Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cashing Out

Well. This is it. The semester is winding down to an end, I'm staring graduation in the face, and my visits to the casinos have come to a close. I've never been a gambler, but I will miss some aspects about my visits to the Desert Diamond Casino and Casino Del Sol

First and foremost, it was the vibe. It's not that I'm opposed to gambling, I like the idea of it. The fact of the matter, is I'd rather spend my money on ______ (fill in blank with normal fun activities). But, that said, I do appreciate the casino's ability to keep you rocking at all hours, any hour, anytime. The work ethic inside of a gambling establishment is admirable. No matter if you're the security guard making sure no one is abusing the cocktail waitresses at 5 a.m., or the man determined to win back his paycheck in desperate attempts to avoid a divorce lawyer, every things alive. 

It's the complimentary services, the pop music blaring at 1 a.m. with the neon lights confusing your bodily clock, the luck, the loss, and the simple passion. Even if you're opposed to the possibility of addiction, finances being torn to shreds, or the dependency on the thrill, there's one thing for certain; it's a place that keeps your heart ticking. 

So, as I cruise through the rest of college with aspirations of a new diploma in my right hand, I'm adding a new addition to my "Graduation Bucket List." I plan on spending a recreational amount of time at one of Southern Arizona's casinos. I'm not saying I'm going to bet a lot, I'm not saying I'm going on a bender, but I'm going to walk through those doors without a notebook and pen in my hand, with no intentions of interviewing anyone, and I might even strap on a cowboy hat to fit in. 

Hit me!! 

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Bird Cage Theatre

Long before the days of eBay themed slot machines, all-you-can eat king crab, and complimentary executive suites, Ariz. was home to one of the Wild West's most infamous gambling establishments. 

The Bird Cage Theatre, located at 517 E. Allen Street in Tombstone, Ariz. now stands as a memorial to one of history's most rowdy, dangerous, and infamous places to play blackjack, poker and faro. The building, which originally opened in 1881, stayed open 24/7 for eight consecutive years, as a bar, casino, and brothel. Wild company and lawlessness lead to shootings, stabbings, and famous guests, including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. 

As a place to drink, gamble, and sit in "cages," to watch live entertainment, the Bird Cage Theatre was one of Tombstone's most popular attractions. The theatre was also the setting for a continuous poker game that was played every day for eight years, five months and three days. The minimum buy in was $1,000, which led to the Bird Cage Theatre taking in more than $1 Million dollars between 1881 and 1889. 

Today, tourists are able to see the poker and blackjack tables where some of the Old West's most famous figures tested the luck of the draw. With many of the pieces of furniture, and the entire bar still preserved, you can see your reflection in the same mirrors the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday saw their own. 
Of course, you might get more than you bargained for, as the Bird Cage Theatre was the site of 26 murders, and allegedly the restless spirits of the victims still haunt the establishment. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

University of Gambling

Planner: A 30 page paper in Presidential Leadership, an Industrial Organization test, and $1 dollar on number seven.

"They have machine roulette," said Emily Lee, a senior communications and econ major at the University of Arizona, and a casual gambler at Casino Del Sol and the Desert Diamond Casino. "There was two weeks where I went almost every day."

The casino continues to be a once-a-month source of occasional entertainment for Lee, and other students looking to luck out on some quick cash to pay the bills, buy some books, or fund the next bar tab."I only go when I'm really bored," said Lee. "When there's absolutely nothing to do, it's like 'oh lets go to the casino.'"

The voyages, which are normally taken with a group of friends, generally last for about five hours. "It goes by so fast when you're there you don't even realize it," said Lee.

But with many other places to go, why 15 miles away from campus at the casino? "It's the excitement of when it lands on your number and feeling lucky," said Lee. "You can go there and drink and gamble."

When at the casinos, Lee spends most of her time playing roulette and black jack, and has once taken part in the Casino Del Sol's cosmic bingo. 

