Casino: Rodrigues’ Palace of Tears


by tychay

When P’tit Monaco Casino opened its doors recently, Rodrigues got its first taste of legalized gambling – compliments of the government. According to its owner, (Lexpress Rod Sept 12) the casino which employs ten Rodriguans has since attracted loads of punters (mostly tourists) to the green felt, fuelled a mini-boom for the precinct’s traders, and given Port Mathurin’s idle nights a new lease of life. He goes on to say that the casino is primarily a place of relaxation, where Rodriguans can bring the family to bet in moderation and, um, to help punters better control their wagers, the premises will be temporarily booze-free.

Sounds good, but be that as it may, for those Rodriguans who have always had it drilled into them that gambling was illegal and immoral, this must come as a bit of a culture shock. At the risk of being branded a killjoy, it’s important enough to highlight the difference between private poker games and full-blown casino gambling. The former is played privately, more or less among friends and occasionally at funerals, a Rodriguan tradition which the authorities sometimes – tolerate – and rightly so. The latter is State sanctioned gambling – accepted – as a legitimate business, which draws in and dazzles the mums and dads who had never gambled before, while kids wait impatiently in the wings to be of legal age, all agog to don their Sunday-best, so they too, can try their hand at the roulette table. After all, it’s legal. Hence, with a stroke of a pen, the State blurs the line between what society tolerates and what it accepts.

To presume that casino gambling will benefit Rodrigues requires the willing suspension of disbelief. Let’s take stock. First of all, one would have to be blind to the blight of gambling related crimes, marriage breakdowns, suicides, gangsterism, money laundering, prostitution, and corruption of government officials and law enforcement officers, which follows casinos everywhere; then, be doubly-blind to all the blood and guts evidence, which graphically depict the deleterious impact this scourge has had on small communities such as ours and, moreover, talk oneself into believing that a lopsided deal where ten are employed to sting ten thousand – for one private pocket – so that the State can rake in part of the blood money, is fair and based on reason. Given Rodrigues’ impoverished state, it’s tantamount to taxing poverty itself (tire la kaniotte lor la misere).

In another life, when a social conscience still mitigated the excesses of greed, some governments, Mauritius and the Seychelles included, tried to shield their residents from the ravages of casino gambling, by restricting entry and, in some cases, admitting only holders of foreign passports. But unfortunately, when naïve cashed-up tourists and budget-constrained backpackers didn’t flock to casinos in droves, all bets were off, all restrictions quickly lifted, and the doors thrown wide-open to the locals. Today, though still politically inconvenient to acknowledge, it’s an open secret that local residents and chronic gamblers are the bread and butter of casinos worldwide – with few exceptions.

Of late, it seems that all the rehashed, monkey-see monkey-do, punch-drunk versions of tried-and-failed policies, have all rolled up to the revisionist laboratory of Rodrigues, for another makeover – like raggedy old dogs from the past returning to their own vomit.

Here, in wacky social experiments – with our people as the Guinea pigs – the fantasies of the few override the realities of the many; here, self-styled fiscal gurus still hope against hope that tourists will bypass Bellagio, Mandarin Oriental, Baden-Baden, and Sun City casinos, board two or more planes, and swap Euros and Dollars for Rupees to spread on the tables of a gambling den cum gaming and entertainment complex, in Port Mathurin.

Admittedly, in a world of spin, we get startled by the truth, but here, we’re not talking rocket science – we’re talking G-a-m-b-l-i-n-g. One must lose for another to win. Similarly, for casinos to win, the people must lose and lose consistently. So, for casinos to survive, they must burn punters, and if not tourists, then who? No prizes for guessing.

The ruling MR party (Mouvement Rodriguais) contends, and obviously the Prime Minister, whose veto would have scuttled the licence, agrees, that legal gambling will boost the Rodriguan economy. If that’s the case, then why not set up a (Rodrigues specific) regulatory gaming authority and, allow suitable Rodriguan clubs and local charitable organisations, to run small gambling houses which could then be taxed? Why impose a grotesque government monopoly? And, if niggling reservations remain, then, why is the government getting involved in this at all? More disturbingly, casino apart, the unleashing of poker machines (the crack cocaine of all gambling) on a population on the breadline, is at best bizarre. But to give the green light, without any apparent safety net, without any socio environmental impact study, without any contingency plan to cope with the fallout, without bipartisan support and, despite the increasingly strident objections of neighbouring shopkeepers and community leaders – beggars belief. Here’s the thing, the social devastation that those appallingly addictive, mind-numbing machines wreak on residents is painstakingly documented, in excruciating details, everywhere one cares to look. What they’ll bring to the lives of Rodriguans, I suspect, the trembling wives of desperate, starry-eyed gamblers, with less and less to put on the dinner table, will tell us soon enough.

MR and casino apologists rationalize that since Rodriguans were gambling illegally anyway, it was logical to license a casino which the State could subsequently tax. Dear reader, if we go along with this line of reasoning, then, as some Rodriguans already smoke ganja, should the State sanction and tax a Ganja House? And, since some tourists already go the beach in a state of undress, it follows that the State could quite reasonably endorse a nude beach – on l’ile aux fou – that doubles as an open-air bordello. Once we begin to defend the indefensible, the opportunities are endless.

While still in the ‘Twilight Zone’, with 150,000 Rupees in Australia, you could get a greyhound that can’t run or, get a funeral director to bury you on the cheap or, get yourself a good Plasma TV or, psst, you could come to Rodrigues, where, for the same amount annually – you get a licence to run a casino, smack bang in the middle of town. Cripes, even old Judas would have had the good sense to hold out for more …

Frustrated gamblers on the end of a particularly bad losing streak, often use the flippant expression ‘I’m doin’ my life’ to describe their luck; hopefully, Rodriguans in the same boat, won’t do theirs literally, when the house of dreams turns into the palace of tears.

— Alain Leveque is a writer living in Melbourne, Australia who promotes self determination for the people of Rodrigues island.

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