty much every local or regional beer you can get around here. It's a round bar, which I always find to be convivial, or something. I dunno, I like a round bar. The two super-friendly barmaids are big and super-busty, and they are wearing stuff that pushes everything way up there. I go outside to the smoking and outdoor slots area along Russell Street and drop $20 bucks into a double double bonus poker machine. Back inside, I realize I already lost my fucking total rewards card, shit. I musta left it in that poker machine along with my 20 bucks. I retrace my steps and notice someone has left my card in the vestibule leading to the outdoor smoking-and-slots area. An employee, whose function is to watch the vestibule and the outdoor area, points out a silver-haired old lady who turned in the card, so I thank the lady for turning in the card, and offer her two bucks to throw into a machine, which she politely declines, and then politely accepts when I insist. I gotta reward good karma, man.
The Photographer Develops a Gambling Problem
I'm playing blackjack, uncomfortably, in over my head at a $25 table. I get nervous when I start thinking about the money each little chip represents. For some reason my winnings include a $2.50-cent chip, bright pink. I decide that's my lucky chip. I walk away from the table up a couple hundred bucks and we head over to the roulette table with a friend who has popped in for a quick gambling blast. He's up $50 or so, he's happy, and he's the kinda guy who knows when to quit, but not just yet. Roulette is not a good odds game for the player compared to blackjack because roulette has zero and double zero, which increases the "house edge" to something like 5 percent, as opposed to blackjack, where, if you play strictly, the house edge can be as low as around 1 percent. So on the roulette wheel, I'm up, I'm down, I'm up, I'm down, I'm even, phew.
We order coffees from the cocktail waitress who gets drinks for people who are actively playing, although earlier I was just walking around minding my own business not playing anything and a waitress asked me if I wanted a drink, so I'm not sure if she was gaming the system to get a tip, or if that's the policy right now, but I got a drink out of it and she got a tip, and then I remember about The Cameras. I look up and see them, studding the ceiling, cameras everywhere, watching everything. That's why you are supposed to use hand signals at the blackjack tables, for the Eye in The Sky, in case there's a dispute about what you asked the dealer to do, they can review the video. The coffee served at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore is really, really good, remarkably so. The music now is Led Zeppelin, "I was told what it means to be A MAN, la la doin' la la la THE BEST I CAN. Awwwwwwwrrk."
Roulette has weird math, man, the field of numbers on the table is divided into stuff like "1st 12" and "3rd 12," and "2 to 1," along with even and odd, and red, and of course, black, for the "Passenger 57" bet, in the Major Motion Picture of the same name, the great Wesley Snipes says "Always bet on black," but don't do that really, always, it's not gonna come up every time, OK? Sometimes bet on black. The Photographer is now into me for 50 bucks because of his recent roulette problem, down from the hundreds of slot machine dough he had, damn.
We read one of the pamphlets available at the Horseshoe Casino, for Problem Gambling, and the Photographer does not test well on a self-evaluation.
1. Have you often gambled longer than you had planned? Yes__x__ No____
2. Have you often gambled until your last dollar was gone? Yes____ No__x__
3. Have thoughts of gambling caused you to lose sleep? Yes__x__ No____
4. Have you used your income or savings to gamble while letting bills go unpaid? Yes__x__ No____
5. Have you made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling? Yes____ No__x__
6. Have you broken the law or considered breaking the law to pay for your gambling? Yes____ No__x__
7. Have you borrowed money to pay for your gambling? Yes__x__ No____
8. Have you felt depressed or suicidal because of your gambling losses? Yes__x__ No____
9. Have you been remorseful after gambling? Yes__x__ No____
10. Have you ever gambled to get money to meet your financial obligations? Yes__x__ No____
The only reason he didn't check "Yes" on Numbers 2 and 5 was because he just started gambling a few hours ago and hasn't had an opportunity to go to sleep yet, and also as yet had not ever made an effort to quit, owing to the recent manifestation of his Problem, which technically was possibly also the reason he said "No" to Number 6, but that last one, Number 10, was the clincher, though—I mean, along with Number 7—because he was now officially gambling to win enough money to pay me back. So yeah, I'm a fucking enabler, man, but at least I wasn't charging him interest on what I lent him, OK? The music playing now in the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore is 'Hotel California' by the Eagles, and I notice nobody loses their shit because they hate the Eagles, nobody even notices.
HOUR 8, 7:30 p.m.
A full eight-hour Working Day under my belt, and I'm up $90, which includes my loan to the Photographer, and I may have changed my mind about charging him interest, in keeping with the spirit of being in a casino and all, OK? My friend who popped in for a Lightning Round ends up breaking even and heads for the door. Let that be a lesson to you, Gentle Reader, if you are a Potential Gambler. The Photographer disappears again, so I go to the outdoor stage area for a beer, a Sierra Nevada, three bucks. This outdoor area really is a great place to come and dance and enjoy reasonably priced beverages if you're not picky about whatever the cover band is doing—which right now is that shitty 'I'm So Fancy' song—and you don't even have to go inside the casino.
A gentle rain begins to fall, which is good for business, it drives almost everyone back inside to the casino. My most recent cigar did not agree with me, and I notice there are a lot of police out here. The band is now doing that M.I.A. song, with the "click" but a modified BANG BANG BANG gunshot noise, and I'm thinking that'd probably be weird for the cops, the full BANG BANG BANG. Man, I'm still not hungry from "breakfast," I didn't pace myself on the food part of the program. The drinking part is fine. There is a vague bathroom smell in one corner of the outdoor area, I mean it smells like bathroom smell plus bathroom-chemical smell. Right now the band is playing for three people. I spot the lady who found my total rewards card, she's on her way out. I asked her how she did and she and her friend said they were tapped out. I asked them if they had fun, and they both said yes.