"There's this drag queen that calls you a stupid bitch if you call bingo and don't have it," said Lee.

Study break? 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monsoon Season

I'm not a gambling expert, infact, I don't gamble, but something tells me that when you're winning big, sometimes you might just want to dance. 

The Desert Diamond Casino has answered that call, by offering guests of the hotel and visitors of the casino the Monsoon Night Club. It's a typical lounge and club with a $5 dollar cover, cheap drink specials, and an entertaining ambiance for club hoppers and concert goers alike. 

Open from 8 p.m. till 2 a.m. on weekend nights, the club offers two full bars, rows of tables, booths, video screens, a large wooden dance floor and a stage for live performances. 

The club's entertainment is appealing to both younger and older crowds depending on the performers and genres. Friday nights are equipped with flashing lights, and a packed younger crowd accompanied by the loud, dance inspiring Fiesta DJ's. 

Saturday nights are full of cowboy hats, belt buckles, and an older two-stepping audience that enjoys the club's themed Tejano Saturday Nights. The Mexican music genre brings performers like Los Gallegos and Grupo LaMadrid. 

Saturday night drink specials include $3 dollar wells tequila sunrises, $3 dollar Mexican imported beers, and $2 dollar Frozen Fat Tuesdays, which resemble Slurpee's with an adult addition of tequila or rum. 

"People come here to dance, have fun, and have some drinks," said Marc Jones, the manager of the Monsoon Night Club.  

To keep things classy, the night club also enforces a dress code, which includes no hats, no excessively baggy clothes, and no sleeveless shirts. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Smoke Signals

According to the American Lung Association, 430,700 people die each year as a result of smoking. Never the less, the Desert Diamond Casino is still a cigarette friendly establishment, and the nearby Tobacco Barn, located at 7310 S Nogales Hwy, is the perfect place for a gambler to stock up before they light up.

"We have a little under a hundred brands of cigarettes," said Julien Ruiz, an employee at the Tobacco Barn.
Ruiz is spending his morning running out to the twelve cars lined up at the barn's drive thru window, taking window orders from customers with a walkie talkie to expedite the sales process. 

The establishment, located in the parking lot of the Desert Diamond Casino, caters to coming and going gamblers, as well as other Tucson residents from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., on the weekdays, and as late as 8 p.m. on the weekends.

Operating only through drive thru windows, customers wait in their cars for up to a half an hour for the reduced prices and extensive selection of cigarettes, rolling and chewing tobacco.
A box of Marlboro's might cost up to $6.99 at a local convenience store, but the Tobacco Barn sells them for $3.50. The lines of cars overflowing the parking lot and backed into the right lane of the Nogales Hwy suggest that the low prices are not a secret, and the smoke isn't fading anytime soon. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

You Can Sleep When You're Dead

It's 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday as most of the city sets their alarm clocks, and prepare for the work week ahead... but somehow, under the pitch black desert sky, I'm having trouble finding parking at the Casino Del Sol

The casino, open 24/7, demonstrates that although scattered headlights are the only thing illuminating the surrounding road, the establishment has no concept of turning out the lights. 

"Between 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. we usually have between 130 to 150 people on the weekdays," said Amber Phelps, a floor attendant at the Casino Del Sol. 

But who are these people? Who frequents a gambling establishment in the middle of the night on a Sunday? Truthfully, I expected to witness a small, scattered group of individuals who would be pulling slots with one hand, and dialing their Gamblers Anonymous sponsors with the other. 

While entering the casino, an elderly couple joining hands as they walked to a new group of slot machines killed that assumption. To my surprise, that wasn't even the only elderly couple there. It was... busy. The crowd is no different from normal, it's still cowboy hats, younger crowds with University of Arizona apparel, and a variety of other players from all walks of life. 

"30 to 40 percent of the people here are regulars at this time of night," said David Cadena, a floor attendant. 

The other 60 percent appear as eclectic as the crowd on a Saturday afternoon. 

