Gambling ethnography

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


Gambling Ethnography

Gambling EthnographyCathy HersteadUniversity of WyomingEDCI-5760-40

SettingMy event takes place in the casinos in Deadwood, South Dakota. Deadwood is a historic gambling town of the 1870s and 1880s in The Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota. Gold was found in the hills in the 1870s. With the discovery of gold came the miners and the U.S. Calvary to protect them. Following the miners also were businessmenstoreowners, restaurateurs, tavern owners--gamblers, prostitutes, mule train drivers, railroaders and gunslingers too.

History of Deadwood and its GamblingThe town grew, having its ups and downs with the fluctuation of the mining industry as well as the legality of alcohol and gambling. During Prohibition in the 1920s, gambling was outlawed, along with alcohol, though both occurred behind closed doors. When prohibition was lifted in 1935, alcohol and gambling came back to Deadwood for another twelve years. In 1947, gambling became illegal in the historic town. Prostitution ended in 1980.

The History of Gambling in Deadwood In 1986, townspeople began to petition to legalize gaming again in Deadwood, South Dakota. By 1989, 64% of the people voted to bring gambling back to the small town with its numerous century old stone and wooden buildings still intact but showing wear (City). The legends of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok are now told beside the stories of Seth Bullock, Teddy Roosevelt, Charlie Udder, Potato Johnny and Poker Alice. These names and personal histories add to the romance of Deadwood.

Deadwood TodayThere are 80 gaming halls and casinos in Deadwood today.The gambling industry has brought in funds, restoring dozens of historic buildings, repairing the towns infrastructure and providing jobs to thousands of people. Some tourists come for the history, some for the outdoor recreation, some for the gambling and some for all three.

The ParticipantsMy study is divided between myself and a friend who had never been to Deadwood, South Dakota before. Besides my friend, her companion and me, the participants are the dealers, the wait staff and the cashiers. The dealers man the Black Jack tables, the roulette and 3-card, 4-card and Texas Hold em poker tables. The wait staff circulates through the establishments providing complimentary drinks as well selling more expensive alcohol to patrons. The cashiers are behind high desks, surrounded by bars for their protection. The casino staff is dressed in casino-specific apparel. The gamblers/tourists wear casual clothing.

The GamblersMy study group happens to be well educated, but that is not necessarily the norm for the other gamblers. Both Ekho and I are English teachers. Her friend is a lawyer.In my chats with other gamblers/tourists, I learned they come from different occupations, professions and educational levels.

The Midnight StarThe Setting for Me-

The Midnight StarThe Literary ConnectionThe Midnight Star is named after the bar and gambling casino in the western movie Silverado.Kevin Costner starred in Silverado.The gambling casino Midnight Star is owned by Costner and his brother who manages it.Because Silverado is a favorite movie of mine, the Deadwood casino is one of my favorite spots too.

On the outside, the casino looks old and new at the same time. The window above the door sports colored glass with a shining star and the words Midnight Star and that is what drew me in initially.The frosted glass doors and windows allow the passersby to see the bright lights of the slot machines.Also in the window, are the menu and advertisement for Jakes, the fine dining restaurant upstairs. (Jake was Kevin Costners characters name in Silverado.)


Gaming-The Literacy ConnectionI was drawn to Lord of the Rings slot machine because of the pictures of Frodo and other characters. I have been a fan of the trilogy since the movies first came out. No words were needed.

Rules and ReadingOn the front of a machine, will the words Cash/Ticket, Cash out or Collect, Repeat Bet, Max Bet, Spin, Play and numerous buttons with numbers indicating how much the player wants to gamble 2x per line, 3x per line, etc.Many games can be understood without reading the payout menu.If one is a frequent player at a casino, he will have a card to insert into the machine to gain points for all the cash that is played.Clicking the Menu button will bring up three more items-Rules, Points, Casino Cash. Clicking on any of these links will bring up Points-- in the form of numbers or cash amounts in the form of numbers.

