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An Ode to Horseshoe Casino

You may not always find luck there, but you will find hope.

Illustration: Jens Magnusson

Hammond, Indiana —The Horseshoe Casino sits in full retreat, at the far end of a long curl of road built like a freeway exit. You enter to a carpet-muffled throb of human bustle — tracksuits and tuxedos, maid uniforms and Bermuda shorts. Grandmothers sit shoulder to shoulder with steelworkers, playing trumped-up games like Caribbean stud. It is the only place I know these days where everyone keeps their eyes up and mouths open. They tell tales — of their sister’s battle with cancer, of the best gyro on the South Side, of how to drive in snow. The place is a respite from debates about Trump and reminders of climate change.

Sure, everyone is getting dragged, mostly, but there is a sense of something shared. Like any casino, I suppose. But most like the Horseshoe in my mind because it’s a station of hope, long ago plopped like a golden turd in a huge vacant lot 20 miles south of downtown. Everyone leaves with a story and the occasional fistful of lettuce. Not everyone comes back.

Years ago, I entered a long streak of shit luck. My boss got fired, I was let go soon after, and the cards dried up. I stopped gambling, because I’m too smart to lose everything when everything is pretty much gone. I didn’t see the inside of the ’Shoe for the better part of a year. Then one afternoon I stopped by for a midday poker tournament, just because I wanted a warm seat in the bosom of a winter afternoon. My luck was no better. So I just shut down midtournament, folded out.

Still, I didn’t want to go anywhere else. It was cold as balls outside, and I had coffee in front of me, juiced with Baileys, a college basketball game on the giant flat-screen, and a Jack Reacher novel in my coat pocket. I might as well have been 600 miles from the stern gaze of the Chicago skyline.

Somewhere in there, day rolled into night. Back at the table, I won a hand I shouldn’t have. Then another. So I ordered food. I figured on sticking it out.

The whole thing was like sitting in front of a roaring fireplace, with no more wood left to burn. Everything looked good, felt good. And yes, I knew it wouldn’t last. But for a while at least, I didn’t have to hope for much beyond the next couple of hours, which is all I ever need from the Horseshoe.

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