THE West Coast has Las Vegas while the East Coast has Atlantic City. Both cater to souls searching for solace, searching for moments of pleasure and searching for instant wealth. People in areas near Atlantic City on long weekends suggest to each other: “Let’s go gaming!” That means families of close friends go to Atlantic City to have fun.

Check-in time at any of the hotels there is 4 p.m.

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That’s when the action starts. However, if one goes to Atlantic City, factory outlets are already open at 10 a.m. In my case, we left Piscataway, New Jersey, at 8 a.m., and reached Atlantic City in time for lunch. Restaurants are plentiful and the prices are affordable. After lunch, the fun began. We all agreed to meet at a certain place while we went our separate ways to our favorite outlets.

Gap, Calvin Klien, and other designer items were my targets. The afternoon flew so fast. Prices were really low. Imagine, a pair of Naturilizer shoes in terms of pesos cost me P1,125 compared to the P2,000 to P4,000 here [i.e. what it would cost in Cebu]. My Nine West bag in terms of pesos cost me P1,817 instead of the P4,000 here. Of course, for us Filipinos, it was more of window-shopping than anything else because we tend to translate dollars to pesos, and we say to ourselves: “Oh, I can get blouses, shoes, bags, etc. at Ayala, BTC or SM at a much lower price. Our local products are just as chic and stylish.”

Checking in at Borgata Hotel (one of the newer ones) was an eye-opener. The lobby was "milling" with people, mostly out-of-towners also. We were billeted at the 19th floor and my four grandchildren

(ages 15, eight, seven, and four) were given wristbands to show that they were minors. They were only allowed at the swimming pools, the shops, and at the restaurants accompanied by us.

What struck me, however, were the man-made gardens inside the hotel. From my veranda, we could see the swimming pools, the lush gardens (and the flowers were blooming) surrounded by the so green bushes and trees. Man-made landscapes can be overpoweringly beautiful!

We allowed the kids to have fun at the pools, then supper before they had to retire to our rooms. The comedy show, which normally starts at nine o’clock in the morning, was for free for registered guests. It ended at 10:30 a.m. Praise God, the rules for minors were strictly enforced because while the comedy show was entertaining, it was not for the ears and eyes of minors. Some jokes were too graphic for comfort. The crowd responded in raucous laughter.

When the show ended everyone gravitated toward the gaming area. Our group decided to go to the slot machines. Two others and I went for the five-cent machines while others went for the higher stakes. Since I was at the lowest stake, I had time to observe what was going on. What did I see?

Crowds of mostly elderly folks were also at the five- and 10-cent slot machines. They also came in groups and obviously they were enjoying themselves, talking to one another and transferring tables at the same time. They were really having fun. After I lost my $5 that was it for me. I roamed around. Finally I caught up with my daughter and son-in-law. I asked, “Is the crowd always as large as this?”

“Yes Mommy, but notice that it is mostly the elderly who while their time away in slot machines of five-cent. That set me thinking. Is this the same case in Cebu or Mactan? I do have friends who regularly go to Casinos.

Casinos are here to stay, but they were really started for tourists. There really is a very thin line between “gaming” and “gambling.” Are our casinos peopled by the elderly group, too? For us Filipinos, gaming in Cebu, can be going to the malls, going to the beach, having picnics with our families.

Let the gaming at casinos be for the-tourists. We can have fun elsewhere.

There must be something not right about casinos because even President Aquino has said he intends to lessen the number of casinos being set up in the country.

Can we really discern at this stage in our economy the difference between gaming and gambling?