The casino is a social institution encompassing an array of interactions that focus upon patterned financial risk taking-gambling. Gambling is an activity that reflects the cultural values of a society. Indeed, the casino may be a microcosm of all society, sometimes an institution for social escape, sometimes an alternative social support system, sometimes an extension of a society. Accordingly we can find that the Latin American casinos reflect a dominant value in society – machismo.
In 1989, I witnessed casino managers setting up a cockfighting ring in the casino showroom of Casino del Caribe in Cartegena, Colombia. Locals were invited to bring in their prize birds for matched fights to the death. Actually the casino did not participate in betting on the fights, but it did permit its patrons to do so. The holding of a cockfight in a Latin American casino is doubly symbolic of the main cultural value extant in the society.
Anthropologist Clifford Gertz, in his “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” offers the arena of the cockfight as a metaphor for life on a South Seas island. He writes, “As much of America surfaces in a ball park, on a golf links, at a race track, or around a poker table, much of Bali surfaces in a cock ring… only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually, it is men”. He continues, “In the cockfight, man and beast, good and evil, ego and id, the creative power of aroused masculinity and the destructive power of loosened animality fuse in a bloody drama of hatred, cruelty, violence, and death”. Gertz related that the owner of the winning cock takes the losing bird home to eat, but in doing so engenders feelings of embarrassment mixed with “moral satisfaction, aesthetic disgust, and cannibal joy”.
Actually, as a legally recognized event, the cockfight is usually confined to Latin American countries.  It is in these countries that the set of ideas called machismo is most blatantly recognized and accepted as a guiding course of conduct for many members of society.
What is machismo? What does it mean, and where does it come from? Machismo has been called a “system of ideas,” a “worldview,” an “attitude,” a “style,” and a “personality constellation”.
Macho is a term dating back to at least the thirteenth century. The central value among the qualities of macho is maleness. Webster’s New World Dictionary (1975) defines macho as “strong or assertive masculinity”, and Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1984) defines macho as “aggressively virile.” One achieves the ideal of maleness by displaying fearless courage and valor, welcoming challenges of danger and even death with daring. Positive values of pride, courage, honor, charisma, and loyalty are accompanied with negative values of recklessness and aggressiveness carried to extremes of violence. The macho man is quick to take insult, and he refuses to back away from fights. In sexual relations machismo is associated with chauvinistic behaviors. The woman is in all ways a subordinate partner in relationships.
Economic theories focus on the lack of employment, poverty, and the need of the male to migrate to other locations for economic sustenance – for opportunities to support his family. These are seen as forces taking the male away from the home and placing the young male child under the yoke of his mother. The child aggressively seeks to assert a male role in behavior designed to show an independence from his mother.
The ideas of machismo also are derived from a societal need for hero worship. El Cid, Don Juan, Pancho Villa—these and others stand up to the forces that subjugate the males of the society. They are revered for their charismatic appeal. The macho society becomes a society willing to follow, and the strongman ruler is idealized.
Machismo is manifested in myriad ways in the Latin American casino.

Charismatic Authority Structures
The forces of machismo have left a heavy measure of charismatic authority upon Latin American political entities. The caudillo – or “man on horseback” – gains power through battles where mystical leadership traits may be displayed. As a ruler, these traits allow him to win support for his decisions. Respect is only diluted if he relinquishes authority to subordinates. He certainly is very reluctant to permit alternative authority structures such as legislative assemblies to share real power with him.
The Latin casino industry is too often dependent upon the whims of leaders, and it often suffers dislocations when leadership changes hands. Many jurisdictions operate according to presidential decrees rather than deliberative legislative policy.

Violence: Suppressed but Ever Present
The machismo syndrome includes a glorification of violence and a measure of reverence for tools of violence. As suggested above, the macho man believes that the knife and gun, phallic symbols as they are, nevertheless are integral to feelings of manliness. The beliefs would be quite compatible with those of the board of directors of the National Rifle Association.
I asked the manager of the Royal Casino in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, if the sign was serious. He assured me that it was. The sign greeted visitors as they entered the casino door. It read (in both Spanish and English): “For everyone’s security, no weapons are permitted in the casino. Thank you.” When the casino first opened, the management installed twelve lockers to hold patrons’ guns. On the first day the lockers were completely full. Quickly the casino ordered an additional dozen lockers. These are now regularly full of weapons.
The casino managers interviewed in this study denied that violence ever erupted in their casinos. Several establishments, however, most notably those operated by governments, kept medical doctors on premises at all times when the gaming rooms were open. The casinos were certainly mindful of the stress associated with gaming wins and losses and were in a state of readiness in case of strokes or heart attacks.

Creditors, Debtors, and the Sense of Honor
A manifestation of machismo is witnessed in the ability to gain access to money. The macho can successfully borrow money. The true machismo finds ways not to pay it back. This kind of attitude can be dangerous for a casino organization.
Casinos in Latin America, especially ones managed by Americans, have been “stung” by local machos. They learned that it is easy to make loans to local players, but it is very difficult to get repayment. When they tried to collect, they found they were “insulting” the borrower by suggesting that he was indebted to them.  Some casinos will make loans only through local agents or if guaranteed by a local businessperson.

National Integrity
The sign on the side of the mountain hovers over the national capital. It is brightly illuminated in the evening, seeming to almost be the symbol of Tegucigalpa, capital city for a “sovereign” nation. The sign simply reads, Coca Cola. One of the driving forces of machismo is the notion that the male must personally compensate for feelings of inferiority derived from the subjugation of local populations by foreign interests, colonial masters from Europe, or economic masters from north of the Rio Grande. For this reason, most of the countries with casinos insist that gaming work forces consist of local citizens only.

Gender Roles in the Casinos
The casinos of Latin America exhibit employment discrimination against women. Several casinos do have women dealers. These invariably are gaming halls controlled by Americans or foreign nationals and those in Puerto Rico. In Vina Del Mar, Chile, women are permitted to work only on low-stakes games or games not considered to be games for serious players.
Discrimination against women is defended with phrases such as “We would like to have women dealers someday. But we are not ready for that now.” In one casino I was told that it would not be good. “It is the Latin blood, you know.” Part of the message was that male players did not feel comfortable having women controlling their fate by turning cards or spinning the wheels. The casinos felt that the male players would harass the women dealers and seek to compromise their integrity at the games. The casino operators know that the macho man is just too much; the women inevitably submit.

The Games Machos Play
The macho man is favored by supernatural forces. If he is brave, he will keep the favor of his gods. Bravery is really more important than cleverness or rationality. Games such as craps and blackjack offer very good odds to the player, but the good odds can be exploited only by educated play, which involves a long-term commitment to the gaming activity. The machos favor casino games of roulette and baccarat, games based upon the luck factor. In roulette the macho challenges fate by going for the single number.
When playing blackjack, strategy play is rarely seen, and card counters are almost nonexistent. Players would often split tens, and then they hit 18s and 19s. It seemed that a successful hit on a 19 was evidence of daring and a display of manliness.

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