By Annette Dashofy
Several weeks ago, we took a vacation trip to Erie. I can’t tell you how many wide-eyed people asked, “Are you going to the new casino?”
My answer was NO.
Let me just say that I am neither for nor against legalized slots. I don’t have even the slightest interest in feeding my hard earned nickels, quarters, or dollars into some flashy machine.
Yet I can understand the intrigue of the world of casino gambling. My first suspense novel (the one locked away never to see the light of day again) was set in a fictional casino in Las Vegas, although I’ve never been there. I did my research at Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort in West Virginia where slots have been legal for years. Rows upon rows of mechanical bandits cast an eerie glow onto the faces of mostly elderly gamblers. The massive rooms have very little illumination except for that emitted by the slot machines. The folks pushing the buttons (you don’t even have to pull a lever anymore) appear to be hypnotized by the lights and the constant otherworldly musical tones that hum in the background. One thing I found especially curious was the way many of the gamblers feed the machines. You don’t necessarily have to pump coins into them. Instead, these folks had plastic cards attached to their clothes by a coiled plastic cord. The cards then fit into a slot in the machine. They virtually PLUGGED themselves into the mechanical beasts and let them bleed them dry electronically.
It’s definitely an interesting way to spend an afternoon. We spent one whole quarter. But my husband, ever the tightwad, refused to spend any more when the machine ate that one coin without spitting more out as a reward.
And now slots have crossed the state line into Pennsylvania. Have I been to any of the new casinos? No. Why should I? I hang out at the barns of Mountaineer racetrack all the time. If I were inclined to gamble, it would be easier to drive across the parking lot while I was there than to make a special trip to one of the new ones within my own state.
Apparently, no one thought to spend much time in West Virginia when planning the invasion of slots to Pennsylvania. Otherwise, they’d have learned a few things. For example, when legalized gambling came to West Virginia and the old Waterford Park evolved into Mountaineer, promises were made to improve the facilities and to increase the purses of the races. For a time, money did flow to the horsemen. But then it gradually dwindled. Recently I overheard a conversation on the backside (barn area) in which a trainer grumbled that behind the casino, it was still just Waterford. Barns crumble; the track surface leaves much to be desired. The money just doesn’t make it that far.
And lately the Pittsburgh news has been filled with North Side residents screaming because, not only is a casino planned for their neighborhood, but now a gentlemen’s club or two is in the works. Hey, folks, take a drive to West Virginia. The property across from Mountaineer is gradually becoming glutted with strip clubs. One thing just naturally follows the other.
If there is one thing that Pennsylvania seems to be doing right, it’s limiting the amount of slots licenses it’s handing out. At least so far. In Weirton, every neighborhood bar is now a “club” lit with neon and filled with slot machines. Even the local ice cream shop closed down to make way for more slots.
As a mystery writer, the world of gambling offers a myriad of possibilities. However, I’m really happy that for the moment, it hasn’t invaded my own backyard.
What do the rest of you think? Will slot machines eventually result in tax cuts? Or will the moral fiber of our fair state erode with their presence here? Have you been to one of the new casinos yet? Do you plan on going?
(As a footnote, not to be outdone, the folks of Hancock County, West Virginia approved table games for Mountaineer.)