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I Don’t Know What I Was Betting On

I’ve never been one to gamble. I’ve never liked the idea of giving away money on chance, when the house always wins (if they didn’t, Vegas wouldn’t survive, not Atlantic City, or Biloxi, or all of those damn riverboats where people can gamble — or even the lottery in every state of the country). When I was 18, my parents took me and my sister with them to Las Vegas, and they even handed me a token and sat me down at a slot machine and told me to play. Before I could do anything with the coin, someone came up and asked to see my I.D., so I said we left it in the hotel room and we walked away.
Good thing they stopped me. I didn’t want to gamble anyway.
In fact, since I couldn’t gamble (my sister was old enough, but someone had to be around me while mom and dad gambled) mom and dad decided to go to Circus Circus to gamble, and dad gave my sister and I $20.00 to “go off and enjoy ourselves.” So when we left them to go toward the carnival-like section of the casino, I even offered to my sister that we could just split the twenty bucks and be in the lead, but she insisted that we do spend the money somehow at all the carnival-like activities. I even remember spending time at one booth where the back wall was filled with balloons (literally filled), and you got three darts to try to throw them at the wall and break any of the balloons. When you broke a balloon, you won a little price (a really small stuffed animal, like I wanted that). And so my sister gave me some darts, and I’d throw one, and I’d break a balloon. Then I’d throw another dart, and I’d break another balloon, and I’d win little stuffed animal toys. And then my sister would take three darts, and I’d watch her throw one, and it was like she was throwing it in a light arc, and I’d watch the dart arch up into the air, and as it came back down toward the wall, we’d watch the dart bounce right off one of the balloons and before it bounced to the floor.
This happened to her more than once, so I gave her the toys I won.

But since then I’ve been to Las Vegas twice, and I had no desire to gamble either time. Once we even stopped to watch Michael Jordan and the Bulls playing basketball at a betting room because it was on the monitors, and we got free beer while we watched a little of the game. I even was laid over in Las Vegas recently (I took a flight from Seattle to Chicago with a layover in Denver, and the flight from Seattle to Denver was cancelled, so hours after our flight was cancelled we got a flight to Las Vegas, where we waited for hours for a flight back to Denver, before we got home, 21 hours after we started our trip), and when I saw slot machines in the airport, I was almost tempted to drop something in to say I’ve played something in Las Vegas once.
Because if I have ever been involved with games of pure chance (like playing slots, to buying lottery cards), I have always failed. So I don’t buy them; it’s a waste of money. Once recently I was even at a church dinner, and the entire night they were selling card tickets so people could win money (because they have to get their money from more than the weekly collection plate, I suppose). My brother-in-law was buying these little cards like mad at $1 each, he’d give $5, pick 5 from the end of the grid, and losing with all of his tickets, then paying for more the next time someone came around selling more “chances” to win big. Finally he asked me to pick one that he paid for, so I looked at the choices and picked one from another row, not at the end but in the middle somewhere, and when he opened it, he won $5.
But I know better; I know that these tickets are placed on there with no chance to see the numbers inside, so my picking that card was purely chance.
And the chances of pulling a slot machine and winning are even slimmer than picking a card from a stack on a sheet for someone working with the church.
So I don’t pay to play games of chance.
But I thought that since I was in Las Vegas (for the first time at the airport, actually), I’d pay money for one pull of a slot machine, knowing I wouldn’t win, but just so I could say I played a slot machine in Las Vegas (even if it was only the airport). But I didn’t have any coins small enough to play just once, so I let it slide.
I didn’t “let it ride,” which is a game you can bet on when you gamble, if you like to play poker (which has become the gambling rave now, ever since they decided to actually show people playing on cable, like watching people with sunglasses on indoors try to bluff their opponents). And right now I’m visiting my father, because he wanted someone to go with him to Tunica for a tourist travel weekend to gamble. You see, usually my big brother usually goes with dad (they both like to gamble), but he couldn’t make it for this trip, so I offered to go with my dad (because he really wanted to go, and he didn’t want to go alone). So here I am, thinking about helping my dad around while he gambles for a few days, while I watch. I think he said he’d get a “card” for me so I could play.
Lucky me. I get to gamble in Tunica. And it’s not even betting on anything in Vegas, like a small part of me wanted to do so I could have said I gambled there (even if it was just a slot machine once at the Las Vegas airport).
Actually, I just asked my dad what a day was normally like for him there, and he said that he had breakfast, then gambled, then sometimes skipped lunch while gambling all day.
Wow. So this means I’ll get to sit and watch him all day gamble. I didn’t realize exactly what I was in for when I offered to join him on this trip.

