Read ‘Em and Weep

Read ‘Em and Weep

Economists have begun using the term “winner-take-all economics” to describe the fact that the salaries of investment bankers, software designers, and basketball players continue to rise while the wages of photocopy attendants and paramedics stagnate or fall toward the official poverty level. The phrase suggests that in the present economy millions of people are bound to “lose,” and evokes the image of a society badly divided between the successful and the luckless, whose fates have little or nothing to do with one another.

A good place to gauge this state of affairs is Foxwoods, the turquoise and purple casino palace that rises like Oz from a small patch of Indian land in the prosaic hills of southeastern Connecticut. The world’s largest, Foxwoods is the great casino of the American middle class. It has none of Vegas’s slick glamour or high-rolling dangers; it isn’t bleak and malodorous like Atlantic City; it lacks the vacationland lure of the new Mississippi riverboats. Its vast parking lot is jammed with the vehicles of local cafeteria workers, contractors, retirees. Inside, the enormous gaming rooms swarm every night of the year. There are disproportionate numbers of smokers and also, since gambling is a leisure activity that doesn’t require legs, people in wheelchairs. Under the purple ceiling half-globes that hide surveillance cameras, winners look nearly as grim-faced as losers. Cocktail waitresses glide by, wearing feathers in their hair and skimpy buckskin costumes that ride high up their hips, but the men seem not to notice. The intensity of gambling leaves no room for an aphrodisiac.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels