The band is now doing ‘Shout,’ and there’s a sudden wave of Nice People. Couples, men dressed in that certain semi-undecided-casual-but-dressed-up way, with the dress shirt worn not tucked in, and soft shoes, and the ladies all in a certain kinda expensive festive blouse, it’s like there was a pre-casino apparel meeting, seriously. I profile them, correctly, as customers for the “upscale steakhouse,” Jack Binion’s Steak, where a 16-ounce filet goes for about $50. The band is now doing a mind-bending mashup of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ smashed into Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Bulls on Parade,’ followed by that Taylor Swift “a player’s gonna play play play play play” thing. I don’t like Nice People.
I am at the B’More Beers bar enjoying a Jack Daniel’s and Coke. I am apprehensive. The late night is not yet here and I might not be sharp. I consult the oracle, and study the teaching of The Wizard of Odds with respect to video poker machines. I notice there are, suddenly, a lot of drunk people at this bar. I’m gonna play the video poker machine embedded in the surface of the bar.
Worried I am gonna lose all my money when the drinks and lack of sleep erode my judgment. Won’t know when to stop. I will make poor decisions, beyond any I have already made, of course. The House will win! I didn’t come here to get rich, but I gotta be careful to not get poor. I lose $40 on video poker at the B’More Beers bar. Time for another Jack and Coke. The inside band is playing ‘She Blinded Me With Science.’ Thomas Dolby lives in Baltimore now, did you know that? Finally, I’m thinking about food. There’s that bathroom-y smell again. I can only conclude that powerful disinfectants are being employed, and distributed into the air through the ventilation system, which reminds me of the old thing about casinos pumping in oxygen to keep people energized and playing at the tables. Indoor chemtrails. It’s just after 10, and it looks like a shift change, of gamblers.
It has continued to rain lightly, on and off. The outdoor slot machines are covered up with their protective shrouds. They remind me of horses in a stable, and if they were alive, I would bet on them. Jack and Coke number three. The Photographer just hit a slot machine for a hundred bucks. Stupid fucking steakhouse is closing at 11 p.m., the one place I wanted to eat. The Photographer hits the Heavy Seas Burger Bar. Outstanding burger.
Right now, this casino is really is a good mix of Baltimore, kind of like the way Artscape is, or Dougherty’s Pub on Chase Street, a legit cross section, not just seniors with walkers and oxygen tanks at the slots, there are all kinds of everybody here of all kinds of ages, legal ones, I trust.
Jack and Coke number four. Fucking steakhouse is still closed. The band is now playing “I Melt With You,” and I wanted some steakhouse with melted butter on something. Crap. There are five kinds of Red Bull on offer at the B’More Beers bar; Cran Blu, Green, Silver, regular, and unleaded. There are guys with clipboards walking around counting stuff, and it occurs to me there are always guys walking around the casino counting everything, right? I spot a pal of mine I play cards with sometimes, a friendly game, he’s on his way to the big poker room here. Man, I wouldn’t go in that poker room, I’d be afraid I would get cleaned out right away, jeez. Hey, maybe I shouldn’t play cards with him anymore. The Photographer, fully realizing it is a Bad Idea, wonders about dropping acid at the casino. I told him it has been done before. The band is playing ‘Urgent’ by Foreigner.
HOUR 13: The Hard Luck Hour?
We are at the Guy Fieri’s Baltimore Kitchen & Bar (see page 37), looking at the “Late-Night Menu,” which has a skull on it. Everything on this fucking menu seems to have three ingredients or adjectives too many. I’m hungry, but I kinda don’t want to eat any of this shit, so I lowball it with the DOUBLE-BARREL BBQ WINGS, which have onion stuff on top that is tasteless. The wings are an odd “lollipop” configuration, like a lamb chop, sorta forcing you to strip the whole thing in one shot. The BBQ sauce is nice, and at least they serve it with a coupla pieces of celery and carrot because THAT is what you dip in the fucking dressing, not the fucking wing, philistines. The “lollipop” treatment might explain why I keep almost breaking my teeth on bone fragments. Jeezus, the dip is salty, yow. I recommend pairing your wings with a seasonal Sam Adams Octoberfest, while it is available. I need Coke.
