Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Las Vegas/Thanksgiving Correlation

I don't like to gamble.  I am not one of the "lucky ones."  
I don't like casinos much.  Mainly because of the cigarette smoke. Take away that and the attractive waitresses bringing you drinks, and then they become very much like the video game arcades I used to frequent as a kid.  Even the losing of lots and lots of money a quarter at a time is the same.  
I visited my parents for Thanksgiving this week.  While there, they took me to the casino run by the Choctaw indian tribe.  It's located in Pocola, Oklahoma, across the border from where my folks live near Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  
This is something that they do when I visit them.  They like to gamble.  They like going to the casino.  They have players' cards that they insert into the machines to get points for things like free meals, free play on the machine, and even bigger prizes like trips to Mexico or the Caribbean.  Mom was telling me that they were about to have their cards upgraded to Silver, which she was excited about.  
At one point during our excursion to the casino, my mom hit a jackpot on one of the penny machines.  Since slot-machines became just like video games, its become affordable to offer penny bets to the customers.  She won forty or fifty dollars with one tap of the button.  She cashed out immediately and converted her winnings into cash.  She handed me twenty-five dollars.  
"What's this for?"  I asked.  
"To gamble with.   Go on."  She waved her hand around to encompass all the glittering, beeping, chiming and flashing around us.  
"If you give me this money, I'm going to stick it in my pocket and keep it."  I extended my hand with the money in it back to her.  "I'll probably be the only one of us to walk out of here ahead.  f you want the chance to give it all back to the casino later on, then you better take it back now."  
My mom gave me a little smirk she uses when she thinks I'm being funny.  She let me keep the money though.  Later, when we left, I was the only one of the three of us who came out ahead.  
I've only gambled a couple of times or so in my life.  The first time was at the end of my tenure working at a 7-11 in Woodland Hills, California, after I moved back to the state.  One of the other employees had sold beer to someone without checking their ID.  County ATF agents were outside in the parking lot.  After a long battle, the owner eventually lost his license and was forced by Southland Corporation to sell his franchise.  By the time the store changed ownership, the boss only had me and two other people working for him, just enough to keep the store open with no one taking any breaks or days off.  For that, the boss took us all to Vegas for the weekend to thank us.  
It was my first time in Vegas, and everyone told me that I "had to" gamble.  How could I go to Vegas and not gamble?  The best advice I got was to set aside a small amount of money to gamble with.  Once that was gone, I was supposed to stop and walk away from the tables.  I could set my winnings aside or put it back into the same pocket, but I wasn't supposed to use anything but what was in that bank.  
Not having gambled before, it was hard to get started.  Though I knew the rules, I didn't trust my skill at any of the variations of poker.  Craps seemed to many rules.  I tried playing a bit of black-jack, but the dealer was this mean old lady that had no patient for a newbie.  She was the one that taught me, by slapping her hand down hard on the table, that I wasn't supposed to bend the cards up to look at them.  I'd seen people do that all the time in the movies, though.  
I finally settled on roulette.  I found a table near the cashiers' window.  I was the only one playing.  I bought my chips and started putting them on the numbers, rows or corners.  
I lost my money pretty steadily.  There would be some small jackpots that would bring my total amount back up, but for the most part the two hundred dollars I bought crept its way down. 
It was when I was at my last fifty dollars that something clicked in my head.  On an impulse, I took my last remaining chips and put them all down on one number.  Black-22. I braced myself for the dealer's final call, ready to leave and spend the afternoon walking up and down the strip.  
At first I thought I'd hear the dealer wrong.  Then I saw him push what I thought was a mountain of chips toward my little stack.  My fifty bucks had turned  into seventeen hundred and fifty with one drop of the ball.  
"Wanna let it ride?"  
"No!"  I pulled the stack from the board.  I borrowed one of the chip racks the dealer had and went straight to the cashiers' window behind me.  I took the cash and when straight to my room.  I spread it out on my bed.  I counted it.  I then put it in an envelope I pulled from the writing desk.  I stuffed the envelope into a seam in my trunk.  And then, because I thought this is what winners did, I put on my shorts and went to the swimming pool on the sixth floor.  I sat in a reclining lawn chair under and umbrella, sipping a drink brought to me by one of the attractive waitresses.  
My plan was to "Beat Vegas."  To return home and tell everyone that I had gotten away with over seventeen hundred dollars.  That was more than any of my acquaintances at the time had told me they'd won.  
But while I was sitting there, I started thinking to myself that maybe this was an indication of something.  Maybe I was a "lucky person."  I had known "lucky people" before.  There was one of my high school friends, for instance.  Whenever we played Dungeon & Dragons, he would roll 100's more than anyone else had a right to.  I remember creating characters in the original Traveller, where he rolled three sets of triple-sixes for the character attributes.  He was so consistently lucky, that other people playing with us would insist that he use their dice to make his rolls.  It made no difference.  We used to joke about taking him to Vegas.  
I only stayed by the poolside for a couple of hours, if that.  I eventually got back to my room and pulled out the envelope I had hidden in my trunk and made my way back to the roulette table.  
If anything, I lost the money faster that I had the first time.  There were no little wins to pull my total back up.  Only a straight decline.  Even worse, by the time I lost all the money in my gambling pocket, I started using the "real money" in my other pocket, the money intended to buy food, see shows and stuff.  Before I knew it, I was down to my last twenty bucks.  
Hoping that lightening could strike twice, I put the entire twenty on Black-22.  After the ball clicked and clacked about, it ended up on some red number.  Don't remember which.  I stood up to leave.  I held on to the edge of the table, feeling a bit light-headed as I realized what I had done.  
"Wanna place another bet?"  
"No..."  I shook my head and straightened up.  "You've got all my money."  
"How about picking another number."  The dealer shrugged.  "Just for shits and grins."  
I picked a number at random.  Can't remember which one.  I held my index finger on it as the ball rattled about the wheel.  
It came up.  The number I had picked with my finger had come up.  I looked up at the dealer, who looked back at me with a look too innocent for Vegas.  I walked away feeling like I'd been had.  
I think the biggest draw to gambling is the feeling that you're one of the "lucky ones."  That you are in some way blessed, set apart from the rest of us "normal" people.  It's a sign of providence.  An symbol of God's Love.  Proof that the universe holds you in a special place.  That the rules of physics change for your benefit.  
I think being thankful, in the way we are supposed to be during Thanksgiving, is like being one of the "lucky ones," except for one thing: We recognize that the things we are thankful for are ours because of some wild stroke of luck.  We hit Black-22 and received this bounty.  And because we know that, because we are aware that we can lose it just as easily, we don't go back to the table to risk it all again.  
Driving home from the casino, I listened as my folks talked about what they should have done.  Maybe if they had played the Playboy machine, maybe if they had quit Call of the Wild a little bit sooner.  They talked about my brother and how, when he played, he always seemed to hit "them big jackpots."  
"Yeah, Phil, he did that a lot," Mom said from the backseat.  "He's a lucky one, you brother."  
I nodded.  My brother and I were lucky, though not in the way she meant it.  My sisters, too.  My folks are one of the jackpots I've won in life.  
Happy Thanksgiving.


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