A prose poem written by Deacon Merry Evans, Methodist Representative on the Leeds Responsible Gaming Forum.
Leeds City Centre, Eastgate. The Victoria Gate Casino.
Truly, this grand foyer is a liminal space! Literally it is the space between two worlds. I cross the threshold leaving the everyday reality of the street. Ascending the escalator, I am transported into a differing reality, one harbouring the unknown. Here, it is comfortingly dark. Here, I feel the subtle warmth of décor. Here, safely enclosed, I feel like a child gently lifted from the floor and swung up high into the adult spaciousness of a grown-up world… I could lose myself within this cavernous embrace. This is like a church, a cathedral, and I feel a something here, a something hidden, a something I can’t quite put my finger on, can’t quite explain, a something beyond, a something veiled…
People are clustering in more intimate spaces, chapels maybe, or altars. Here, the games are played. Here, the classic rituals are re-enacted. Here, personal prayers and sacrifices are being offered to the god of chance. It is midday. Today there are few customers. It is a thin congregation.
Seeing this, suddenly the illusion is lost. No longer under enchantment, I see business, simply business, big business plying its business game. Why am I here? Surely not to play?
Ushered through a door into yet another world: What do I feel? Excitement, Fear, Adventure? Here, we walk behind-the-scenes, cold concrete floors, bare breezeblock walls. Here, the glare of sparse fluorescent tubes light corridors and stairs which lead on through doors, and doors, more doors, each securely guarded by inevitable keypads (lights drowsily winking but they never sleep) and then on into the training room where our Responsible Gaming Forum meets. Here is another liminality, another transit into another world. Behold! Sandwiches, fruit, cake, and coffee are set before us. No one eats.
Who gathers in this space? Charities that treat addicted gamblers, Leeds City Council, the Licensing Authority, Leeds Credit Union, Financial Inclusion workers, Citizens Advice, Health workers, Homelessness workers, the Police, representatives from the Gaming Industry, the Gaming Commission and the Casino, academic researchers from the Universities, and myself, representing another voice (the churches, hmmm, or is it God?).
And as we gather at our table, what game is it we play today? What ritual re-enact? Our offerings are the commitments that we made – some in contract or in law; some in working lives committed to the ‘poor’; some in numbers crunched in statistics and research trying to find the core, the truth, the solution to…? (Well… we could be in a meeting anywhere, ‘finding solutions’ is an addiction of our age.) In turn, each present their story, each give witness or account, cast their contribution into the space between us. This feels real, but reality is veiled, I tell myself
For me, this table too is liminal space. A space between two worlds, or more. I guess it is for each of us. We float between considering the leisure, fun and pleasure of the game, the lure… and, the desperation of the loser, losing all and borrowing beyond the means of paying back… floating above our heads the arguments of economic gain and benefit, of harm and health and the merry hullaballoo of regeneration, of Leeds’s needs, of Leeds’s deeds and aspirations, for business, (for business produces commonwealth [sic]) … and lurking there, beneath the veil, not quite hidden, not quite seen, the operation, the profits, the advertising, the investors, the balance between responsibilities and accountabilities, between those who keep their feet upon the ground and those who don’t. Who here are the ‘people of the peace’, who here the doves, who here the serpents? What is the voice I bring?
Mentally I pick up imaginary dice – and make my throw. Cast the little insight that I have upon the table – risking all. Describe the Church’s lobbying, reflect upon necessity of risk within society, relate the testimony of a recovering gambling addict from pastoral experience, paint the image of a spiritual malaise that once we all called sin. And having cast my throw, do I detect a win, a spanner in the works? Of course not! More a crumb within the gears. And I am left to play the Witness game again, as are we all, next time. A witnessing through years.