Casino Carpet: The Quest & Conundrum

Peppermill

When I started this quixotic adventure, I thought I’d try to photograph a sample of casino carpeting in every Las Vegas casino. On a pre-Katrina trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I decided to extend it–why not take pictures of the carpets there? From there it grew into a national quest: in every casino city I visit now, I make a point of capturing each casino’s floor for these pages.

Casino carpet is known as an exercise in deliberate bad taste that somehow encourages people to gamble.

In a strange way, though, it’s s sublime work of art, rivaling any expressionist canvas of the past century. Note the regal tones of Caesars Palace, the bountiful bouquet of Mandalay Place, the soft, almost abstract pointillism of Paris, all whispering, “gamble, gamble” just out of the range of consciousness as people walk to the nearest slot machine.

Many of the carpets use flowers and wheels, both suggestive of a cyclical life: flowers bud, bloom, and then die, and their beauty is only ephemeral. The wheel was famous to the Romans (note its prominence at Caesars Palace) as a symbol of the relentless capriciousness of fortune. Could both be subtle reminders to casino patrons that life and luck are fleeting, and one should eat, drink, and be merry before the morrow brings a swing in fortune?

Trump Taj Mahal

People are curious about how I take these pictures. Basically, I just walk into a casino, find a nice section of carpet, and snap a picture, while keeping an eye open for any casino staff. It’s not that big a production. I would have added a Macau gallery, but security at those casinos was pretty adamant about the no pictures policy, and I really didn’t want to get a firsthand view of the Chinese (or Macau SAR) criminal justice system.

In my quest to launch casino carpet hermeneutics as a legitimate academic discourse. I delivered a paper on it at an academic conference. Seriously. If you were at the 2005 Far West Popular Culture Association conference in Las Vegas, you might have seen my presentation:”Art for Gamblers’ Feet: Casino Carpets from Coast to Coast.”

People around the world have been wondering why I did this: the answer is, I guess, because the carpets are there. Having worked in casinos, I’ve always been fascinated by every element of the casino landscape. Even my academic work on casinos has been an attempt to answer the question of how you get people to spend hours in smoke-filled, garishly-decorated places, losing money–and liking it.

See some casino carpet.

Here are a few samples:

Mirage

Mirage

Bellagio

Bellagio

Head to the galleries to see even more.