Night at the Casino
For this exercise, I have chosen to go to a local casino to observe the atmosphere and the people. I chose this site because I thought it would be a very interesting and vibrant place, with many different types of people on a Saturday night. I am also interested in the interactions between humans and machines and wanted to see for myself not only the ways that different people interacted with the slots, but also where different groups of people were focused. For my first ethnography, I took a first person narrative approach. My focus was on the sensorial aspects of the casino –that is, the sights, sounds, tastes and physical feelings I experienced in the casino. In this piece, I also described my thoughts and feelings throughout the experience.
In my second ethnography, I decided to write in second person, inserting the reader into the experience. Rather than focusing on the sensorial aspect of the casino, in this ethnography I have highlighted and focused on the many different people I observed in the casino and the ways they interacted with the machines, myself, and each other.
As I enter the casino, I immediately observe the sounds and the lights coming from the slot machines that bombard you at the entrance. Once I head past the security guards and finish at coat check, I enter the casino floor. As I get closer to the slot machines, the noises become louder. I feel a little bit overwhelmed because there is just so much to do.
In the background, I can hear what I think is a live band, but hope is karaoke. The woman is singing Adele's Rolling in the Deep, very passionately. She has a strong voice but unfortunately, is missing quite a few notes.
I continue to walk around with my friend, and at 10:30ish we head to the bar. Music is blasting and there are probably around 200 people on the dance floor, standing around and chatting, dancing in small groups, sitting on the tables and couches around the outskirts, and sitting or standing at the bar. We weave our way through the crowd, and I grip my friend’s hand so as not to lose each other. The music and chatter is so loud that we have to shout to be heard, and yet I find that I'm not actually able to distinguish any lyrics. The band steps off stage and some dance music starts blasting over the speakers. We finally reach the bar and I order a gin and tonic. Taking a sip, I enjoy the refreshment of the cold drink amid the heat of a crowded space. We weave our way back out of the crowd after paying, finding it much easier to get away from the bar than to get to it.
We decide to head over to the poker tables. It is still loud but not quite as much as on the dance floor. I watch one game but don't understand anything that's going on because I don't know how to play. There are 4 people at this table, one of whom is watching the game like us rather than playing. My friend leans in by my ear and tries to explain the game to me, but then realizes he is explaining the wrong game. Bored with that, we move on to a different table of women playing blackjack. There are 3 younger women dressed up nicely who all seem to be friends. I still don't understand what’s going on but then they all whoop and cheer so I assume something good happened.
We decide to move on and try our luck at the slots. As Go Johnny Go is sung by the band, we each sit down next to each other at the first machine we see, a big flashy one with lots of lights around it. We bet $5 each. I win 50 cents but then lose it all to the bright lights and spinning images. Two minutes later we have 36 cents left. We find a machine that will let us bet 30 cents, and after 2 spins we’re down to 11 cents. Then the hunt for a machine that will let us bet 10 cents begins. After walking around for 5 minutes and stopping (because I accidentally burn my tongue on some watery complimentary coffee), we find one. We insert our ticket stub, press the big red button, and BAM, lose ten cents just like that.
In the end, we leave with a ticket stub worth 1 cent as a souvenir, down 5$ each (plus the cost of our drinks) and not caring one bit because at least the night has been interesting.
As you enter the doors of the Casino, you are immediately greeted by two stern-looking security guards. You hand one of them your I.D., and he stands there and stares at it for what feels like forever before giving it back to you and giving you a stern nod. You thank him and hurry past, heading over to the coat check to wait in line. In no time at all, you’re giving your coat and backpack to the lady behind the counter. Once your coat is safely put away, coat check tag securely in your pocket, you head towards the casino floor.
As you walk down the couple of steps to the main floor, immediately to your right there are ATM machines with a lineup of people waiting to get money. There are a variety of people here at 10pm on a Saturday night, but the ones who catch your eye the most are the older people, sitting and staring at the slot machines, continuously pressing the buttons, otherwise unmoving.
You notice one man, who looks approximately 45, sitting in one of the machines with a bigger, comfy-looking chair. He is dressed in a suit and looks like a business man. He is at a Sons of Anarchy themed slot machine and is just sitting and pressing the button, impassively staring at the screen, expression unwavering no matter whether he wins or loses. On the other side of the same slot machine row, there is another man, slightly older, maybe in his sixties, playing the same game. He soon runs out of money, and slowly trudges off to the bank machine-- whether to cash in his ticket, or take out more money, you’re not sure.
You soon decide to move away from the men and walk around the floor some more. You notice an old woman sitting at a machine, her wheelchair parked next to her, playing the slots. A middle-aged woman, maybe her daughter, walks up to her and says something in her ear to which the old woman nods. The daughter sees you looking at them taking notes and gives you a dirty look, so you quickly continue on your way.
You weave through a crowded dance floor and after a few minutes, finally reach the bar. There are two women who look to be in their 40s or early 50s in front of you, and you wait awkwardly behind them as they order 2 Perrier waters. They pour them into glasses and then walk away, leaving some in the bottles. Moving in to take their spots at the bar, you flag down a bartender. She takes your drink order and promptly brings you your drink.
You continue walking through the casino and see a group of seats set up like a movie theater or a lecture hall. You wonder what it could be before realizing it is for playing Bingo. People of all different ages, though mostly men, are playing.
Finally, you decide you are done for the night. As you wait for your ride you notice two young guys who don’t even look old enough to be there. One of them is very clearly drunk and a worker from the casino is telling him he needs to leave. He calls him a cab as the drunk guy turns to his friend and tells him to leave with him. "I don't need to leave, you need to leave," his friend says to him before ushering him into the taxi and sending him on his way.
Your ride then pulls up in front of you, and you get in, leaving behind all those people who left the comfort of their homes to drink and spend money in the house that always wins.
I have learned quite a lot about ethnographic writing through this assignment. Writing these ethnographic accounts has made me really understand how involved the ethnographic writing process actually is. Ethnographers make very conscious decisions on how they are writing and phrasing things, what they are including, and what they are leaving out of their works. Voice and style are key aspects of writing and play an important role in bringing different things to focus for the reader. For my first ethnography, I chose to write in a similar style as Raffles in Deepest of Reveries, giving a first-hand account of my thoughts, feelings, and senses from my own point of view as the ethnographer. For my second ethnography, I took a stylistic approach that differs more from anything we have read in class, writing in second-person in order to insert the reader into the ethnographic experience, and attempt to get them to feel as though they themselves are the ones walking around the casino and observing people.
Raffles, H., (2010). “The deepest of reveries.” In Insectopedia. New York: Vintage Books.