Alibi V.13 No.26 • June 24-30, 2004 

Idiot Box

“American Casino” Versus “The Casino”

Place your bets

Reality TV isn't the most original genre on the Idiot Box. So it should come as little surprise that two networks would debut two shows within a week of one another, both centering on the ritzy realm of Las Vegas casinos.

Discovery Channel laid down its cards first with “American Casino,” while FOX execs bet all their money on “The Casino.” So which show walks away a winner? Let's look them over.

“American Casino” takes place at the Green Valley Ranch Casino Resort and Spa in Henderson, Nev. The show is a raw, behind the scenes look at the hard work, daily pressures and day to day business decisions that go into running a major casino resort. The show hops around the hotel staff, watching cooks prepare elaborate meals, security deal with holiday crowds, publicity people lure guests.

Normally, I get enough stress at my own job. I don't really need to see a bunch of strangers bitch at their co-workers or scream at their boss. But there's a rather unique stress level at a casino. Racing against the clock to make 10-foot-high chocolate sculptures for 2,000 convention guests isn't exactly my normal Monday morning routine. The blunt documentary style of “American Casino” captures the feel of real-life casino work and makes for enlightening (if not necessarily essential) viewing.

FOX's “The Casino,” on the other hand, spotlights the personalities of Tom Breitling and Tim Poster, a couple of dot-com billionaires who've decided to sink a pile of their easily gotten gains into purchasing the historic Golden Nugget casino in downtown Las Vegas. “The Casino”—which comes to us courtesy of “The Apprentice”/”Survivor” producer Mark Burnett—certainly seems to have more flash and dazzle than Discovery's show.

As befitting a FOX show, there's sex, violence, bad language, illegal activity and more. In the first episode, we've got frat boys throwing a raunchy sex party upstairs and a con man trying to make a killing on the casino floor. But, by the end of the first episode, you begin to suspect some sleazy double dealing on the part of Mr. Burnett. The frat boys, despite pathetic attempts to drum up guests around town, end up with some impossibly sexy gals at their party. At the same time, our horny card counter runs into another group of impossibly sexy gals in the casino. Wait a minute. Those are the exact same women! You get the idea maybe this whole thing is staged? In a word: You bet.

The entire show feels phony and manufactured. Shots of the casino's security team keeping track of our would-be card counter with their hidden surveillance cameras are patently hilarious since he's already being followed by an entire TV crew. “The Casino” tries vainly to milk real drama from situations like Tom and Tim's visit to the gaming license review board. “We've got $50 million on the line. We need that license,” they stress. Of course, if it's denied, there's no TV show, so we're pretty sure of the outcome, boys.

Sorry, FOX, but the clear winner in this high-stakes showdown is Discovery.

“American Casino” airs every Friday at 9 p.m. on Discovery. “The Casino” airs every Monday at 8 p.m. on KASA-2.