On 16 March 2012 all casinos in Ecuador closed their doors for the foreseeable future. Although a government decree was the final nail in the coffin, the decision was actually made by the people in last year´s referendum.
I don’t usually support prohibition and I felt a pang of distaste about it on the day. Then I remembered I´d voted to close them. I actually voted to ban all juegos de azar (games of chance) so I´m not sure I should even played Monopoly last weekend.
The main reason I voted in favour of the motion was that when I sat in the booth I recalled going into a casino in Tulsa. From the outside I´d been all for the native people getting one over on the state (the mega casinos are on reservation land). However when I went in I changed my mind. I saw the haggard, cigarette stained faces of America´s poor sat in front of rows of fruit machines clutching their little cups of coins and looking utterly depressed.
Over the last couple of weeks I popped in the Casino del Sol here to see if things were any better. They weren´t. On a weekday afternoon the fruit machines were all in use. There was lots of noise and lights but no-one was talking. You could hear money dropping but never for the people I was looking at. A few guys sat at the blackjack tables which are usually the more fun part, but most of them were just playing with their Blackberries. All in all there was about as much positive mental activity as in a deserted cemetery.
When I was in England I used to like going in the bookies and betting minimal sums on random horse races. Even when I won I was always put off increasing my activity by the sight of the middle-aged guys who´d spend all afternoon there giving every race the wise after the event post mortem while ripping up their slips. Maybe I should be grateful.
In Ecuador there are no bookies and I don´t really miss them. Hopefully I´ve usually got something more important or interesting to do. So I decided that a lot people would probably learn to live without casinos as well with no ill effects. The rest will turn to illicit cock-fights on the outskirts of provincial towns.
So far, there have been legitimate complaints about the lack of support or time scale for people who have lost their businesses or jobs but I´ve not seen or heard any defense or challenge by gamblers who are never going to watch the wheels spinning again. I wonder if this is a step to a better society as the government aspire, or completely