I had to do it.
I’ve been gambling in every country that I have been to where it’s legal, so I just had to check out a Russian casino. The concierge recommended the Golden Palace and called me a cab. He told me it would be 300 rubles. The taxi driver though, didn’t agree. He kept pointing to a brochure which clearly stated, in English and Cyrillic, that the minimum price for a cab ride was 500 rubles.
At an exchange rate of 35 rubles to a euro, that was like fifteen euros for a five minute cab ride. No way pal, I ain’t no dumb tourist. I pulled out the 300 and told him in no uncertain terms that the concierge at the hotel said it was 300 rubles. He pointed at the sheet and spoke loudly in Russian. I simply shook the three hundred rubles and repeated my offer “take it or leave it.” He got even more irate and spoke even more loudly and mentioned something like “politzie”, but his scare tactics weren’t working on me and he eventually snorted in disgust and snatched the bills and I entered the Imperium casino already on the wrong foot—
Hey, wait a minute. I said “Golden Palace” you basta—Too late. His piece of shit Lada was already peeling rubber. Guess he got the last laugh after all.
I walked up to the extremely hot and sharply dressed clerks. I had never seen suits with miniskirts that short. I asked them if they had poker. They responded with puzzlement, and then a not very convincing ‘yes’. They showed me the screen with the list of games. I couldn’t quite make out the betting structure (25-5000? Huh?) but it clearly said, in English, “POKER.”
I bought my mandatory fifty bucks worth of chips and headed up the stairs. It was like your typical European casino. One huge, lavishly appointed room with a mixture of marble, gold, and mirrors that can only be termed ‘decadent’. Also, like a European casino, there was a stuffy, no-nonsense atmosphere, a very small number of table games, and only a handful of players, maybe thirty in the whole place. Instantly, I had a bad feeling about the poker.
I walked around, didn’t see any poker tables. I found a casino usher who spoke English, and he pointed me to the so-called “poker”. They had a table game like Carribean Stud. And there was no one playing it. At any of the four tables it was at. Sigh.
I decided to accomplish my two goals of spending my already-bought chips and getting out of there as quickly as possible. So I sat down at a blackjack table. Alone. Halfway through my stack the dealer informed me that I could surrender half my bet as long as I hadn’t taken a hit. That was of course after he looked suggestively at me a couple of time when I told him I was staying and he had a ten or ace showing. I was wondering what the hell his problem was, but then I learned the problem was me.
Well, my luck was terrible. I lost with nineteen. I lost with twenty. The dealer drew to 21 at least four times. I even lost with a 21 once, because the dealer had natural blackjack and that beats a draw to 21. It was just not my night. I lasted about half an hour. I conversed with the dealer a little, who asked me a strange question: “What’s your goal? You want to win five hundred? A thousand?” I told him I just wanted to stimulate the Russian economy but I don’t think he got it.
Anyway, after half an hour of stimulating, my chips were gone and I was psychologically free to go, having successfully accomplished my goals for the night. They told me that because I was a casino member (which I now have the card to prove), I could get a free ride back to the hotel. What they didn’t tell me was that they had one car and he was driving someone back to Kiev or Siberia or something.
As I was waiting in the lobby I struck up a conversation with a different pair of extremely hot attendants. (What do they have an unending supply of miniskirt-clad hot Russian chicks to man the front desk? Apparently, yes.) One of them looked EXACTLY like Thandie Newton, only paler. And more Russian. She spoke English the best and told me that she was recently graduated from university. I asked her major: economics. So I asked her how the economy was going, and she said “very bad.”
I guess a hot girl with an economics degree having to wear a miniskirt and work the night shift at a casino kind of speaks for the state of the economy all by itself.
On a more surreal note, I’m sitting at a slot machine stool, waiting for the single casino chauffeur to come back, when I hear Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” faintly in the background. Ha. Weird. Reminds me of that surreal Springsteen moment biking home in Dordrecht. It really is a small world. This comforts me.
One of the last things I ask Thandie is: “How much is a taxi ride? My taxi driver before wanted five hundred rubles for a five minute ride.”
“Yes. I think five hundred is for the yellow taxis.”
The comfortable feeling vanishes. And is replaced by an extreme rush of adrenaline to the head as I contemplate the five Russian storm troopers who are listening to the cabbie right now as he tells them about the arrogant Americansky who stiffed him two hundred rubles, called Putin a child-molesting uncle fucker, spat on his velvet Lenin, and was last seen at the Imperium casino.
Well, it’s been a good life. See you all on the other side.