Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Golden Calf

If you want to gamble in New York or Connecticut, you have to go to a casino like Turning Stones, built like so many casinos on Native American land. In the case of Turning Stones, it’s the Oneida Indian Nation. The casino business has changed, even for the modest traveler who can’t afford Las Vegas, Monoco, or a private club in London.  In the old west, there were casinos with whores like Kitty from Gunsmoke, who plied her trade over the bar. Then there was the intermediate period that saw the advent of the gaudy strip, immortalized by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in their famed tome Learning From Las Vegas, where the commercial architecture of the pleasure palace, with its chrome, mirrors and exuberant kitsch, solidified the foundations of postmodernism. While Venturi’s work may have exuded a certain self-consciousness, Las Vegas, and the casinos, motels and strip shows it spawned, was lacking in any aspiration beyond the totally over-the-top pursuit of the proverbial Golden Nugget. Today, travelers coming through Las Vegas visit the Bellagio, named after the resort on Lake Como, and see Cirque du Soleil more readily than they visit the raunchy Palomino Club. Rip-offs like Turning Stones in Verona, New York (just down the road from Rome) all similarly reek of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love. The mirrors on the ceilings are gone, along with the girls. Now, tattooed warriors, overweight hausfraus and octogenarians with walkers wander the aisles of slot machines, hoping to win enough coin to cover dinner at one of the tasteful chain restaurants inspired by celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck. Going to a casino has become a family event. The 1998 film Croupier with Clive Owen portrayed a darker and more romantic aspect of the gambling experience, which few casino goers encounter today. 

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