We are out at one of the outdoor porch areas with a lovely view of the Russell Street Royal Farms. It occurs to me the casino is on the former site of a chemical plant. The Farms Store is hopping, 20 cars parked in the lot. Money and energy is coursing around and through the Horseshoe Casino. The Photographer wonders how many people will die for a box of chicken by crossing the busy street. He proposes a gambling scheme, betting on a human Frogger game. What the fuck is happening to us? It’s 2 a.m. The Photographer loses any remaining slots discipline on $5 slots. $100 invested and disappeared. After walking both levels of the casino a few times, Ruby 8 Noodle and Sushi Bar, the Asian restaurant, is the one with the most enticing aroma, and they are open until 6 a.m., so I might get hungry again.
Jack and Coke.
There is a Dancing Gent working it down on the floor of the center bar. He’s wearing what appears to be a mutation of a Members Only jacket. He is a fun magnet, and many ladies step in for a quick dance with him. Good times. I wonder: Will I see this place get ugly?
The hot lady dancers are getting it done on the stage above the bar, and vibe had shifted to hip-hop-tinged dance music. There is an interesting graphic running up a column rising from the bar, it is the gears and workings of a mechanical clock. It does not of course tell you what time it is, but there is a sensation of time being observed. I did not drop acid at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore. On The VIP level the bays are fully loaded, and as I watch the scene I am approached by a gentleman in a yellow shirt. “The pictures need to stop,” he says genially, referring to the taking of photographs. I text an associate, inviting him to the casino, and he declines, but offers remote gambling suggestions.
Play the Wonka slots. Play it and you’ll win like me. Get to a roulette Carrie Ann. 20 black. Do it. Do it. 20 black I’m good for it. Take 20 lay 20. One more blk then red. Do it Doug. Do it! Do it!
I lose $125 at roulette.
Fuck! I move to another roulette table. The croupier at this table is very upbeat but in control of a boisterous group. A guy calls her a bitch and she admonishes him pleasantly. I lose $80 at roulette. I did not call the croupier a bitch. I move to a blackjack table, and there is an Irregularity. I see the interaction, conflicting hand motions, the “stay” motion, meaning “no more cards,” immediately followed by the “hit” motion, for another card, a scratching of the table, toward your cards. I notice the dealer sees only the first motion, and when he lays the next card down for the next player at the table, the double-motion player squawks. Reviewing the video. I abandon the table, I’m out of money. Did you know you can get a cash advance on your credit card at the casino? There is a chart, and you can get between $501 and $600 for a fee of $38.30.
The Photographer is back down to zero after a disastrous run on blackjack table. He played correctly, and the cards destroyed him. The results of the controversial video review are in, and it is ruled two hand signals, so player loses the argument. After 3 a.m., it seems pretty much no guys wash their hands after they piss. Everyone is in too much of a hurry to get back to the games.
Jack and Coke.
My bartender remembered my drink order after the first one, and he remembered it the next three times.
He discusses the change of the crowd based on time of day. “Polar opposite, the crowd changes after midnight. From 5-8 is when the bartenders, strippers, pimps come in.”
All quotes are guaranteed verbatim with a plus-minus of 10 percent for slurred hearing. The music right now is some sorta dance bounce version of ‘Seven Nation Army’ followed by Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me.’ It’s 4 a.m. and the tables are packed.
I give the Photographer a hunski and quiz him: “How many hours left? Divide that into 100 and round it down. You get $15 an hour. Pace yourself.” He says he’s going back to his thing, the slots. Again, I lose him.
