The great, great, and awesome Terry Johnson has been known to rock a blackjack table from time to time. Even rock’n’roll legends Fred and Toody of Dead Moon/Pierced Arrows have been tracked down and found at a casino more than once. The first time I was ever in a casino was in Atlantic City when I was maybe six or seven years old; they let my mom take me in to use the bathroom—I think her weird boyfriend was in there gambling somewhere while we were hitting the boardwalk. I remember all the greasy old men getting a good laugh out of the little kid walking through the casino.
Yet, when I think of casinos, I usually think of the lady I saw late one night walking down Decatur Street in New Orleans chanting (alone): “Get Harrah’s out of New Orleans!” Something in her demeanor told me she was walking home immediately after losing a significant amount of much-needed money at the casino and was struggling to cope with that potentially devastating reality.
Yes, casinos can be dark places, but gambling will always be part of human nature—and so will rock’n’roll (maybe)! Add fanzine writer Billy McCall to the list of punk-rockers-turned-casino-dealers (also including Officer Josh Von Indar of the legendary punk band Black Fork). McCall has merged his years of zine writing skills with his experiences at the casino tables to create a zine called Last Night at the Casino, and this book compiles and republishes the first eight issues along with some bonus material. Last Night at the Casino, Vol. 1 shows the reader a behind-the-scenes reality of life as a casino dealer.Billy McCall’s book tells small parts of many stories. The bulk of the book consists of random short blurbs from the author’s day-to-day experiences as a card dealer, which are quirky and interesting enough to command the reader’s attention. Regular customers and their eccentricities, co-workers and their dysfunctions, and the casino industry’s iron cage of bureaucracy are all well-covered here.
Interspaced throughout the book are longer stories, comics, a show review, and even a “novel” (the entirety of the zine’s sixth issue), which are the substance of the book and hold it all together. The “novel” is a standout, and really switches gears on the reader, revealing a level of depth and vulnerability that is elusive in the shorter features of the book. Ultimately, the saddest part of the book for this reviewer was McCall admitting he no longer feels sympathy for people he watches losing their money at the casino tables.
In Last Night at the Casino, Vol. 1, McCall gives the reader an innocent bystander’s look into a not-so-innocent industry (mostly operated and patronized by innocent bystanders), resulting in a read that is often funny, sometimes sad, usually surreal, and always interesting. –Buddha (Self-published, etsy.com/shop/iknowbilly)