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.
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.