Now there are lots more guys in yellow shirts and lots more cops, all over the casino. I step out for a cigar, and try to stay away from a heated interaction on the Russell Street balcony. I don’t wanna know.
I realize I can’t profile any pimps or bartender or strippers, everybody just looks like they belong here, with me. Jack and Coke. Music: “Don’t you wish your girl was” whatever, ‘Don’t Cha,’ I think it’s called. I find the Photographer near a roulette table. We observe some bearded types in the skinny jeans, and spend some time in a lively debate on the topic of “What is a ‘Hipster’?” Primarily, I argue, a Hipster is a young person who is annoying to older persons. The croupier at this table has his hands full. This is a tough table. There is a lot of hollering and negativity. At one point the croupier waves his hands to push air away from his face and toward one of the players, and his face contorts in revulsion, apparently at some stink emitted.
Who is a bad person?
People just want to play and win. They aren’t being greedy, they just want a positive experience.
I notice a lot of the gaming tables have video screens nearby playing a movie, “Get Smart” (2008), starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. That movie was awful. Why the fuck are they playing that movie in a room full of shouting people who are trying to win money? It’s 5 o’clock in the fucking morning, who the hell wants to watch “Get Smart” and you can’t even hear the inane dialogue? Anne Hathaway is a bad person, I bet. “Get Smart” is over, and now they are showing an episode of “The Office,” starring Steve Carell. What the fuck?
Overheard: “Are you as bored as I am?” Also: “Which way is downstairs?”
Wow, I’m hungry again, time to visit the Ruby 8 joint for the last supper.
The Asian Room
Easily accessible from the main casino area is a room featuring a golden bamboo-inspired entranceway and pretty much everyone in this room appears to be Asian, including the dealers. The game is Midi Baccarat, which I have never heard of. I’ve seen Baccarat, the game James Bond always plays, usually against a dude in an eye patch, but never this. The game tables are set up for seated play, and there is a video screen with all these little colored dots on it. I am gonna consult the Wizard of Odds site on this.
Baccarat, also known as punto banco, is one of the oldest and most popular games in casinos all over the world. It is especially popular among high-rollers and Asian gamblers. In Macau, baccarat is extremely dominant. Although the game seems serious and elegant, it is really as simple as betting on the flip of a coin.
It turns out Midi Baccarat, a variant of Baccarat, “is usually found in the high-limit rooms, as opposed to the main casino floor.”
Anyway, Ruby 8 Noodle and Sushi Bar is my fave restaurant in the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore. You don’t have to gamble to eat here, but you do have to walk all the way across the casino floor to get to it. I recommend the Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce, the Shrimp Tempura, and the Kimchi Fried Rice (kimchi, Spam, egg).
It’s 6 a.m., and back on the casino floor, the crowd has thinned considerably. I stop for a Jack and Coke and notice the Yellow Shirts again. They do not come in heavy, they are low-confrontation, restrained, usually a smile and a gentle admonishment or hand signal. It’s time to find that quiet $15 blackjack table. I observe a Yellow Shirt defusing a situation with a rude, angry, overreacting man and a lady. Today I learned 4 a.m. to noon is a shift a bartender might work at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, holy crap. The music right now is ‘Young Americans,’ by David Bowie. I miss Luther. The weight is on me now. I don’t know how long since I sat down. The Photographer is dealing on women. Out on one of the smoking balconies, some dude said I look like the bad guy in MIB 3, which hurts a little, but maybe that’s what the total rewards guy was trying to tell me a hundred million hours ago. Fuck that guy. Still holding out for that quiet $15 blackjack table.
Sunrise is at 7:05, so the Photographer and I make a plan to go and greet it on the roof of the parking garage. Now I see old guys dealing three- and four-card poker. If you are a dealer and nobody’s at your table, you just stand there, waiting, like a fucking vending machine. I see Greg Schwalenberg, the guy who’s been slinging beer at Camden Yards for a million years, and Memorial Stadium before that. He works here. Holy crap, man, when do you sleep? “I don’t!” he says.
