Chris Johnson: No reason for Georgia to roll the dice

May 12, 2013 

I'm sure you can imagine how much money I spent on gambling when I recently spent six nights in Atlantic City, N.J. Let me just tell you, I spent more money at the casino than I have in years.

Five dollars.

Granted, I was in Atlantic City for work and not play as I was there to cover a rebuilding effort that drew more than 200 good-hearted folks to the Jersey Shore to work on homes flooded by Superstorm Sandy last year. Still, I budgeted a whopping five bucks for the slot machines.

When I walked into a famous casino very near my hotel, the first thing I noticed was a lady throwing a coin into a wishing fountain. Here were five thousand flashing, beeping, jingling slot machines for her to throw money in, and yet she tossed it into a fountain that promised nothing in return.

I, however, would not be so careless as to throw my money away in water. I threw it into a machine that offered me the chance to win a whopping … well, never mind. Boy, five bucks sure goes fast in a casino!

Before I went to Atlantic City, I did not have a problem with the people in Georgia who want my home state to consider allowing casino gambling in certain places, such as Savannah. After spending a week in that town, however, I'm firmly against it.

I'm not against gambling, mind you. But I am against what it seems to leave in its wake.

Just a couple blocks from the glitzy casinos is dire poverty. And the people in that dire poverty are working their tails off in those casinos, who don't seem to care. The casinos could take one day of profits and fix every problem in town. Of course, I don't think throwing money at a problem fixes it, but it'd be nice to see the casinos throw a little compassion to the other side of town.

Just under the casinos along the boardwalk was overpriced and unhealthy food served up by folks who seemed genuinely upset that I had the audacity to be a customer of their establishment. The biggest gamble I made wasn't the five bucks I spent on the slots but the greasy, fattening boardwalk foods that infiltrated my diet for the week. In Atlantic City, the four main food groups are pizza, hot dogs, saltwater taffy and beer.

There were some good deals to be had along the boardwalk. Psychic readings were just five bucks, although I doubt that was the whole story. "Ooo, I see that on August 12, you are going to, oh my, this is incredible, you're gonna … that'll be $20 to hear the rest." And massages were just $10 for the feet and $20 for your back. You couldn't walk 100 feet without hearing "You want massage?" I must've looked like one stiff Southerner.

Truth is, I was a little stiff. You can only be snarled at for so long before you get a little tense. Still, I felt a little sorry for the folks. They gouge each other. They snarl and honk at each other. That's their normal way of life. Oh, and they NEVER shut up.

Between the psychics (who apparently did not notice Sandy coming until The Weather Channel told them), tattoo shops, massage parlors, T-shirt shops and greasy, overpriced food joints, there was nothing that made me think, "Boy, wouldn't this be nice to have in Georgia?"

But the casinos were the most depressing places. At least there were a few nice folks in there, until they found out you weren't there to drop hundreds of dollars in their laps. You have to pay folks to be nice to you in that town. And I don't expect everyone to go out of their way to be nice to me. I'm OK with folks just not annoying me.

But the saddest folks were the people feeding ones, fives and twenties into the slot machines. Over and over. Not one person out of the hundreds I saw at those machines was smiling.

I'm sure that if casino officials ever took Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on some Atlantic City tour to convince him to promote having casinos in the Peach State, he'd get the grand formal tour and a piece of paper showing just how much money would be put into state coffers.

But I'd like to take him or other state officials considering such a gamble on a different tour. I'd have them wear a cap and sunglasses and T-shirt so they would be unknown. Then I'd make sure they sat in the depressing, smoky slot machine section of the casino. Then I'd treat them to heart-clogging food while ladies suggest we need a massage and homeless folks beg for money. And I'd make sure they walked the poorest streets in Atlantic City like I did.

When I was bound for Georgia on a plane full of tired folks, I thought about the lady who threw her coin into the wishing fountain. It seemed crazy at the time, but at least she got something out of it -- a wish.

I should have at least thrown a penny in there, too -- and wished the casinos would stay in Atlantic City, Vegas, Biloxi and the Native American reservations. I hope Georgia officials have more sense than to sell out our beautiful state for another dollar of revenue.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Connect with him at Facebook.com/KudzuKidWriting or kudzukid88@gmail.com.

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