The casino's black jack tables, slot machines, Moby's restaurant, bars, and hallways are populated. Upbeat pop music, and classic '80's hits blare through the casino's speaker system, competing with the relentless slot machine chimes. Hardworking waitresses scurry through the sparsely populated hallways with trays of drinks to deliver to thirsty gamblers. The dealers, security and staff all seem alert. It's business as usual. 

According to the staff, things will only get busier. "People with money start coming in between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. in the morning," said Cadena. "Sometimes they don't leave and stay for days."

With no adjacent hotel, there is no orthodox place in the casino for gamblers to sleep, but the Casino Del Sol's illuminated sky blue ceiling serves as an artificial shot of vitamin D and energy to all casino guests. If you don't keep track of what time it is, the casino has no intention of reminding you. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Tulalip Casino...

As most college kids try to frequent Mexican hot-spots, Las Vegas, or other festive, warm destinations for Spring Break... I have returned home to Seattle, Wash., constant rain and 40 degree weather included. So, I figured I'd take a 45 minute drive to the Tulalip Casino.

With a sprawling casino, and newly attached resort, I'm not the only person with this idea. Although I've traveled north, many Canadians flock south to gamble, and enjoy the resort. "Between Seattle and Canada, it's the biggest casino, with the best rates for hotel rooms with these amenities," said Cole Cassiano, a bartender at the casino's Blackfish Wild Salmon Grill and Bar. According to the casino's receptionists, at least 50 percent of the casino's guest come from Surrey, and Vancouver, British Columbia. 

With 370 rooms, at about $210 to $240 dollars on the weekends, the resort offers gamblers a new, luxurious place to break away from the hustle and bustle of the casino floor. "With the pool, spa, and the huge casino attached, you got a full day right here," said Cassiano.

The casino is decorated with cultural aspects of the Tulalip Tribes, and the natural surroundings of the Pacific Northwest's Puget Sound area. With everything from "Canoe's Cabaret," to the "Orca Ball Room," and the "Chinook Meeting Room," gamblers and guests are constantly reminded of the establishment's roots. 

Depending on how well the betting is going, high rollers can pay between $1,500 to $5,000 for any of the five unique specialty suites. The Pan and Grand Asian suites have a tropical theme, with traditional asian characters and decor. A technology suite is decked out with touch tone devices, TV's in the mirrors, and other state of the art gadgets. The player's suite comes stocked with every video game system, a pool table, pin ball machines, and dart boards to keep the activities going, and at 3,000 square feet, the Tulalip suite offers a vast amount of personal luxury. 

All specialty suites are located on the restricted floor 12 of the resort, and require special access, ensuring the utmost privacy for the most valued guests. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I'd Tell Ya, But I'd Have Tequila

As we all approach the "spring break" time of year, the sun comes out, the temperature soars, and sometimes the day isn't complete without some salt, a lime, and a well-known Mexican concoction. You love it, hate it, get peer pressured into it... It's unavoidable, it's coming, welcome to the world of tequila. 

The Casino Del Sol makes sure not to stray way from this philosophy, housing it's own Mexican restaurant, The Tequila Factory. With three shelves full of over 100 different tequilas, the Tequila Factory attracts everyone from the average customer with a thirst for Patron Silver , to the obscure individual hunting for a rare taste of imported liquid gold. 

The restaurant's shelf stocks everything from cheap Jose Cuervo to a bottle of Gran Patron, which charges high rollers $60 dollars a shot (1.5 ounces)... You might want to sip on that one... 
Unusual bottles of Asombrosoand Oro Azul tequilas come in unique shapes and artistic designs. A variety of the liquor is bottled in the form of worms, ovals, and other visually appealing shapes that appear more as decorative pieces than containers. The shelf also includesMonte Alban mezcal, which includes the infamous worm floating at the bottom of the bottle. Apparently, ingesting the worm can cause hallucinations, and if you're brave enough to test out the rumors, the customer who orders the last shot gets the worm at the Tequila Factory. 