The music is now ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ by the Beatles, followed by some fucking crap shit garbage by Phil Collins. Somebody definitely pays attention to this. It is 25 minutes to sunup. Hennessy time. The music now is ‘Back Stabbers’ by the mighty O’Jays, followed by ‘Mockingbird,’ as performed by James Taylor and Carly Simon. The Photographer is up $80 on slots. We greet the sun. Well, we attempt to greet the sun, but it’s too cloudy, a warm day, but shitty-looking. I hear somebody say: “We should rob this place.”
I’m back at the bar, the Photographer had someplace to be. The bartender says, “Jack and Coke? Guess you wouldn’t be here unless you were still winnin’!” Music: ‘The Last Thing’ by the Cutting Crew, ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Brothers Gibb, ‘Needles and Pins’ by the Searchers, ‘Africa’ by fucking Toto, and ‘Borderline’ by Madonna.
Music: Allman Brothers Band, ‘Whipping Post.’
The daylight coming in through the windows is disturbing. It’s 8:30 in the fucking morning and the filthy naked daylight is streaming in to remind me of all that is bad, all my mistakes, starting with the casino. I figured all along I’d make my last stand playing blackjack, the game where a player—if everything goes well—enjoys the best chance of beating the house, that’s all I need to get out of this a winner! A few hands at a quiet table, recoup my losses, pay for some of the drinks, a nice quiet $15 blackjack table, get serious. I find one, a nice quiet $15 blackjack table, but the Dealer seems kinda shaky. Some of the dealers, croupiers, whatever, here, do not seem very experienced, and they project a lack of confidence. They make mistakes, the kind of mistakes that arguably can affect a bet, moving chips indecisively or incorrectly, rushing the play, not giving people enough time to make a decision, fumbling cards, etc., and players will look for any excuse, any minor irregularity, and then they will attack and complain. I slump into a chair at the table and the Dealer tells me I might want to find another table, since he is changing the shoe, the thing they put the multiple decks of cards in for dealing blackjack, and it will take some time. They do that to discourage card counting, which the casinos consider to be cheating, and if they catch you doing it, they ban you from the casino and send your picture to other casinos. Just the other day, a guy got thrown out of the casino down at the Arundel Mills mall for counting cards, and even the famous celebrity actor Ben Affleck was caught counting cards several months ago, and personally, I don’t consider it to be cheating, because it’s hard to count cards! You have to keep all the info in your head, keeping track of the cards played and assigning a point value, plus one, minus one, or zero, to each card you see. Here’s an example from the Wizard of Odds site as far as point values:
If the first ten cards to come out of the shoe were 3, 5, K, 7, Q, A, 8, 5, 4, 2, then the running count would be 1 +1 -1 +0 -1 -1 +0 +1 +1 +1 = +2.
Then you take that total and divide it into the number of decks you figure are left in the shoe, and that tells you how much you should bet, and you’re doing this while you are playing the hands, what a pain in the ass, good for Ben Affleck, seriously, it proves he’s not a dumb movie star, you know? I can’t count cards, and I’m not even a movie star.
HOUR 22, 9:30 a.m.