Dad told me that it is always really air-conditioned in the casinos; he told me to bring a jacket or a sweater along, and I have two pairs of pants and the zipper jacket to always have with me when I’m in the casino. Dad said he wore shorts, but he brought a jacket along because it was always so cold. Then he said that it was probably so that people wouldn’t get warm in the casino and want to leave. And speaking of using methods to make people want to gamble in a casino, I’ve even heard that the creators of these slot machines have even made sure that the sounds they generate (when they’re spinning, and when a turn wins or loses) makes sounds in certain pitches that are more harmonious, and don’t upset people who happen to listen to them (in other words, they even make sure the sounds their machines generate make people feel happier about losing, and more inclined to gamble more). So, maybe going to Tunica will at least be a good experiment for me to watch people in this environment.
So we leave tomorrow morning to take an airplane flight, before we take a long bus ride to the casino for this tourist weekend where I watch my father gamble morning, noon and night.

Okay, it’s been one day here, and it has been strange. We took a flight, and there was a $1 prize drawing (you won a golf baseball cap, which neither of us wanted) and a $5 drawing (for the remaining cash). He gave money for both of us, and neither of us won.
Should have been a sign.
But anyway, we were flying to Tunica, and I couldn’t help but notice the clouds in the shy we flew over. Unlike that I’m used to seeing when I fly out of Chicago (when there are clouds, the sky is covered with them, and it becomes a thick blanket entirely separating you from the ground), the clouds looks like little puff balls scattered almost into neat little rows below us. It was actually quite pretty.
It might have something to do with our elevation on our flight, because I don’t know how big this plane was, but I remember the captain saying over the speakers to the flight crew, that they were passing the 10,000 mark. I’m used to larger flights that usually hover over 30,000 feet, and this flight (which was half to two thirds the difference to Chicago from southwest Florida, which is normally a 2 hour 20 minute flight) was over 2 hours long (actually, more like 2 house, 10 minutes). But I had to check into this: it was a 737, and the pilot even said they range between 30,000 and 35,000 feet, but it was a SkyKing airplane, and part of the reason these flights take so long is because they are a smaller plane from a small airline company. As they fly they usually get directions to either (A) slow down to accommodate a larger, well-known filled airline, or (B) take a course that is out of the way because other airlines are using a similar route.
After flying directly to Tunica, I found out that there was a chance that we might not be able to land the plane there — not only was the runway really short (for this airport is small and probably only a year or two old), but also because the runways collect heat from the sun during the day because of what they were made of, and the heat from the ground might actually help to force the airplane off the ground for such a short runway. But we flew into the airport in the morning, so there was no problem. We were driving to the casino hotel after the flight landed, and we were offered a limo instead of a bus. Dad said he couldn’t sit in a limo (physically unable to do so), so, lucky us, we took a bus instead. So on the bus ride I saw cotton fields (they looked really kind of cool, with little tufts of cotton like little cotton balls, at the end of a branched of rows of tiny trees.
Then again, we also passed the Tunica Museum. I leaned over to dad and asked quietly, “what exactly is in the Tunica Museum?”
So once we were in the casino, dad went to play PaiGow Poker, then a little blackjack, then 3 Card Poker (I know nothing at all about poker, so this was a learning experience, watching him play different variations of a 5 card concept of poker, trust me). He hot me a card and put $20 on it, then showed me how to play the slot machines, spending a little under $3 of the $20 he put on the card. So I went to a slot machine (although they all have different facades, they all pretty much sounds the same and do the same thing, just give you an option of how much money you want to lose at every slot machine pull, which is really only pressing on a button on the slot machine console). I lost about a dollar, then quite and went to find dad and watch him play again. I walked with him to the doorway of the men’s room, and decided to play a slot machine nearby, and when I placed my card in which said I have over $16.00, it immediately printed another card (without letting me do anything), saying I had 15 cents left on the card.
I didn’t spend that money, it just disappeared, and there was nothing I could do about it.
When I told dad, he checked the machine, and then put another $20 on my card, and he played a nearby slot machine with me as I dwindled the total back down to 15 cents.
I really don’t get why people play slot machines. They are a ton of machines that make the same key sounds, and the casino sounds like a toy store on acid or something, with the way the place sounds.
But anyway, I then walked toward the “Wheel of Torture” — I mean, Wheel of Fortune — slot machines, which were only 15 each a pull, So then Dad gave me another $10, and I blew all of that money.
Wise investment.
How can people actually think this is fun?
Well anyway, after that I watched dad play video poker. He did that a few times during the day, and back in Chicago when I see these video poker sets there’s usually one at the end of the bar and it makes absolutely no sense that they are in a bar and I can’t imagine anyone ever playing one in a bar when you usually go to a bar to hang out and talk with people, not play video poker). But dad was playing, and we were giving tips for the free drinks we were getting, and I have to say I was actually having fun. I don’t know, maybe it was because I was somehow involved with something that dad did (even though I wasn’t gambling, and it was nice to do, even for only on time in our lives.

