Posted August 28, 2013 by John Baintree in News

Casino Racism? Really??

In theory, casinos should be fairly indiscriminate places, apart from on the obvious grounds of wealth. Inevitably, casinos will always roll out the red carpet for high-rollers; they make these businesses the most money, seeing as they can afford to flit away hundreds of thousands of dollars a night. Yet, a pattern of racism emerges throughout the casino and gambling industries, which tarnishes the reputations of these establishments. The signs may not be obvious, but it is there nevertheless. This example perhaps best highlights the racism which is prevalent within many of America’s casinos, the DJ of the bar claiming the bar had to be shut due to there being ‘too many black people and not enough whites’. The operators of the casino have been quick to apologise to those members of the black community who were swiftly shunned by the Rivers casino, but to what extent is this episode part of a wider mentality towards race and gambling in the United States? Are casinos actively targeting a specific, white audience? This piece will give some indication and offer examination to why this may perhaps be the case.

There is a particular aspect of racism called ‘othering’. This serves as creating two opposing classes of ‘us’ and ‘them’; a constructed dichotomy. Now while you may think this is a thing of the past, sadly it is not. People still look to display different races in different lights, in turn bolstering the validity of their own race in a dominant fashion. This may seen extreme, but there are a fair few examples of racialised slot machines cropping up within American gambling institutions, for example, see these, and additionally ‘Mr Lucky Fortune Cookie‘. These all feature different races as the main attraction of the video slots, with imagery of crude stereotypical caricatures and racial symbolism serving as the main components of the reels. The orientalism seen in ‘China Mystery’ and ‘Graceful Lotus’ is blatant. Even the wording of the games’ titles harks of outdated stereotypes. ‘China, oh how mysterious and unknown’.

racismThe matter of the fact that casino operators know their market. The average age of tourists in Vegas is 50 years old. That being the case, it must be noted that attitudes towards racism change over time, generation to generation. Thus, to the ‘average’ Vegas reveller, these racialised slot machines may seem OK. This is the generation who grew up when the term ‘coloured’ was the norm when referring to a non-white ethnicity. Therefore it is only natural that the vendors of these machines will create machines that, given the information made available from average visitor statistics and nationwide demographics, will be accepted by their audience, maybe even being deemed as humourous.

Another component of the issue is the people who run the gambling industry and who own the casinos. Leading industry figure, Sheldon Adelson, is a well known supporter of the right-wing, pumping massive amounts into the political kitty of Mitt Romney. With his political leanings made clear, and his age, it is probably a safe bet that Adelson does not have the same liberal views on race as younger generations do. That being said, any of the casino oligarchs who have ventured into the Macau markets would have been sure to omit ‘Mr Lucky’ from the roster of slot machines that appear in the Chinese casinos. I wonder how the Chinese gambling market, the richest and most active in the world, would take to having their culture openly mocked as they played.

These racist attitudes are not just apparent within the apparatus of casinos, though. Increasingly, there has been growing racism towards the Native American population, due to their involvement with the gambling industry. It is no secret that Rush Limbaugh, who hosts the most listened to radio show in America, has extremely offensive views on race, with this article expertly analysing his views on the Native American population. He downplays the near extermination of Native Americans, further adding to insult to injury by claiming that the 4 million people of the Native American population ‘all have casinos anyway’. As the article highlights, many of the tribe run casinos continue to advertise on his show, despite being aware of his vulgar jibes. But why?

The answer is clear – casinos thrive on the business of white visitors, without them, their revenue would drop dramatically. To remove their advertising from Limbaugh’s show would mean reaching a smaller audience, a smaller white audience, who are needed to inject money into casinos. Tribes have to put up with the abuse or risk taking a financial hit.

It is clear to see that the main gambling community of the US holds prejudiced views when it comes to race. There is much more going on under the surface that there may appear at first glance, but the main issue is, and always will be this: the American gambling market is predominantly middle aged (and over). The whole gambling experience is catered to this market. Unfortunately, for racial minorities, that too means they are commodified to entertain this crowd. Native Americans supposedly all own casinos, while other minorities are the stars of video slots, all put in place for the pleasure of the ‘average’ customer. It appears, that until the more liberal generations mature to fit the stereotypical image of the American gambler, then racism within the gambling industry will remain.