Sunday morning in New York's Chinatown, a group of elderly Chinese men gathers at Lucky China Bakery to wait for the buses to Atlantic City. Mostly hardened gamblers, they have seen their money come and go across the gaming tables of Trump Castle, the Hilton, and other casinos. Today, they gather around fearful looking 62-year-old Mr. Eng.
"It makes me sick," a friend tells him. "If you have lost your family money, you shouldn't get on the bus!" But Eng nervously looks at the clock; only 20 minutes until he boards the chartered bus with his dream of recovering his life savings.
Chinatown, in southern Manhattan, has a panoply of gambling options, including a state-run off-track betting parlor, state lotteries, illegal gambling dens, bookies, and innumerable mahjong games. Yet the biggest portion of gambling money flows out of China town into the coffers of Atlantic City casinos.
After the two-hour bus ride, the Chinatown elderly quickly scatter to spend six hours at Trump Plaza Casino, which provides $25 in coins as a reward for those who have paid the $15 bus fare. The seniors enter a self-contained fantasy world of glittering lights, mirrored columns, and crystal chandeliers. The buzzers, bells, flashing lights, and clanging of tokens dropping into slot machine trays can be mesmerizing in an environment with no windows or clocks.
On this Sunday, 47 buses are bound for the New Jersey city that legalized casinos in 1976. About 9 million people a year are brought to Atlantic City by casino buses, and Sunday is their busiest day of the week.
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