The difference a casino can make

Sunday 2nd February 2020

BOSSIER CITY, La..--There's hardly any traffic in downtown Shreveport, connected to Bossier City by the Texas Street bridge over the Red River. That seems weird, as it's 7:30 a.m. on a Friday, and it would seem that people would be arriving to get to work.

To be fair, we arrived here in northeastern Louisiana a day after the start of the new year, and it's likely that many are taking the rest of the week off. Yet there's something eerie about this stillness. As I go for a morning run along the quiet streets, I see lots of empty storefronts. No Starbucks. Few restaurants or clothing stores. Not much to offer tourists outside of a colorful row of lovely Victorian-period houses (like the Queen Anne-style Logan mansion on Austin Place).

Nor is Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets on the Bossier City side of the bridge the shopping magnet it used to be; despite Bass Pro Shops, Under Armour, a Skechers store and other national-brand retailers, a decent array of chain restaurants (Saltgrass, Cheesecake Bistro, Joe's Crab Shack, Cold Stone Creamery), and a mainstream movie theater, there are yet more empty storefronts.

The lack of visitors, especially early in the day, makes the area a prime destination for runners. It's fun to window-shop (even if every window doesn't have something to offer) along empty sidewalks while getting some exercise.

Apparently Shreveport and Bossier City don't worry overmuch about tourist attractions. They've got hotel casinos.

We are staying at a particularly glamorous property on the Bossier City side, with a gleaming gold-tinged exterior that rises 25 floors above the murky Red River. There are marble floors, soaring ceilings, a quality steakhouse as well as more casual restaurants, spacious and handsomely furnished rooms with spotless bathrooms and decent four-cup coffeemakers, free covered parking, free valet service, courteous and attentive staff members, an outdoor pool, live entertainment, a spa and fitness center, a well-stocked gift shop. And a giant casino.

I have no interest in gambling, but I like nice hotels. (Who doesn't?) This is one of them.

You don't have to be doomed to lose your life savings playing blackjack or poker or craps or slot machines to understand the benefits of having a hotel/entertainment/restaurant facility of this caliber in your town. Judging from the looks of other guests (not only older folks but attractive 40-somethings as well as young families with kids), not everybody here expects to win big. Many of them are seeking to get away from it all, with the "all" being pretty much under one roof.

We come here because my husband's family used to live in Bossier City (his dad was in the Air Force, stationed at Barksdale), and his Savannah-based mother visits here from time to time to catch up with family and longtime friends. Her skill set includes good luck at penny-ante gambling, and she always seems to have accumulated enough reward points with this hotel group to allow all of us to stay here for free.

So, along with a mandatory shopping visit to the outlets, we head to the hotel's casino (like I said, tourist attractions aren't all that plentiful hereabouts). We take an escalator to the lower floor, where a few bucks can keep you busy for a considerable length of time. After I stuff a dollar into a riotously colorful and noisy machine, then realize I have absolutely no idea how to operate it, I punch a few buttons and watch my dollar value decrease before wandering over to watch my husband and his mother collaborate on another pair of slots.

They are burning through bigger bills than I'm willing to part with, but they're having a great time together, and I enjoy observing their lively camaraderie. Maybe he's inherited her winning genes.

I accept a free cocktail and hang around for a while, then wander off to cash in a voucher for the 26 cents I didn't lose on my rookie effort to look like I know what I'm doing when playing slots. A kindly staff member shows me how to redeem the voucher; a quarter and a penny drop into my hand. I stash it in my wallet for future use. Maybe I'll buy a cookie in the stylish coffee shop on the main floor. The possibilities are endless.

I asked a young colleague at the newspaper, who recently spent a weekend in Las Vegas--her first visit there--with her husband to celebrate their anniversary, if she enjoyed the trip. Her eyes widened. "That place is different," she said. "I saw things there I've never seen before."

Isn't that the point of a vacation--exchanging your everyday existence for one that's bit more fantastic? In a luxe casino--like Saracen Casino Resort, coming to Pine Bluff in June, promises to be--you don't have to gamble to be rewarded. Just being there might do the trick.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

kmartin@arkansasonline.com

Editorial on 02/02/2020

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