The Rake’s Progress
Published: March 13, 2013
The Nose has a full life, plenty to do, plenty to be happy about—except one thing’s been missing: the opportunity to gamble legally, every hour of every day, in the convenience of a nearby casino. That gap is increasingly being filled in the Baltimore area, thanks to the good voters of the Free State’s collective support at the polls last year for expanded gambling. Soon, the Nose will have little to complain about, what with 24-7 slots and table games already open at Perryville’s Hollywood Casino, and Arundel Mills Mall’s Maryland Live! and Baltimore’s soon-to-be-built Horseshoe Casino following anon.
First, though, we’re gonna have to learn how to gamble properly at casinos. When the Nose asked the red-blazered greeter at the entrance to Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Casino in Perryville where to go for the “controlled demonstration” of table games on the evening of March 5, his answer captured the expectations of adding table games to Maryland’s casinos: “Look for the fancy people.” The Nose apparently isn’t fancy enough, because the whole table-games scene was way too intimidating for such simple fools as us.
We, like many, have been gambling illegally for years in the comfort of our own homes. But we know draw poker and stud poker, not Texas Hold’em and the like, with “the flop” and “the river” and whatever else they call the community cards that get turned up between betting rounds. Craps and roulette, we’re sure, are simple as pie, but the tables they’re played on, with their intricate designs on green felt, look like mysterious Ouija boards to us. We know how to play blackjack—in our home games, sometimes the big winners will stake their takes on being the bank—but the risk-taking makes us nervous.
So maybe we should’ve taken a casino-gambling class before our outing to check out Hollywood’s 12 new table games and eight new poker tables. The last thing we wanted, since it was the Nose’s personal money at stake, not City Paper’s, was to become a victim of a “controlled demolition” of our wallet. So instead we sat at the bar, drank Guinness pub drafts, and fed paper money into the video-lottery terminal in front of us to play Deuces Wild. It demolished us quite effectively. We lost $50 in about 10 minutes.
There is some solace, though, in how our losses get divvied up. The sad thing about playing friendly games at home is that the winners take hard-earned cash from their friends. But at casinos, winning players best a faceless corporation’s well-organized efforts to make them lose their shirts; that’s gotta feel good. Even for losers, though, the consolation is in the revenue split. Of the $50 we lost, $33.50 goes into state coffers (about $24.50 of it into the Maryland Education Trust Fund, to help smarten up the huddled masses so they don’t waste away in casinos) and $16.50 goes to Penn National.
With the new table games, though, the pie is sliced quite differently. If the Nose’s $50 had been lost playing blackjack, say, the state would have gotten $10 to Penn National’s $40. No wonder Penn National likes fancy people—it gets to keep more of their money.
Before getting back on I-95 to head back to Baltimore, we drove down the street to Crown Liquors for some snacks and road Cokes. This was one of the Cecil County packies raided last year by the feds for allegedly selling huge quantities of Maryland-taxed booze to smugglers from New York, where the taxes are much higher. Sure enough, just as we suspected, tucked in among Crown’s nearly bare liquor shelves were two old-fashioned “for entertainment purposes only” video-poker machines.
These dinosaurs, thanks to competition from Maryland’s legal slots and table games, are falling into widespread disuse—and, in Crown’s case, complete disrepair. We fed a dollar into a Cherrypicker to get four credits but may as well have torched our buck. Much of the machine’s inexplicably opaque screen was so dark we couldn’t even see which fruits were lining up. We started to complain, but checked ourselves as the lonely clerk came out from behind the Plexiglas, preparing to issue apologies. Why bother? It was only a buck. The Deuces Wild machine at Hollywood Casino was clear as day and worked just as designed, and instead of a dollar poorer, we’re $50 poorer—though the Free State is a little bit richer.