Tony Davis, the manager of the Tequila Factory, imports the rare bottles from distributors and other suppliers, offering a wide selection of tequila in an environment surrounded with customers in need of creatively drowning sorrows and celebrating earnings. 
Of course, the Tequila Factory's shelves of liquor are connected to a colorful Mexican restaurant. The menu consists of everything from everyday fish tacos to a $9.95 prime rib dinner on Tuesdays, and an $8.95 all-you-can-eat Fiesta Bar. A Sunday brunch consists of seafood and desserts, and margaritas are priced down during happy hour from 4 - 8p.m.
The restaurant is most popular on Fridays and Saturdays, but depending on the casino's events, you might want to make reservations. "Before and after concerts, there's a line out the door," said Felizcita Alvarez, the Tequila Factory supervisor. 

And for the gamblers who wear their hearts on their sleeves out there, "Valentines Day was full because we had a buffet and special items," said Alvarez. But incase the old lady doesn't appreciate a Mexican buffet at a casino on the year's most romantic night, don't forget there's something to help with the V-Day loneliness... Three whole shelves of it. 

If anyone would like to see some of my classmates showing how it's done, and giving some other great tequila information, please check out their Tequila Tour 2009 Pretty awesome!!  

Monday, March 2, 2009

All You Can Eat King Crab Anyone?

What does the person betting chump change at the penny slots, and the person who just hit on 15 with $2 thousand dollars on the table have in common? They both eventually have to eat. 

The Desert Diamond Casino might empty your wallet, but there's no gambling with your appetite. 

The Desert Diamond Casino offers a number of food options for gamblers who desire to have
 food in one hand while yanking the lever of a slot machine with the other. Located right on the casino floor, The Desert Diamond Grill serves assorted appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, cake, and breakfast options 24/7. 

"We were even here on Christmas," said Jane Martinez, who has been operating the cash register at the grill for two years. 

Casino guests are able to carry the food back to the slot machines or tables with them in order to ensure that the necessity to eat won't slow down any game play. 

Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. everyday, the casino offers an eastern variation, at the Desert Wok, which dishes up chinese food in a hurry. 

Of course, the Desert Diamond Casino wouldn't be complete without the staple-point to any gambling establishment; the buffet. 

The Desert Diamond Buffet, open from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. - 9 p.m., charges $8.85 for lunch, and $10.85 for an all you can eat dinner. Not unlike an elementary school cafeteria, certain food is served on different days. Tuesday, "pasta," Wednesday, "barbecue," Thursday, "South of the Border," and for $16.95 on Monday nights, a "Seafood Special" baits and hooks the shellfish enthusiasts. 

The casino also knows how to class it up a little bit. From 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., hotel guests and local gamblers file into the new Desert Diamond Steakhouse, which just opened last year. 

"We suggest making reservations," said Marisa Reynolds, the Steakhouse supervisor. "This weekend we had people come in from the rodeo, the golf tournament, all over." 

With affordable entrees like a $23 dollar filet mignon, and $22.95 dollar 16 oz prime rib, the steak house allows hotel guests to enjoy a well reviewed dinner 20-feet away from the opportunity to win back your tab. 

From cereal and cigarettes to 22 oz porterhouses, you might leave broke but probably not hungry. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

You Gotta Know When To Fuel 'Em

I guess, if you think about it, the life of a gambler comes down to fuel. You need the fuel to win, the fuel to get over a loss, and you literally need fuel to commute back and forth from the isolated desert landscape surrounding Casino Del Sol.The Del Sol Marketplace and Chevron gas station, located on the premises of the casino, boasts a physical and metaphorical variety of fuel to assist the purposes and emotions of all gamblers, 24/7. "We get hundreds of people a day, we're constantly busy," said Lisa Wilder, a cashier at the sprawling on-site convenience store. 

