A Small Victory in the War on Las Vegas

Or How I Managed to Not Lose Money

So there I was at the Las Vegas airport, surrounded by crocodiles … no, that’s a lie, I was surrounded by aged gamblers whose skins often resemble the reptilian beasts boasted of by Commander McBragg. I could only imagine that many of these people were getting their final fix before hopping planes to more mundane locations around the United States. There these older folks would rest their arms, one tired from pulling a lever and the other sore from carrying around large buckets of change. Perhaps they wanted to get in their last non-Native American gambling, preferring to give their monies to corporate gambling interests. This collection of crocodilian codgers was mere feet from my gate, a plethora of slots and video poker machines, all ringing and chinging with the promise of bling bling.

I looked at my watch and saw that I had about an hour to catch my flight. Oddly enough my inbound flight and outbound flight left from the same gate, thus eliminating the need for a time-killing walk across a vast airport. I reasoned that this hour could be killed gambling. I must admit that I do enjoy gambling occasionally, but I prefer the personal, grudge-generating intrigue of poker with the boys. I’ve never gotten the appeal of slot machines despite an episode where I dumped about a hundred dollars into one in Niagara Falls. I just felt damned stupid after that, only slightly less stupid that they were Canadian dollars. Hey, besides being worth a lot less, the money looked rather fake to this American, no businesslike green bills with grim old dead guys on them. I was about to give the one-armed bandits a whirl, but just then I noticed a video poker machine. I was stoked, since video poker has a much greater component of skill and control than the random luck of slots.

I sat there, knowing intellectually that any money I put into this machine would likely be gone in mere minutes, but some base animal part of my brain was urging me to give it a shot. I was at the point of no return before I knew it, watching Andy Jackson disappear into the bill feeder. I played a couple of hands, converting Andy into Al, and in turn into Abe. Just then, my hand, unused to the voodoo of electronic gambling machines, trailed over the “cash out” button, whereupon all hell broke loose with the machine. The air was suddenly ripped by a horrid little collection of electronic tunes sounding like a tweeker playing the cheapest grade of a children’s electronic keyboard. It was tolerable for about five seconds, but degraded quickly into a nightmare cacophony worse than a hundred ice cream trucks circling your block with the speakers on full blast. I snapped a pleading glance at the attendant. Could she just make it stop? Hell, at that point I was considering bolting, five dollars being a small price to pay to escape this hideous noise.

“Sugar, you’re going to have to wait a few minutes to cash out, because that other lady has the drawer for the video poker machines,” said the very sweet, lumbering Mexican lady wearing a snappy bow tie and a smock that had “attendant” embroidered on it. She had that thing that some middle-aged women have, that ability to call any male “honey”, “sugar”, or “baby” without the slightest bit of impropriety.

“Can you make it stop this noise? I mean I only hit that button accidentally, I wanted to play a little more even. Can you cancel it or something?” She sensed my pain but just shook her head kindly, shrugging her shoulders. So I waited there for about five minutes, each ticking by like an eternity shopping with a woman for shoes during the Super Bowl. Finally she appeared, and with a quick flick of a magic key, the frenetic melody stopped. She gave me my pal Abe who I looked at wistfully, wishing he were that old bastard Jackson instead of the rail splitter. I thought momentarily how Jackson vs. Lincoln would probably be a semi-final or even final round of an imaginary presidential fist-fighting competition. I’d have to go Abe, since he is the most prominent guy to be associated with my home state of Illinois. Some might say that Abe’s been eclipsed by Ronald Reagan, but I’d wager those people are smoking crack while listening to Rush Limbaugh.

The lizard part of my brain that tells me I’m thirsty, horny, or hungry took control of my right hand, shoving honest Abe into the dishonest machine. I promptly lost him to the evil god Gamblor, but that lizard part still had control and knew where my wallet was hiding. Before I knew it another Andy had gone down the memory hole, and I was ready for more hands.

Being a “deuces wild” video poker machine, it amplified whatever crap happened to be in your hand, but paid out less accordingly. Breaking even required at least three of a kind. I lost, won, lost, won, lost, lost, and lost again. At the end I was merely trying to stay positive, betting big, hoping to get my money back, oh ye sad hope of the gambler. I was taken over by the frenzy of it, secretly wondering if there was an ATM handy around there.

Then it happened. I was dealt naturally, without drawing, an Ace, King, Jack, with two wild deuces. I held all the cards to end the hand, not registering that the Ace, King, and Jack were all spades, and the Straight wasn’t a straight, rather it was a straight flush. Being Ace high, it was a ROYAL flush. The machine started going berserk, this time without the annoying music; instead the counter was spinning out of control with a noise made much less annoying by the fact that each beep corresponded to another dollar. Sweet victory was mine. Before the lower brain that drew me into this folly could start betting again, my conscious, executive mind pulled the rusty manual override lever in my head and sent my hand flying toward a button that said “cash out”.

Luckily, the attendant that held the drawer for my machine was there, thus limiting the horrific period of cheesy melodies. I had won against the odds. I was actually extracting money from the gaming industry. I strolled triumphantly through the terminal only to be sucked into a corporate coffee hole by my base animal lust for caffeine. Five minutes and over five dollars later I walked out with the least masculine of all coffee drinks: a raspberry cappuccino with extra whipped cream. My lizard brain may have lost the battle of Vegas gambling but it rallied quickly, and it will certainly win the war.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.