Sunday, August 14, 2011

TSR, Terrible Smoke Remorse

Residents of the Phoenix Valley know TSR as the acronym for "Talking Stick Resort", the newest addition to Casino Arizona's chain of local Indian Reservation casinos.  TSR advertises heavily on bill boards along the I-10, I-17, AZ-101, AZ-202, and the US60 Superstition Highway.  Each of TSR's Billboard ads show smiling, well dressed groups of 'soccer mom' aged women who are laughing, gambling, and having what appears to be, a great time.  TSR frequently has "female oriented" entertainment, like male strip shows (The Thunder Down Under, Chippendale's, etc).  Dr Desert Flower and I had never been to a Phoenix Valley Indian Casino before, so we thought we'd drive the convertible over to Scottsdale and see if TSR lived up to it's advertising back on the night of Saturday, August 6th. 

Our trip ran into a snag when we found the Loop 101 closed around the North and NE sides of Phoenix, for weekend construction.  So an arduous and time consuming detour was required to go down the I-17, and across on Bell to re-join the Loop 101 south bound in the east valley.  Once we arrived (around 730pm) we thought we'd walk up to Orange Sky, the roof top restaurant, and get dinner - we had no reservations, silly us!  The parking lot was packed, the casino was HOPPIN' with activity.  Now, the month prior, we'd JUST been to Las Vegas.  We'd walked up and down the strip, went to the locals-only South Point casino, and to Freemont Street downtown, and had seen a variety of upper class, lower class, busy, and not-so-busy casinos.  TSR was at least Twice as busy as the busiest Vegas casinos we'd visited.  Every Seat was taken, at Every Table game, every restaurant, every walk up bar, every slot machine, every video poker machine. 

The place was PACKED, and incredibly smokey.  The stench of ash trays permeated everything. We were looking for dinner first, so we approached the elevator that lead to Orange Sky. "Do you have a reservation?" the nice concierge / host asked us, with a large security guard standing behind him.  We did not. "Oh, I'm sorry, we don't have anything available before 10:30 tonight".  No problem, it's a casino, there's lots of places to eat, right?   We headed to the sit-down cafeteria style place... they had a 30 minute wait.  We hunted through the casino to find "Ocean Trail" - advertised as having fresh, delicious sea food (in the desert) - and there was a queue with 8 people in front of it.  Now, the photo of "Ocean Trail" shows THE WHOLE restaurant, not part of it.  That's it.  About 20 seats around a bar, and 2 four person tables, across the aisle from smoking slot machines, packed with nicotine addicted gamblers.  We waited about 15 minutes, got seated at the bar, had excellent service, OK food (Cajun gumbo-like dishes), paid way too much for our drinks, closed out our bill and headed into the casino. 

Our bellies full of over-priced Cajun food, we headed towards the box office to buy Psychedelic Furs / Tom-Tom Club tickets for an up-coming September concert at TSR.  Dr Desert Flower was developing a head ache from all the smoke.  My eyes were beginning to water somewhat.  You could not SEE the smoke, as the floor was checker boarded in 4 inch diameter vents spaced out every few feet, that were weakly attempting to feed fresh air at floor level and carry the smoke up to the HVAC returns at the ceiling level.  But there was just not enough flow to make a meaningful dent in the 1800's Birmingham UK-like plumes billowing forth from every video poker, slot, and gaming machine on the floor.  The casino was buzzing, very busy, alive with current & future lung cancer patients, and nauseatingly smokey. 

We purchased the tickets and then began to look for the 25 cent poker machines.  When we'd find a rare one open, the octogenarian sitting next to it would say something like "oh, they'll be right back" and you could see a burning cigarette in the adjacent ash tray, and about $100 of credits on the machine.  Grandma was going to get more cash from the ATM, or to charge up her "Players Card" some more.  Great. 

After inhaling enough smoke into our lungs to take 2 or 3 months of life away, we finally found one machine where the gambler had given up and stalked off.  I plunked in $20 and began playing.  At the 2nd hand (about 10 seconds later, and a dollar poorer), Dr Desert Flower said "I'm going to go stand over there, where no one is smoking, my head ache is really bad".  I encouraged her to sit down and play a few hands, but the smoke was overwhelming.  We ran through the $20, and headed for the exit.  Not a single waitress came by to comp us for anything, though one waitress did limp past carrying a full tray of drinks for a nearby gaming table.

Enroute to the parking lot door, we passed the "no smoking poker room" - it was PACKED.  There was a "high rollers" video room, that was non-smoking, but it started at $2 games - or 8X more expensive than the 25 cent machines we were looking for, or could afford.  TSR had a large presence of walkie talkie carrying security guards everywhere you looked, and the ceiling was lined with cameras (and weakly functioning HVAC returns).  The service personnel were friendly and helpful, but the smoke was pervasive.  The throngs of gamblers were NOT AT ALL like the milfy women of the bill boards and the TSR website. 

From a "truth in advertising" perspective, yes, there were some Asian women there, but not the red halter top wearing martini sipping 30-somethings. No, there were 60 and 70 and 80 year old Laotian, Philippine and Vietnamese grandmas, some with walkers, some with oxygen bottles, some with younger family members in tow for a "family night out at the casino". 

The level of smoke saturation rivaled that of the somewhat sad, local, White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation casino near Show Low / Pine Top that Dr Desert Flower, our son and I visited 2 years ago up in NE Arizona.  The crowd resembled strongly the characteristics of locals at the Vegas South Point casino. The cocktail waitresses - who were struggling to keep up with the tables alone and never brought a drink at the video poker machines, and who, for the most part, showed signs of type II diabetes, morbid obesity, nicotine addiction, and being born during the first Eisenhower administration. The marketeers had done a fine job of obfuscation and luring in new customers.  Congratulations to them for such fine execution on that slight-of-hand.

If you are an addicted smoker who loves to gamble in the Phoenix valley, TSR on a Saturday night might be a great place for you.  I can't say that we'll be back, other than for The Furs / Tom Tom club concert.


  1. I admit to being shocked every time I go someplace that does not have an indoor smoking ban. If NYC, Dublin, and London can have smoking bans without the world ending, surely Phoenix has no good argument not to have one?

  2. Ahhh, you see, Phoenix and Scottsdale DO have an indoor smoking ban, but TSR is on TRIBAL land, on the reservation, which is no longer Arizona (technically, not even in the US). And addicted gamblers, nearly all of them from my observations, cannot part with their nicotine.

    In Las Vegas, the newer casinos have formidable air handlers that render the burnt tobacco fumes nearly non-detectable. Once you sit at a video machine or slot or table, and someone next to you IS smoking, most of their smoke goes to the air handlers. But we still ran into one or two obnoxious cigar puffers in various casinos during our 4 days there who would sit 1/2 facing their black jack table, 1/2 facing the aisle, puffing and blowing as much smoke as possible to create the largest fume foot print imaginable - 'Look at me, I'm an a**hole!'. And in the older casinos off the strip, the pervasive odor is still noticeable.

  3. Ah, I see. I guess businesses on tribal lands don't give a shit about their employees. Yes, secondhand smoke is bad for the visitors, but orders of magnitude worse for the people who are employed there and have to be on the floor every day.

  4. Agreed. DDF and I were delighted when Charleston finally passed a smoking ban, as we figured it probably added 5 years to our son's lifespan while he works in the service industry.


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