Gambling with your health

February 10, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd

I HAVE just returned from a business trip to Atlantic City, where the promotional slogan should be: "Visit us for your next heart attack!"

I say this because from all indications, the only things people do at this famous seaside resort are gamble, smoke and gorge themselves at the all-u-can-eat buffets.

The smoking thing is completely out of control.

Apparently, as soon as you reach the city limits, you're required by law to locate the nearest cigarette machine and buy a pack. The whole time I was there, there were maybe four people who weren't smoking, and three of them were in kindergarten.

As far as I could tell, there is no place in Atlantic City where you can't smoke.

You can smoke in the hotels, casinos, restaurants, operating rooms, etc. You can probably even smoke in church, although they might make you stub that baby out when you go for communion.

Anyway, after a full day of sitting around on their big rear ends gambling and smoking, guess what the average casino patron does.

Does he take a brisk walk along the historic boardwalk? Knock off 20 push-ups and swim laps in the hotel pool?

Wrong.

Going for the Heart Attack Trifecta, he takes in one of the $5.99 all-u-can-eat buffets, where the dominant culinary theme seems to be: "There's no such thing as too much mayonnaise."

Potato salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, coleslaw -- these foods weren't just swimming in mayonnaise, they were doing the 200-meter individual medley.

I think I even saw carrot cake with mayonnaise at one of these buffets. Then again, who doesn't like a big dab of Hellman's crowning his or her dessert?

Clearly, this is not exactly the yogurt and granola crowd elbowing their way to these buffets. Some of these people looked like they'd send a bathroom scale crashing through the floor to the basement. And they eat like they just got word a famine is headed their way.

Another thing you notice right away in the casinos is the overwhelming numbers of senior citizens.

These seniors are bused in each day from all over the East Coast and are given a complimentary $10 in quarters, apparently under the theory that it's never too late in life to develop a gambling addiction.

And let's face it, is there anything more heartwarming than watching a 77-year-old grandma from Teaneck, N.J., blow her Social Security money on the $5 slots?

Why worry about having enough cash for that heart medicine prescription when you can play a few hands of video poker?

Here's another beautiful thing about these casinos: As you walk in, a taped message over the PA system intones: "Got a gambling problem? Call 1-800-555 ..."

Is that a hoot, or what?

To me, this is like a crack dealer on a corner taking your money, handing you some dope and saying: "You might want to think about getting some help, friend."

Look, if they really want to perform a public service, they should play a recorded message at these all-u-can-eat buffets: "Problems overeating? Call 1-800-555 ..."

Just to be sociable, I pumped a few coins into the slot machines and played a few hands of blackjack, winning a grand total of zero.

In retrospect, it would have taken less time if I'd just gone up to my 15th-floor hotel room, opened a window and tossed the money into the wind.

Then I wandered over to my favorite section in any casino: the roped-off area for the baccarat tables.

While slots and blackjack and craps players tend to look like common riffraff, the baccarat players always look like they're fresh from rubbing elbows with James Bond at some fabulous Monaco casino.

The men are always well-tailored and well-barbered. The women, if there are any, are often young and flashy, favoring low-cut cocktail dresses and the kind of high heels and intricate makeup that screams working girl.

For a while, I watched one man play. He had a dazzling babe standing next to him. While he won about eight hands in a row and puffed silently on a British cigarette, she stroked his arm and rubbed his back.

Then he lost a hand, then another and another and another.

And with that, the babe dropped his arm, picked up her purse and left.

Oh, it was a classic moment.

I kept waiting for a taped message to play: "Romance problems got you down? Call 1-800-555 ..."

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