Those of you living in the NYC area may have read about the gruesome bus crash that killed 15 people returning from an overnight trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in the wee hours of Saturday morning. It has raised questions about the regulation of discount buses, the fitness and physical condition of the drivers who work long and odd hours for little pay, and the standards employed in hiring them.
It has also, thanks in part to a fascinating series of articles in the New York Times, highlighted the apparently irresistible lure of casino gambling, the dedication (though some may more accurately say depravity) of those who partake, and the steps that casinos will take to help and encourage them to do so. From our racing standpoint, it shows what racetracks are up against in competing for gambling dollars against an enterprise that provides easy and cheap access on literally a 24/7 basis.
An all-night excursion — for gamblers and bus drivers alike — is almost always part of the casino package offered by bus operators in the region. Academy Bus, based in Hoboken, N.J., advertises a round trip that leaves the Bronx at 8:45 p.m. and arrives at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut by 11:15 p.m.--------
Six hours later, passengers reboard as late as 5:15 a.m. The fare: $24, including a $15 food voucher and $15 of slots play. [NY Times]
Some prefer the nighttime because the casinos are emptier. Some believe the wee morning hours bring more luck. Others, not wanting to waste a moment, return in the early morning and go straight to work. The buses are their vital, cheap gateways. [NYT]Another Times piece explored the direct marketing efforts directed at an Asian-American clientele that accounts for as much as 25 percent of casino revenues. Some call it predatory marketing directed towards an ethnic group for which gambling is a part of their culture.
These days, virtually every casino has an Asian marketing department, ensuring that cultural sensitivities are accommodated.And a description offered of the bus clientele is just downright depressing.
The Mount Airy casino, in the Poconos, enlisted several designers versed in feng shui. Some casinos assiduously avoid using the numbers 4 and 10, which sound like the Chinese word for death. Mohegan Sun has a Chinese-language Web site featuring the fortuitous number eight three times. [NYT]
In the front are the regulars, people who go to the casinos several times a week and are easily recognized by bus operators. These often include grandmothers who have a couple of hundred dollars, thanks to their own savings and money from the children. Behind them are the waiters who have just been paid, and are likely to carry a lot of cash, and the newcomers. And in the back, near the bathroom, are the non-Chinese and people who want only to pick up a free meal and to sell their vouchers at a discount.Well, sure, horse racing certainly has its dark side, as any gambling-related activity does, but I like to think that, for the most part, it stands far above the crudity of sheer addiction and the shameless exploitation of human weakness. Sure, NYRA may provide free bus service to displaced OTB patrons, but that's a far cry from the round the clock service described here. However, Genting is a separate entity. The location of Resorts World and the access to it via public transportation is supposed to attract patrons on its own, but it remains to be seen to what extent the company will go in order to compete with nearby establishments that offer the full range of casino games. In any event, one would hope that Genting, the good community neighbor it professes to be, would be willing to contribute to the efforts of one local legislator to raise money to address addiction problems its racino may exacerbate. Unlike the casinos.
A few years ago, Mr. Yee called on regional casinos to help pay for a treatment program for compulsive gamblers. He said only Mohegan Sun agreed, making a one-time grant of $25,000 that has long run out. The center’s clinic now serves fewer than 20 patients a year. [NYT]