I have a gambling problem: I’m too damn cheap to part with my money.
I guess it’s partly to do with being born in Scotland of stereotypical Scottish parents. You know, Scotland, where copper wire was invented… by two Scotsman fighting over a penny.
My first foray into gambling – an illegal sin unless run or sanctioned by the government, a sin unto itself – was that form of self-imposed taxation touted by the Ontario Lottery Corporation… Lottario.
Lottario, contrary to popular opinion, was not invented by nor associated with anyone named Therriault, Lot, Jean-Guy or otherwise.
Lottario tickets are $1.00, or, eight minutes work by Georgia’s minimum wage law. With odds of winning even greater than the chance of Ed McMahon ever ringing my doorbell, alive or dead, risking an entire dollar to be handled by any government agency was more than I could part with, but pressured by a co-worker, I went halves.
I lost every penny.
It took me years to get over the trauma. I’d have gone for counseling but that would have compounded the tragedy, the insult and the expense.
A sucker for punishment, years later, I tried gambling again. Vacationing in Kentucky, I went to the horse races at Louisville Downs. Not Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is, but Louisville Downs, the poor man’s track.
I had fun, placed pretend bets in my head and watched the horses go round and round. I must have come close on a few of these pretend bets because managing to overcome hundreds of years of inbred Scottish instinct, I decided to wager $2 on the last race. Damn, if it didn’t pay 5:2!
Savoring the feeling of being a high-rolling winner, I took my sweet time returning to the ticket wickets to cash in. Cockily strutting my stuff across a surprisingly empty mezzanine, I came to discover that all the wickets were closed; I couldn’t collect my winnings and the vindication of gambling and previous stunning losses that night. I would have to return the next day.
That wasn’t possible as I had early-morning plans to leave Louisville. However, I kept my ticket and instead of boring people with my Lottario loss story, I left left Louisville a winner with a different tale to tell.
About a year later while rummaging through some paperwork at home, I stumbled across my winning ticket. With little to lose, I mailed it off to Louisville Downs with a note explaining that while I would gladly take the money, I would understand if there was a ‘statute of limitations’ on the payout. If that was the case, would they please return the ticket as a souvenir of a very pleasant time in the Louisville area.
I don’t know if the ticket was indeed still valid or if it was my happy-tourist sales pitch that did it, but within a few weeks I received a $5 check in the mail from Louisville Downs.
As seems true with any gambling win, the money was soon lost again, given back to various government lottery corporations. By the time I hit the Riverboat years later, my losses were a staggering $10.
I was married then, a gamble unto itself especially to a hard-headed, bleached-blond, red-nailed, two-carat Southern Belle. She wanted to spend the afternoon on the Riverboat Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The fact that we were members of Morningside Baptist Church and gambling was a sin did not enter into her argument, nor was it a viable defense for me.
As judge and jury, she decreed that being as she didn’t complain once about being drug through boring Civil War museums in this strategic city, her ass was headed for the slot machines and if I didn’t want to return home a divorced man in a deafeningly silent vehicle while traversing the states of Mississippi and Alabama, mine was too.
Now, “riverboat” ostensibly skirts state laws against gambling, as the statutes prohibit gambling on dry land. This structure, the Ameristar Casino and Hotel in Vicksburg does indeed have a building in the shape of a riverboat. You do cross over ten feet of water to ‘board’. However, this riverboat would sink in an instant if it could ever be cut loose.
The hotel, the lounges and the buffet and are all absolutely beautiful, with the gaming area done in early Memphis tacky.
A Riverboat with an escalator???
And before long, complete with a red Solo cup filled with quarters, comfortably settled into the slots…
… was my hard-headed, bleached-blonde, Baptist wife with her red-nailed, two-carat hand desperately clutching the pull arm of a one-armed bandit slot machine.
She stood out from the other female patrons on this rainy, Wednesday afternoon as she definitely did not look as if she had cashed her Social Security check at the casino’s Smoke Shop before coming aboard.
I watched for a while as she explained her strategy as the machine ate quarters at dizzying speed. This riverboat could have withstood a hurricane and wouldn’t have swayed an inch but I was getting sea-sick.
I wandered off to explore the 300′ x 60′ riverboat and that killed three minutes. Two floors of slot machines and gaming tables, patrons with dwindling stacks of quarters and building piles of cigarette butts – locals who could ill-afford to be there, plus a bored, overly-made-up cocktail waitress or two whose better years were definitely behind them, though a fallen woman is always worthy of a second glance. Or two.
I discovered two things during my three-minute tour. Firstly, they had a self-serve soda fountain. Secondly, I had quarters in my pocket, three of them. I wandered over to the unsupervised dispenser of caramel-coloring and high fructose syrup and noticed they had Root Beer. I love Root beer. I enjoyed a cup of Root Beer as I plotted.
I figured I would give this gambling lark one more try. I wandered the machines looking for the lucky one and found a good prospect. I deposited my first quarter and pulled the lever. There was much ado on the screen in front of me but nothing that resembled a return on investment.
Almost too rapidly, I deposited my second quarter. Cherries and oranges and peaches flew by, but not in a combination that did me any good when all was said and done. Damn. Time for a Root Beer.
I helped myself to my second very large cup of Root Beer, about the same sized cup as I had seen in the hands of the bleached-blonde Baptist and filled with quarters a little while earlier.
I considered moving to a new machine for my final quarter but decided to stick with the machine that I had been losing to. Maybe it was due coughing up a few quarters. I dropped in my last quarter. I really did think that I had a chance of winning… not much, my three quarters back, maybe, I wasn’t asking for a lot.
I swear I heard the machine laugh at me as I headed back to the soda fountain. Add another $.75 to my nearly out-of-control gambling addiction, with losses now almost an astounding $11.00. The Root Beer was nice and cold. Three cups of Root Beer for seventy-five cents. Now, that was a pretty good deal. I quickly did the math. How many cups to make up for the ten dollars previously lost?
By the time Miss Red-Nails found me, I had drank enough Root Beer to nearly break even. I sloshed off that riverboat, uncomfortable and content. I didn’t ask her how much she had lost, I don’t think I could have faced another Root Beer.
Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve had a Root Beer since.