Netherlands: A Curious Casino

Nick Martens takes a trip to the Holland Casino and finds that Amsterdam’s idea of gambling is nearly the opposite of what we come to expect from Las Vegas.

During my last trip to Europe, I devised [1] a theory that I believe gets at the root of the apparent philosophical rift between American and European culture. The theory is this: Americans are much better at making money than Europeans. I hope that this account of my trip to the Holland Casino illustrates what exactly I mean with this baseless assertion.

I traveled to this house of sin out of pure desperation. With no article in hand the night of my deadline, I felt that a casino just outside Amsterdam’s busiest nightlife district would be a surefire hit. I figured it would be wall-to-wall with drunken foreigners, stoners glazing over in front of whirring slot machines. I could easily land some killer material just by sitting down at a poker table and taking in the scene.

Walking into the casino, I was greeted with a much different reality. For one thing, I had to buy a ticket just to enter, like I was at a museum or an amusement park. When I approached the turnstile, the ticket-taker informed me that checking my coat was mandatory. As I surveyed the floors, I saw a sedated rendition of Vegas’s ostentatious glam: the lights flashed less brightly, the slot machines clanged more softly, and the decor felt subdued, almost urbane. The poker room, which I felt would be full of American tourists obsessed with the latest Texas Hold ‘Em craze, was actually packed to the gills with serious, sober Dutch card players. The instructions for playing were complex and written entirely in Dutch. This fact, on top of the 40 euro minimum buy-in, kept me away from the table, as I imagine it would for most casual English-speaking players.

I could barely believe my eyes. Does this place know how much money it’s leaving on the table? Charging three euros to get in the door only dilutes the stream of potential gamblers, and gambling, I think it should be obvious, is where the house makes the bulk of its profits. Why do you think Vegas casinos give out free drinks and comp rooms? The muted atmosphere is another money-loser. Vegas deliberately cultivates an air of exuberance that encourages people (drunk off free booze) to throw their money away. The Holland Casino had no such vitality.

It dawned on me that these steps were all deliberate parts of a larger scheme. This place wants to keep the riffraff out. If they let any drunk[2] yahoo through the door, the place would be crawling with sleaze. I also realized that I was easily the youngest and most casually dressed person in the entire casino. In fact, there were many well-dressed middle-aged and older patrons in attendance. Gambling in Amsterdam, it seems, is not the debaucher’s past-time that it is in the States. In fact, it seems more akin to the fabled “Sport of Kings” days from the racetrack’s distant past. [3]

What this all boils down to is that the Holland Casino is willing to turn away easy money in order to foster a more pleasant gambling experience. If they opened the floodgates to the legion of idiot foreign tourists, the casino would be committing legalized robbery. Money would pour in hand-over-fist. But the casino’s managers, apparently following some socialist maxim, would rather operate a nice casino than a ridiculously profitable casino. Imagine an American company–and not just any American company, but a casino, the insignia of capitalist greed–ignoring barrels and barrels of easy money. In America, such a business would be a laughingstock; in Amsterdam, it’s a three-story giant in the busiest part of the city.

1. In this context, by “devised” I mean “invented based on no knowledge.”

2. and likely jacket-wearing.

3. I should note that, though ostensibly sophisticated, the table games section of the casino featured neither craps nor baccarat, which offer the best odds against the house outside of card-counting at a blackjack table.

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Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.