After we had a comped dinner (which was quite nice, we had a nice Reisling wine and the eggplant parmesan was good and they played big band music the whole time), dad went back to the casino, and left his motorized wheelchair thing in the hall do he could get to a seat. I tried to physically lift to move this thing out of the hall because dad just left it there, and I lifted the seat out of the motorized unit. Obviously, dad was pissed (that’s what he gets for leaving his shit out for others to clean up for him), so I called to have someone come fix it. Because dad gets to anxious, I lifted the chair seat and put it back into position, so all seemed fine and he left without having anyone look at his chair.
Granted, he said after that the chair part of the motorized wheelchair thing now rotated, which it never did before, and apparently that was bad, but he didn’t want anyone to look at the chair. Of course not.
Personally, I thought having the chair be rotatable was kind of nice, but dad likes to complain.
Then he went to the craps table, and he lost a lot of money really fast (versus losing some, then winning some back at the blackjack table), so he decided to call it a night and I got to bring him back to the hotel room.
Good thing I told him there was a season premier of CSI in Last Vegas on that night I really wanted to watch.
On the second day I was here, a woman behind the bar at the casino told me (after I explained to her what happened in the season premiere episode of CSI) that I looked like Sara Sidle. The character Sara Sidle is tall (probably five feet ten inches), has brown hair about my length, and it is usually straight (like how I straighten my hair now), though it is sometimes curly (like mine). So I thought, great, I look like her, but she is thinner.
Oh well, it’s better than people telling me I looks like Molly Shannon from Saturday Night Live — I might have a personality like her, but I am definitely not as heavy as her. I’m sure of it.

On some levels, it is novel to here her for my father, and on some levels it is novel to hear the odd synchronization of the hundreds of the separate slot machines randomly making noise all at once in a large hall (you would think that hundreds of machines making different noises at different times would be jarring, but they all make noises in the same key and it almost becomes like one large orchestra tuning up, and it doesn’t bother you to hear it when you walk through the casino), but I don’t gamble.
Couple that with the fact that there are no windows in any of the casinos, that no one has a clue to the time — no one feels the need to even eat a meal. So with the lighting always the same and the air condition always blasted, you never have a concept of the time of day.
So on later trips through the casinos, dad would take me with $20 each to 25 cent slot machines. And you know you can win, but you win enough to come out ahead (trust me), so apparently my dads idea of having fun is sitting here and playing slots until you’re out of money. What’s the point? Is spending money by pressing buttons over and over again (to imply pulling on a slot machine repeatedly instead of actually moving your arm) supposed to be fun?

I just got back from this trip, and I still don’t know what to make of it. I gambled with slot machines, but I gambled with my father’s money (hardly like actually gambling on my own, on what I wanted to do). Dad had better luck at “Black Jack Plus Three” (which meant that you could possibly use one of the dealer’s cards to make a poker-like hand; if you could do that you’d make much more money than you would at winning a hand of Black Jack) than he did a “Let It Ride” (I still couldn’t tell you how to play that version of poker, but he lost something in 99% of his hands, it was awful). He had luck by finding a good craps shooter at a craps table (made a few hundred bucks there), but with losses at other places, you seldom end up ahead of the game at a casino.
A few dealers would ask me (since I was standing behind my father betting at a table) if I was playing, and I would say no, that I don’t gamble. And a few of them even said to me good, that was a smart decision.
Because it’s as I’ve always said, the house always wins. If it didn’t, the casinos wouldn’t be able to stay in business.




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Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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