Time stands still for casino gamblers - East Valley Tribune: News

Time stands still for casino gamblers

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Posted: Saturday, April 5, 2003 11:24 pm | Updated: 2:22 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Wednesday is about to become Thursday, but at Casino Arizona it's only seen as more time to try to get rich.

Hundreds of slot players keep spinning the machines in front of them, confident they will turn up enough lucky combinations to make a fortune.

Some brush their hands across the windows in an effort to get the reels to stop in the right place. Others feed two machines at the same time. Anything is possible, they tell themselves.

Around the nearly full blackjack tables, women, often with drinks in hand and some provocatively dressed, follow men who look for the perfect place to play. A handful dance to "Wild Thing," the hard-pounding tune heard from speakers above. The men don't seem to notice as they dig wallets out of their pockets and head for the green felt that will test their bravado.

A service employee pushes a cart through the casino filled amply with the beer, wine and fruit juice gamblers expect when playing. Lines at ATMs are 10 people deep.

In a candlelit lounge near the foyer, a piano player is in the middle of John Denver's "Annie's Song" as a woman in a pretty cream-colored dress sits on a leather sofa nearby. It's the only place at Casino Arizona where it's easy to find a seat at midnight.

While most of us sleep, the casino hops on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, located near the Loop 101 and Loop 202 interchange in the East Valley. From couples arguing to the occasional cheer of a jackpot, the place moves no matter the hour. The late night-early morning crowd is one reason why casinos generate an estimated $2 billion a year in Arizona.

A bartender shrugs when asked what all these customers do for a living.

“Gambling, gambling, gambling, that's what they do,” he says. “Some of them for two days. I get off work, come back the next day, and they're still here, gambling, gambling, gambling.”

Outside, there are a dozen recreational vehicles in the far corners of the parking lot, closest to Loop 101. Most have their curtains drawn for the night. The lot is still three-quarters full, and employees are asked to park in an adjacent dirt lot.

A huge flashing sign, the East Valley's answer to the glitter of Las Vegas, advertises lunch and dinner hours to freeway motorists while showing pictures of colorful poker chips.

Taxis pull up at the entrance and let out excited fares. Even the valet appears busy.

Inside, everybody seems hopeful.

2 TO 4 A.M.

At the blackjack tables it's mostly men in their 20s or 30s. Some are dressed in leather or suit jackets. They fiddle with chips, stacking and restacking them before betting and while hands are dealt. Whoops go up and friends high-five when the right cards are flipped their way.

At the poker tables, the age is older and the dress sloppier. Still mainly men, the card sharks wear caps and jackets showing their favorite sports teams. Many have a rolling cart next to them, a sort of end table for those who have been seated here for hours. On top of the carts are folded newspapers, ash trays, food, desserts, miniature salt and pepper shakers and bottles of mustard and ketchup.

“Good morning players,” says a women's voice on the public address system anytime there is an announcement to make. Most of the them are made to let gamblers know they have a phone call.

Women, including one in a conservative khaki suit, mostly work the slots. One sits sipping a glass of red wine while pressing the buttons of a gruesome-looking Addams Family slot machine. Lurch's head stands high above looking down on her.

An aging blonde with hard blue eyes, a red-patterned dress and shiny silver and red sequins pressed onto her bare shoulders and upper chest, wears a white tulle scarf as she moves from machine to machine. She doesn't win, but draws looks from many.

A woman with two black eyes and a man head for the parking lot. They appear to be angry with each other.

“Yeah, we won nothing,” she says with no emotion as they walk out the door.

Jerry Lee Lewis plays overhead. People are beginning to appear tired.

4 TO 6 A.M.

The casino is as still as it gets, and still 300 or so gamblers hang on.

Ask them why they're here and the reasons are varied. Some say they are insomniacs. Others say it's recreational. For some, it's a stop on their vacation.

Others can't stand a night without action.

Many look lonely.

“I'm just wandering around,” says a 40-something man with a scraggly beard and a deeply pockmarked face. A woman he came in with disappeared hours earlier.

Employees move through the slot area with a large metal cart. They empty the machines of countless bills. Most players get up only long enough to have the machines cleared, before returning to their stools.

A beer-bellied blackjack player with frayed pants pockets and bad leather shoes talks it up with employees over his recent streaks and losses.

“I fell hard the other day,” he says laughing. An employee tells him to be careful as the man heads back to the table. He hits the ATM twice in the next hour.

Many women, some pretty, sit alone at video poker machines. Just inches from each other in some cases, they rarely speak.

Some are having fun. Some are just passing the time. And it appears that some just can't stop.

Among Arizona adults, 42.9 percent gambled at a casino in the past year and 1.7 percent did so weekly, according to a report released in March and paid for by the Arizona Lottery.

The study shows that 2.3 percent of adults in Arizona have gambling behavior that damages, disrupts or compromises their personal lives or employment. The rate is comparable to those of three other Western states, but significantly lower than the rates of most other states for which equivalent research is available.

Slot machines are the favorite gambling activity of 40 percent of problem gamblers, followed by casino table games for 32 percent. Nearly 42 percent of problem gamblers reported they gamble as a distraction.

According to the report, problem gamblers in Arizona are most likely to be male (73 percent), white (73 percent), 35-to-54 years old (42 percent) and employed full-time.

Richie G., a one-time gambling addict who answers telephones for East Valley Gamblers Anonymous, says he receives as many as a half-dozen calls a day.

“I've heard stories where the man or even the woman, he'll wait until his wife will go sleep or she'll wait until he goes to sleep, then they jump up and go into the casino and will gamble there and be back possibly before he or she gets up,” he said. “Then, the nonsmokers have to have an extra set of clothes around to shower real fast so the husbands or wives don't smell the smoke on their clothes. It's a full-time job trying to wheel and deal yourself in and out of that place.”

Casino staff are trained to spot problem gamblers and intervene, says John Jenkins, Casino Arizona general manager. Some are encouraged to put their name on a list that does not allow them to play at the casino.

“We have many of those," Jenkins says. “We monitor that with our surveillance department moment by moment. A lot of people with a problem don't think they have a problem until we have a conversation with them. We tell them, ‘You're playing too frequently and your (betting) limits have changed. We think it might be best for you to go on a self-exclusion list and save your money.’ ”

Jenkins says the overnight crowd has increased because the casino has added 30 blackjack tables and doubled the amount of slot machines from 500 to nearly 1,000.

“We've been real fortunate with the market response to added games,” he says, adding most of the people in the casino overnight are swing or graveyard shift workers who stop in before or after work. “There's a lot of people who work for the government or hospitals and many who on are the graveyard shift at some the manufacturing plants.”

6 TO 7 A.M.

The sun is coming up, and more people begin trickling in. Some just got off work, and others appear to have just risen from bed.

“It's slow,” says a security employee. “You should come on the weekend when it's packed. What do they do? I don't know, but some of them just keep throwing their money up there. I wish I had that kind of money.”

Some gamblers are dressed in medical scrubs or dirty mechanics uniforms. One man in the snack bar mutters indignantly to himself while drinking a cup of coffee and polishing off a basket of french fries.

A man standing in front of slot machine sends a quarter into it, watching intently as the wheels come up empty. He throws his hands up, bangs his fist on the seat, hollers some obscenities and heads for the door angry and dejected.

Outside, the birds are chirping, greeting a sky gently getting lighter in the east. The gaudy freeway sign still blazes. Nobody looks rich.

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