High Rollers: Black Tie & Baccarat

I recently rented In Time, a science-fiction thriller where lifespan is traded like currency and the working class majority are exploited by a privileged elite whose members have become virtually immortal.    The story’s downtrodden protagonist gains access to this upper echelon by joining a high-stakes poker game at a tony casino.  How do we know that he’s arrived at the innermost circle of the ruling class?  The patrons are all wearing black tie.

The popular association of the tuxedo with the highest of rollers is remarkably enduring, mostly thanks to James Bond films which have been employing this motif since 1962’s Dr. No.   It serves as a visual indicator to audiences that what we are witnessing is not gambling as we know it, namely a drunken night out for faceless multitudes hoping for a ticket out of their daily drudgery.  Rather, it is the calling card of a man of the world that grants him access to private salons where fortunes are risked nightly as much for the thrill of victory as for the gratification of the winnings.

European venues are always depicted as the pinnacle of such gentility thanks to the prevalence of centuries-old gambling palaces patronized by aristocratic families that date back even further.   Las Vegas once offered its own black-tie glamour but in a distinctly American form that combined mobsters, show girls and neon facades.  However, that time is long past.  Unlike the populace in the aforementioned movie who are genetically engineered to stop aging physically when they reached 25, Vegas high rollers now appear programmed to cease mental development at about that same age.

2009 World Series of Poker

2011 World Series of Poker


I was reminded of Sin City’s  golden era when I visited Las Vegas for the first time a couple of weeks ago and filled out a hotel laundry form that included a checkbox for “Tuxedo/Tails.” (Why anyone other than magicians would be wearing tailcoats is beyond me, but I digress.)  The sad reality, though, was that the only people in my hotel wearing anything resembling black tie were the strippers in the Chippendales club.  Even the croupiers had traded in their formal attire for golf shirts.


  1. A. R.

    Speaking of tailcoats, I saw the most horrific thing recently, one of Her Majesty’s footmen was wearing a pre-tied bow tie with a distinctly visible clasp with his tailcoat. I nearly convulsed in disgust, particularly given the Queen’s well known ability to spot pre-tied monstrosities at first glance. (A talent I am quite proud to say I share.)

    1. Don A.

      If you saw that item in person, I envy you. I also noticed that infraction, albeit via video (as I live in the Philippines), one where a footman’s tie showed a clasp, a tell-tale sign that it was not a self-tying model.

  2. JM

    The poker photo isn’t terribly conducive to the point of ceasing growth in maturity at twenty five years old, given their average age was only 26 (with just one player in his thirties, at age 36). The winner was 22 years old.

    The more general point about casino patrons (including high rollers) more generally, though, is disappointingly true.

    1. Peter Marshall

      You are absolutely right about the photo. I have therefore replaced it with one that shows a much wider age range of poker champions, most of whom are dressed to cleverly hide their multimillionaire status by blending in with the casino’s janitorial and dishwashing staff.


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