Rice Pudding

April 9, 2007

During the 1890s, bartenders swabbing the bars while their patrons swilled down five-cent draughts of beer became adept at (cough cough) accidentally knocking down a few of the nickels the drinkers had lined up to keep the suds flowing. This supplemental income became known as “rice pudding.”

The term lingered into the twentieth century. During Frank Hague’s 30-year reign as mayor of Jersey City, boss of Hudson County and baron of New Jersey, municipal employees were expected to kick back three percent of their annual salaries to the political machine. The day they were supposed to pony up was called Rice Pudding Day.

Workmen preparing for the demolition of the old Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City have turned up over $17,000 worth of rice pudding. Unfortunately for them, Pinnacle Entertainment of Las Vegas gets to be the bartender.

Like they say, the house always gets its money.

Winter in New Jersey

February 19, 2007

How do you know it’s late summer in New Jersey? When you hear the merchants along the Shore are complaining that God hasn’t provided enough warm weather to keep the bennies and shoobies buying sodas, pizza and T-shirts — that’s when you know it’s late summer in New Jersey.

How do you know it’s winter in New Jersey? When you hear the Atlantic City casino operators are whining that not enough rubes have been coming to gamble away their mortgage payments and their kids’s college funds — that’s when you know it’s winter in New Jersey.

Here’s something particularly ludicrous:

Smoking restrictions are another wild card. As of April 15, casinos must designate at least 75 percent of their gambling floors as smoke-free. The industry is worried about losing its smoking patrons, as well as the millions of dollars it will cost each property to wall off smoking areas and install expensive ventilation systems.

Having lobbied like hell to get themselves some kind of exemption from the smoking ban in public places, the casinos are now complaining about the expense they incurred for themselves by getting the state to approve a partial ban for their industry. No doubt some kind of subsidy will be added to the pot as a result.

I hereby summon the mighty power of the Internets to track me down a citation from Charles Dickens, who wrote a scalding passage in one of his novels about the coal mining companies and factories, and how they screeched that financial ruin would be the result whenever someone suggested they stop using child labor, or pay their workers a penny or two extra. If I remember correctly, Dickens marveled that such huge industries were apparently as fragile as glass, judging from the way they fretted at being asked to alter their ways even slightly.

Find me that passage, somebody! I suspect that by substituting “casino” for “coal mine” or “factory,” we’ll have a pretty good assessment of the New Jersey casino industry.

Do the right thing

August 29, 2006

As an example of doing the right thing for the wrong reason, let me present three New Jersey congressmen who have come out against the introduction of video lottery terminals, or VLTs, in the Garden State. Though the stated reason for keeping video gambling terminals out of New Jersey is that they would draw away business from the Atlantic City casinos, the real reason for opposing them — a reason I wish had been mentioned by the congressmen, or acknowledged by the reporters covering the story — is that they are socially destructive.

VLTs have been called the crack cocaine of gambling. Unlike casinos, which are destinations set apart from the regular flow of life, VLTs can be jammed into convenience stores, diners, service areas and any other public area. The fast pace of the play has a literally hypnotic effect on vulnerable minds; VLTs are even more efficient than casinos at sucking dry bank accounts and credit card lines. Though I haven’t been able to find the link yet, I vividly remember a news story about a woman who let her young child die in a suffocatingly hot car while she stood inside a convenience store, obsessively working at a VLT. Multiple studies show that VLTs are the common denominator in many cases of gambling addiction. You won’t hear me saying many good things about James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, but the organization’s Web site has plenty of good information about the addictive nature of video gambling. Though the proposal for New Jersey is to locate VLTs in the Meadowlands and other racetracks, I hate to think of these things getting any kind of a foothold here. You can’t even argue for them on an economic basis: where the Atlantic City casinos have a limited benefit for the local economy (a highly debatable matter), VLTs benefit only the owners of the stores where they are located.

If social responsibility is too embarrassing an argument to appeal to our legislators, then I guess we’ll have to settle for protecting the investments of the casino operators in Atlantic City, who vampirize the local economy at a much slower rate.