Supplying customers with isles of assorted snacks, hot food, dairy products, coffee, energy drinks, and soda, it should be called the "Del Sol Compact Costco". Whether summoning the energy to continue making the bets, or stocking up for the ride home, the store offers enough carbohydrates, proteins and caffeine to satisfy anyone. Although edible favorites are excessively available for both customers and their pets, they are not the main attraction of the convenience store, "we sell a lot of beer and cigarettes," said Wilder. "usually it's by the cartons. We have regulars who buy six to 10 cartons at a time, once a month." 

With a drive thru window located on the side of the convenience store, between 6a.m. and 8 p.m. customers do not have to leave their car to acquire any of the hundreds of sold items. 

"We sell everything except beer through the window," said Elizabeth Esparza, the drive thru cashier. "Depending on how busy it is, I'll run in and grab anything. I've seen up to seven cars backed up." 

The Chevron station is owned and operated by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the cashiers are employees of the casino. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sweetest Suite...

You're hitting on everything and nothing's over 21. Only the right cards are being dealt, the dice rolls in your favor, and the slots are matching up perfectly. Lady Luck has become your inseparable mistress. Simultaneously, the drinks have been pouring, dawn is approaching, and rapid eye movement isn't helping your earnings... So, what does a good gambler have to do to get a decent night's (day's) sleep around here!? 
With 148 rooms at an average rate of $150 to $175 dollars a night, the Desert Diamond Casino's hotel located at 7350 S Nogales Hwy, caters to anyone in search of catching some slumber to the lullaby of chiming slot machines. 

"It's our busiest season right now," said Celina Acevedo, the hotel's front desk supervisor. From Feb. through April, Tucson is home to the Tucson Gem Show, MLB Spring Training for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as the Tucson Rodeo.

"Some of the rodeo committee stays here," said Acevedo. The hotel has hosted members of the rodeo committee for the past two years, and offers special $95 dollar a night rates for committee members. 

Depending on the performance of gamblers, the casino's Desert Diamond Club will track the performances and offer free rooms to VIP guests. 

"It just depends on the player," said Acevedo. "I'll get a phone call from the Diamond Club and they'll let me know what kind of room I need to give them." It ranges from standard rooms, to executive suites. 
"The only people that really stay in the executive suites are performers," said Acevedo. At $1,500 a night, executive suites come with separate bathtubs and showers, rainfall shower heads, 32'' flat panel HDTV's, and premium linens. 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Sol Guardians

The road to Casino Del Sol located at 5655 Valencia Road is a long,  straight commute surrounded by foothills, secluded homes, and barren desert. I'm driving there, thinking "Where is this place?" "Did I miss it? How could I miss it?" However, the confusion didn't last long. You can't miss it. It's a sprawling, out-of-place Pascua Yaqui Tribe establishment with the exterior of a Mexican villa and a backyard of natural desolation.  

The interior has a diverse flare, complete with two casino floors, a variety of restaurants, bars, a gift shop, and even an artificial alleyway decorated to simulate Chinatown.  

Then, I realize that I'm not supposed to feel like I even entered a building. The ceiling is backlit with a bright blue, lightly clouded sky, pumping artificial vitamin D into all the gamblers who aren't supposed to know what time it is, or how long they've been peddling away their savings. With classic rock and pop songs pumping through the speakers, flat screens broadcasting ESPN, and the choice of slots, blackjack, poker, and bingo, why would anyone want check their watch? 

It is an establishment to play games, take chances, and have fun. Daily shuttles from Nogales and Douglas escort players through the doors with the common goal to win some money. However, occasionally the entertainment is interrupted, and the casino has to depend on the security guards to maintain order. 

"Our job is to regulate. We are here to keep people safe at the casino, and be a deterrent to violence," said David Bojorquez, the lead security officer at the Casino Del Sol. 

The mixture of alcohol and finances can occasionally lead to physically violent scuffles between guests. "We have to deal with a lot of intoxicated people, especially on the weekends," said Bojorquez. "We're the first means of defense." 