Clicking Menu can also lead the player to the Pay Out schedule. Understanding the schedule does not alter the patrons chance of winning or losing. Some people just like to know for what to wish.

Cadillac Jacks-Ekhos Setting

The lure of lights and cards..Ekho and her friend were attracted to Cadillac Jacks Casino by the lights that shown through the windows and were drawn in farther because of the interior. They were kept there by the Black Jack game.

Literacy ConnectionEkho was already familiar with the rules of Black Jack, so she did very little reading. She said she looked for the table with lowest buy-in amount, so there was reading and recognizing of numbers.She chose the table with the least amount of people so that if she did need help with the rules, the dealer would have more time to explain to her.

Designed to WinSlot machines are geared to provide immediate gratification to the player even if not in monetary form.According to MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schull who won the American Ethnological Societys 2013 Frist book prize, the key component in the addiction of slot machine gambling is the relationship between the machine and the gambler. The machines are designed to attract and keep gamblers busy and happy.

..high-volatility, intense social games tells us a lot about the risk and volatility that people feel in the world, in their livesthink of the financial crisis, the culture of fear around terrorism, the environment, global warning. It makes sense that people would seek out games that allow them a sense of control and predictability (Robb).The noise after every spin even if the total bet was not won back (false win) and the quickness of the playing lull players into a sense of security.

and its only gonna get worse!Slot machines target their audience through nostalgia and pop culture. For example, the Batman and Robin slot machine includes characters from the campy series and videos as well. Pop singer Brittany Spears and the group Rolling Stones are newer additions to slot machine themes.Machines are now even becoming more interactive by incorporating story telling, and allowing the gambler to some extent tell the story. The graphics are becoming more detailed even including three-degree options.

"We consider us competing with the video-game world for the talent," says Bally Technologies spokesman, Mike Trask (Trendacosta).

The Lord of the Rings game has had many facelifts since I saw the first one two years ago; changing old favorites by adding more sound, lights and graphics is a way in which gambling machine manufactures stay competitive.

The Way of the FutureMerkur Gaming has designed a gaming cabinet.

The gaming cabinet will allow the player to be immersed more fully."The gambling experience has evolved in step with technological innovation," writes Natasha Dow Schll in her book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. "Once a relatively straightforward operation in which players bet a set amount on the outcome of a single pay line, today machine gambling begins with a choice among games whose permutations of odds, stakes, size and special effects are seemingly endless. (Tendacosta)

SummaryThe literacy event of gambling can be enjoyable without previous ties or connections to the themes of the machines. The lights and sounds are enough to draw many patrons into the casinos.The gambling machine companies, however, have found that capitalizing on pop culture and modern technology only helps in creating a return gambler.

Social EventIf to be literate means to be knowledgeable of the unspoken behaviors and rules, then those people gambling in Deadwood are literate.Win or lose, they know the language necessary to enjoy and participate.The event is ideological, social. The event because of the designs of the machines ensures that each person will have some satisfaction-monetarily or emotionally.

In ConclusionI did not realize how much literacy was involved in gambling until this assignment. I took the buttons and instructions for granted. A gambler does have to read enough to know where to slide the bill into the machine. One doesnt have to read much more than that to gamble, but to be an EDUCATED gambler, one does. To be an educated gambler, one does need to read the gaming console, the menu and the payouts.

In ConclusionI also didnt appreciate the thought put it into the slot machine designs.I had considered the bright lights and noise as sirens, but I hadnt realized just how attracted I am to machines with pop culture tiesLord of the Rings, Batman and Robin, Ghostbusters, and The Rolling Stones.When I began to think about this, I remembered my favorite slot machine was the Wyland. A slot machine using the beautiful marine art work of Wyland.

The Wyland Experience-click the sliding bar below to watch the video-

In ConclusionI can see how the literacy connection for me is truly a literary connection at times (The Lord of the Rings & Silverado).I can see how the gaming machine creators know their job because I can get lost in the Wyland game. If this is true for me, I believe it must be true for others. Understanding a cultures games is a means t