The Dealer is working at the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore because he got laid off from a casino job in Atlantic City. A lotta casinos are closing up there. He wasn’t a dealer in AC, he was some sort of office guy. This is all he could find, down here, and as I watch him open the factory-fresh bulk packs of playing cards, I have unkind thoughts. I’ve seen other dealers perform this task, and it can be a fun little show in itself as the cards are pushed out of the table in elegant arcs and then flipped over in a precise movement, causing the cards to ripple across the table as they turn over, and that’s why I tell the Dealer to take his time, I’m just gonna just chill here at the table and watch him work until we’re ready to go, because I figure it’s gonna be entertaining, but it’s a tragic performance.The Dealer’s hands are stiff and unsure as he opens each deck of cards and awkwardly fans them out over the table, to check for imperfections, misprints, the right amount of cards, each deck needs to be perfect, and each Dealer needs to be flawless in throwing the cards to desperate players looking for any kind of edge. There’s a another guy at the table, a big guy, the Dealer’s supervisor. He’s helping with the process, taking the old cards from the previous shoe and bagging them like they’re biohazard, in thick, clear bags. “Did you know they started rating you guys?” He says to the Dealer as he helps crack open the boxes of cards. “The way you did the money? You can’t do that, OK?” The Dealer is sweating, trying to smoothly tip a deck of cards up on edge, and have them flip over in that elegant wave as he pushes them from the side, but it never happens, each time the cards flop over early in the attempt, and the Dealer has to stop and turn over a bunch of the cards so they’re all either face up or face down. It’s like watching a child, that’s his level of skill in doing this, and he’s sweating hard now. I am attempting to appear like I’m not paying attention, and I would like to get up and go to another table, but I feel like that would be disruptive, I wanna support the Dealer, somehow, in some minor psychic way, be here when he finishes, we can both get through this, I can play some cards and get well. The Dealer told me his family didn’t want to come to Baltimore, his children are old enough to have a life up in AC, and his wife wants to stay with them, so he sleeps here in town someplace, and drives up to AC when he can to visit his family. I don’t know what being “rated” means, but I can guess, and I don’t feel good for the Dealer’s chances. The Dealer is breaking my heart.
Somehow, all the cards are checked and rechecked, and the new decks of cards are ready to be loaded into the shoe. The Dealer offers me a blank marker-card that is to be inserted into the deck at a random spot by a player, and I put it really low in the stack so the shoe will last a long time and the Dealer won’t have to do all that business with some new cards for a while, Jesus Christ.
I play a few hands and claw back some of my losses. I’m getting into a good rhythm at the table, I’m focused, paying attention to the cards, making the right plays for a strict game, knocking the House edge down to almost nothing, motherfucker, yeah, that’s right. There’s a sharp player on the other side of the table, talking through the game, noticing trends in the cards, all kinds of inside stuff, we’re a team, working the table now, us against the Dealer, but in a weird way, all working together, it’s getting to be a good table, we’re in a groove, playing fast. There is a new player at the blackjack table, where I figured I’d make my last stand, a few hands at a quiet table, the new player looks like he’s been working all night, and for some reason it seems like he’s been wearing a wig or something, I’m not sure why I think this, there are marks on his forehead from like, compression, or tape or something. He also looks like he’s been wearing makeup and he cleaned it all off, but there are residual traces, little smudges. This guy looks tough, he looks like he’s seen a lot. He looks kinda crazy. The new player throws down a huge pile of cash on the table. He wants chips, but no red ones, he says, he doesn’t want a lot of small chips for all the money he’s putting up. Now we have a problem, the Dealer’s chip bank is low, there won’t be a way to give the New Player the chips he wants, the way he wants them. The Dealer and the New Player agree on a smaller amount of chips, and the Dealer hands the New Player a thousand dollars cash, and now there’s another problem, the cash isn’t right, the New Player says he handed in $1,250, not $1,150, and the money has been recounted, and now the New Player is shouting. Now we’re not playing cards. Full stop. I’m trying not to stare. “THAT’S A GODDAMN LIE. Y’ALL BETTER GET SOMEBODY UP HERE I’M GONNA TAKE MY MONEY.” The New Player looks at me. “YOU SAW, RIGHT? YOU SAW $1,250.” I shake my head, “naw man, honestly, that’s a lotta bills out on the table, I couldn’t tell you how much was there.”
