What the Loser Wins

Letter From London

The reason I am loath ever to set foot in the casino of Venice is that, in mournful contrast to just about everything else that fast moors me to her flooding shores, the Casinò di Venezia at Palazzo Vendramin is not an anachronism.  The Italian state, which runs the place along with several other, still more pathetic establishments, such those at San Remo and Campione, sells gambling to the Italians as if it were Heinz beans, or football tickets, or airport novels.  As in the United States, the hypocrisy of the state restricting the profitable activity to a few clip joints, like Atlantic City, induces in the player the nauseated sensation of being cornered by modernity.  It is as though, instead of being parted from his money in the natural way, he is made to undergo the proverbial back-alley abortion.

In London, where almost everything that once kept me happy has now been uprooted and plowed under, casinos are among the last anachronisms going.  Privately owned and codified in law as membership clubs, they range from the Chinese-populated, cigarette-burns-in-the-carpet, 50-people-to-a-table emporia such as the Victoria in Marble Arch to the inwardly tense, yet outwardly Olympian, temples to the divinity of chance such as the Clermont in Berkeley Square.  The truth that all of them, high and low, with the blessed exception of the late John Aspinall’s tabernacle in Curzon Street, are owned by casino...

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