Subduing assaulters is not the only responsibility security officers deal with on a regular basis, they have to constantly be aware of people who are trying to steal other people's money. 

"We deal with a lot of shady people," said Bojorquez. 

Although these problems arise, the casino remains a place where most come to enjoy themselves and refrain from causing problems. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Desert Diamond Diversity

From the outside appearance, the Desert Diamond Casino at 1100 W. Pima Mine Road looks like a plastic pastel Aztec foundation, commercializing the culture and history of the Tohono O'odham Nation to everyone passing by. Due to the outside appearance, I expected the inside of the casino would convey the same message, showcasing Mexican and tribal heritage, educating the average gambler as they try to fatten their wallets. To my surprise, it seems no one wants a cultural history lesson here, as the gamblers mindlessly shove quarters and dollar bills into a powerhouse of American popular culture, including "Wheel of Fortune," "Starwars," and "eBay" themed slot machines.

So what's the deal? Where's the pride? Have we all just abandoned our heritage for the all mighty buck? Maybe the Desert Diamond Casino has a different reason. Perhaps, no lesson in culture or history is given, because everyone already knows it.

"It seems to me that the majority of players are Mexican," said Debra Johnson, the casino's head manager on duty.

However, the culture isn't advertised through the fluorescent advertisement of their restaurants, bars or venues. Instead, the effort to maintain cultural elements in the casino can be seen through Saturday night mariachi music, and Mexican food served all day on Thursdays. The casino's cliental also showcase their own examples of the surrounding diversity by wearing cowboy hats, and bolo-ties. 
"A lot of people from Nogales come to play," said Andrea Enciso, a waitress at the casino's buffet.

As an employee at the casino it is encouraged to be bilingual, and conversing in Spanish is a significant component of each workday, said Enciso. "In one shift I'll get fifteen Spanish speaking tables," said Enciso.

All game play is operated in English, and the casino does not especially cater to Spanish speaking individuals, but when a player does not speak English then a bilingual employee will be recruited to assist the player in Spanish, said Johnson.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What it's all about.

What is the influence of Mexican culture on Southern Arizona's casinos? How many people are coming across the border to try their luck at Casino Del Sol and Desert Diamond Casino? 

Casino Del Sol was opened by Tucson's Pasqua Yaqui Tribe on July 4, 2003. Since then it has been Arizona's largest casino. The casino offers gamblers a place to take in some Mexican flare at the Tequila Factory, a restaurant and fiesta bar that, according to Tucson Weekly, "puts an emphasis on presentation." Along with an extensively colorful menu, the eatery has live mariachi band on Sundays from 10a.m. - 2p.m. 

If you're only interested in leaving the poker table for a quick refueling, Casino Del Sol also has Abuelitas Taquera, the place that specializes in producing tacos, burritos and quesadillas in a hurry. 

If food is only going to kill your buzz, the Mexican influence stretches to the casino's bar scene at La Botellita, a lounge open till 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Desert Diamond Casinos are operated by the Tohono O'odham Nation. The casino claims to have an emphasis on supporting the local Indian communities as well as Southern Arizona. They have 1,200 employees, many Native American. 

The Desert Diamond Casinos showcase their Mexican influence through their concerts. On Jan. 30, the Tex-Mex band Los Gallegos will perform at the sports bar. 

So what's the point of the Mexican influence on the cuisine, bars, and entertainment at the casinos? Is it to help embrace Southern Arizona's culture? Draw in Mexican cliental? Or is it to simply make people feel like they are vacationing south of the border? How does the Mexican influence financially impact the casinos? It's my intention to find out. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Si or No on MexiCasino?

My name is Garrett Rubis and I'm a graduating senior Journalism major at the University of Arizona. Through my Journalism class, Borderbeat, I plan on examining the daily life revolving around Southern Arizona's casinos, and their relationship with the Mexican-border. 

From the restaurants and nightlife to the crap tables, I'm here to figure out how the border impacts the roll of the dice.