Another supervisor shows up. Minutes pass. The Sharp Player bails on the table, scoops up his chips, and walks off. I feel like if I bail on the table it’s gonna be worse for the Dealer. Why the fuck do I think this? Five minutes ago I was rooting for the Dealer to bust on 15, but that was different, we were in it, playing. What the fuck is this? Did the Dealer fuck up and count it wrong, or is this just a mistake? A scam? Everything seems like a scam, but for a hundred bucks? It can’t be. All I wanted was a few hands at a quiet fucking $15 table, motherfucking fuck. A lady shows up, another supervisor, she’s a bigger boss, it seems, she’s on the phone. Now there’s a supervisor huddle. The New Player starts in again: “ARE YOU THE FLOOR MANAGER THAT WAS $1,250.” The Sharp Player returns, to see we’re still not playing cards. The New Player starts in on him. “YOU SAW ME YOU SAW $,1250.” Sharp Player says he doesn’t remember, it was a lotta 20s. Boss Lady says it’s $1,150. “THAT’S A GODDAMN LIE.” All these dude bosses have shaved heads. “Sir, you tried to buy in for $1,150.”
Another, tougher-looking Security guy walks up. “You need to calm down. Keep your voice lowered or we’ll walk you outta here.” Now one bald guy is on a walkie-talkie. Security guy looks at me. I’ve been pecking notes on my phone. “YOU NEED TO PUT THAT PHONE AWAY RIGHT NOW,” he barks. “YOU CAN’T BE DOING THAT AT THE TABLE.” A super-obsequious guy comes up and talks soothingly to the New Player, “I’m sorry, sir, very sorry, it’s $1150, very sorry, I know, they looked at the camera, I know.” New Player says, “LET ME LOOK AT THAT TAPE.” Super Obsequious Guy says, “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t do that, very sorry.” Tough Guy says with finality, “It’s $1,150, camera says that’s what it is.”
We are done with this. Now we’re playing cards again, somehow. New Player is playing two hands at a time, and he takes one more shot, “Hey, how about a meal or something?” My concentration is shot. A hand comes up where I should probably double down on the bet, but I don’t. “Can I do it for you?” the New Player says. I don’t understand what that means, so I just shrug noncommittally. He puts a chip down near my chips. We lose. I get up from the table. I am upset. I go and find one of the bald guys who was dealing with the scene at the table. I want to complain to him, not because I want anything, but just because I felt like they shoulda handled it with less yelling, and less yelling at me, you know?
This guy is working on a set of dice for the craps table, like that little scene in the Major Motion Picture “Casino” starring Robert De Niro, where he’s measuring the dice with a micrometer or something, and then he gives them a spin, before approving them as dice and turning them loose on a table full of happy craps players. My guy with the shaved head is working on row after row of dice, measuring them, doing the spinning thing, it’s like 40 dice, he does not look up as I stand there staring into the side of his head, five minutes go by, now I’m watching him with the dice, measure, measure, spin. This guy’s powers of concentration are fiendish. He will not acknowledge me. I walk away and find Obsequious Guy, and ramble on to him about how unpleasant that all was, and I don’t want anything, don’t want a “comp,” a meal or whatever, I just wish they would handle stuff like that differently because it was really a bad scene. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you, Joe.” How does he know my name? I didn’t tell him my name. Ohh, the total rewards card, of course. I wander around the casino with a few bucks. I put the rest of my money into a slot machine. I’m busted, except for my lucky $2.50 chip, of course.
I step out to a smoking area for one last Jack and Coke and my final cigar, my Victory Cigar. I’m at ground level, and a Baltimore City Fire Department paramedic truck turns in off Russell Street and pulls up in front of a side door. A stretcher is unloaded and the firefighters disappear into the building. I’m too tired to give a shit. I finish my smoke and head for the door. I’m outside now, it’s a beautiful day. They are pulling the covers off the outdoor slot machines on one of the balconies. The BCFD truck is still parked outside, the side door to the casino remains closed. Here comes my bus, the 27. I shoulda bet that number on roulette.