Over the years, I’ve played in a lot of casinos that were ill kept and past their primes. I played at the New Frontier in Vegas (since imploded) where the number of security guards outnumbered the patrons. And only a fool wouldn’t ask for an escort to their room — down a long corridor to a dark tower that looked like an abandoned Embassy Suites.
I played at Binion’s in Becky’s final year of ownership. Everything of value, including the employees’ health plan contributions, had long been siphoned out of the place. The felts were so warped, you couldn’t see the players’ chip stacks across the table. And if I haven’t told you the story about how I pulled down my pants at that session, you can read about here.
So you can understand just how bad a place had to be for me not to play. But after a brief walk through the President Casino in St Louis back in 2002, I ran for the exit.
Last week, the Missouri Gaming Commission recommended pulling the President’s gaming license, currently owned by Pinnacle Entertainment, and putting it out for bid. The Admiral, the 100 year old riverboat that houses President Casino, was in pretty sad shape when I was there. Apparently it has only been certified as safe until July 2010 — which is a stretch in my opinion. But the real problem with President Casino is that it has been losing money for the state, especially since Pinnacle erected the Lumiere Casino, seen jutting out of the skyline just behind the Admiral.
There are only 13 gaming licenses available in Missouri and it’s the Gaming Commission’s responsibility to make sure they are all performing for the state and taxpayers. They’ve been hounding Pinnacle since the beginning of the year for a plan to address the problems at the President. But it wasn’t until last week’s hearing — when Pinnacle realized their coveted gamin license could be pulled — that they said they were looking into buying or building a barge to replace the Admiral.
It sounds like a case of “too little, too late” for Pinnacle. Although the mayor is in the company’s corner and pointed out how the Lumiere, which includes a 5 star hotel, has been of benefit to the city. But the Commission noted that it was hard to see how Pinnacle would be hurt by the President’s closing, considering it was losing $160 million a quarter.
To understand just how bad the President Casino had to be for me not to play, you have to understand where I was in my poker obsession. I had gotten the poker bug before the boom. There were far less poker rooms back then — and none in my home state of Texas. I spent every morning playing hundreds of simulated hands on the computer. I dreamt about poker every night. So any business trip I took, I searched high and low for any opportunity to play.
I was in St. Louis for a Board of Trustees meeting and was heartened to see that the President Casino spread poker. After our meeting one day, I made a beeline for the boat. I was a little dismayed at its setting but bravely walked the ramp onto the Admiral. The slots looked sad and dated, made sadder by the weary people playing them.
I found my way to the poker room. Out of the many tables in the room, only two were in play. And when I walked in, the players acted like I had just interrupted a murder plot. I could almost hear them whisper, “Oh great. I guess we’ll just have to kill her.” They were playing with multi-denominated chips — which meant that there were two shades of dirty brownish chips in play. One guy turned around and leered at me; his smile hosted no teeth.
In 2003, the cocktail waitresses at Binion’s were clones of the Simpsons’ Patty and Selma, clad in orthopedic sneakers and support hose. The cocktail waitress at the President — the only other woman in the poker room — looked like she had worked the streets two decades earlier, although still dressed the part.
Poker obsessed or not, I wasn’t going to make contact with the President’s poker chips. And it’s not just me. Ashley Adams loves poker rooms like parents love their children. But when I read his 2007 review of the room, I nodded sadly. He wrote, “The carpets are dirty and worn. The walls need to be repainted or knocked down and put up new, and the lighting is poor throughout. Some of the slot machines don’t work. The staff, even the greeters at the door who are supposed to be the friendliest, seem sullen – though not downright rude. The whole place looks like the owners have gone away and left it to some underlings to run – for too long.” And even as an acknowledge poker addict, Ashley concluded, “I’d visit this room regularly only if it was the only room around, I couldn’t get a home game, and I didn’t own a car.” You can read his full review here.
I usually mourn the loss of a poker room. But you won’t catch me cryin’ if they pull the plug on President Casino.