Friday, September 5, 2008


Until recently, I'd never been to a casino. Gambling holds no interest for me at all. I tried to have a fun evening playing poker for dimes once and was so freaked out about losing my five-dollar stake that I had no fun at all. I've not gambled since.

This is not to say that I don't have a blast playing cards. Pinochle, poker, even that girly Texas Hold 'Em are all games that I enjoy. I just don't enjoy playing for money. Not at all. No way. Playing for points is totally okay. Money, never.

A friend of mine enjoys the casinos, particularly slot machines, in particular those with Egyptian images or themes. So, after my laundry is done today (in about an hour), we're off to the gambling establishment du jour for a little food and frolic. Now, I don't gamble, but I like the sparkly nature of the games. All of the flashing lights and cheerful music and sounds are a lot of fun. I love to be razzle-dazzled. I could do without the lingering smell of stale smoke though. Yuck.

As a not-very-rabid ex-smoker, I still don't like the smell of secondhand smoke. I didn't like it even when I was a smoker. What was going into my lungs was fine, but what came off the cherry-end of a cigarette, no way. So the stench of a casino reminds me of my old morning-after cologne: Stale Pub.

Casinos do have free beverages though, and valet parking for a nominal charge. Everyone who works there seems to be fairly friendly. Also, they almost all seem to be security types. Weird. It's not like there's a lot of real money on the gaming floor, at least that I've noticed, but there you go.

Here's something else: I cannot for the life of me figure out the rules that govern slots. After all of the reels stop, all of the screens look completely random to me, and yet some are winners and some are not. I've looked at the pay lines and the icons which are supposed to generate bonus rounds and tried to cypher out the logic that governs their operation. Also, I'm forced to ponder the randomization engines that drive these things. I've been informed that how often the machines pay is programmable. How can something that is programmable be random? I'm not sure I trust computers (or programmers) that much, but I'm sure that there has to be some higher power governing this. Somewhere. I think I'd be more trusting of the old mechanical one-armed bandits.

And that's the other curiosity about these devices: no arms.

Another odd thing I've noticed about casinos is how, almost universally, the patrons look like they're having the worst time of their lives. They sit in front of these dazzling displays with dancing Pharaohs and animated Native American icons and pirouetting snowmen and look as if their life is being sucked from them an iota (or however a quantity of soul is measured) at a time. Not painfully though, more like the pain an hour after you've whacked your thumb with a hammer. Or a while after you've had a deep dental cleaning.

As an alcoholic, I understand something of the compulsion of gambling. I do. And I also understand that, while it seems like it should be fun, drinking to excess all the time isn't. It's like going to work, actually. Drinking is something that I had to do, like paying bills. So I understand the place from which the need arises.

Even though I suffered the nearly impossible to ignore compulsion to drink, I know that I had fun during the drinking. It does seem to me that the gamblers do not so much have fun during the gambling. They don't laugh. They just stare. They don't even chat amongst themselves that much. They just stare. Are they hypnotized by the spinning reels? Are they so intent on willing a jackpot that they can't crack a smile until that magic moment?

When we go to the casino, I have fun. I'm just watching the action, not partaking of it because that wouldn't be fun for me. My only wish is that the friends I'm with have fun too. If I have anything to do with it, they will.

That's why I gift them with computer slot machine games, so they can play at home. Now if I could just get some of that stale smoke, the in-home ambience would be complete.

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