Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Posts Tagged ‘Macedonia

Through Macedonian Casinoland

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When a door closes, a window opens.

One of the main problems with researching gambling is access to the field. Casino environment, for example, is usually off the limits for an inquisitive photographer or a film-maker. Gambling industry operators are not keen on talking to researchers. Not that we are a threat to them, several colleagues told me while sharing a similar experience, but merely a nuisance. Gambling industry is fast-growing, fast-changing and competitive. Hanging out with researchers is not the best use of these people’s time, I am told. Knocking on these closed doors seems like a big limitation, but it can also become a source of creativity.  So it’s true: when a door closes, a window opens.

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I recently came back from a field trip on the border between Macedonia and Greece. I visited a small town of Gevgelija which has become a favourite gambling and leisure destination for the Greeks from Thessaloniki. A fellow researcher, originally from Macedonia, joined me on the trip. We thought that approaching the local gambling managers in Macedonian would open these particular doors. We were very wrong. So wrong we couldn’t even get them to have an informal coffee with us; and so wrong that they wouldn’t even let her into the casino with her Macedonian passport. Our window out of there was to speak to the local people and find out how the town has changed in the last decade.

In one of the must-go-to restaurants, we sharpened our pencils and eagerly waited for the opportunity to write down the local tales. The waiter who served us spoke only to my husband: what can I get you, you should try our local brandy, so you’re from Croatia, I have many friends in Croatia. We, the she-anthropologists, interrupted him: excuse me, how do you feel about the casino industry dominating your town, do you get many Greek gamblers in your restaurant, do many young people from Gevgelija work in a casino… The waiter ignored us. Ours was not only the problem of accessing the gambling industry, but accessing the male world in general.

We stayed in this restaurant until closing time. My husband agreed to play a role: he was our spokesperson, because as women, we were either invisible or too dangerous to speak to. He visited the toilet often only to pass by the bar and chit chat with the waiter, who, as it turned out, was the owner’s son. My dear husband agreed to get drunk on the Macedonian home-made brandy, play a tough macho, neglect even us, only to open up a window of opportunity. By the end of the evening, the owner came to our table, obviously intrigued by this strange party of three. It was then that my husband told him we were important academics from European universities, writing a book about Gevgelija: you should speak to them, not me, he said. This was that moment of serendipity, never planned and always crucial for where the fieldwork takes us: and it always takes us somewhere.


Written by Andrea Pisac

September 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm