Always a crapshoot

The (goofy) face of a winner.

Gambling is either in your blood or it’s not. I don’t mean gambling, as in taking everyday chances. Everybody takes a chance every once in a while. Just the other day, I bit into a whole jalapeno at a place in Moab, Utah. That could have gone south in a hurry.

No, I mean gambling gambling. Like putting money down at a craps table in Las Vegas, or shoving coins into a slot machine. Playing the horses. Dropping more than, say, $5 on a sure thing on any given NFL Sunday.

Gambling, that way, has never been very appealing to me. I used to play a little poker in college with some friends, nickel- and dime-ante type things. The games would go on all night. The pots got pretty big. Even if you dropped $20 or $30 over the course of six or eight hours, though, it was worth it for the fun. (Plus, you’d have to be pretty much a gambling dope to lose that much to a bunch of mostly drunk college kids.)

Regularly betting on sports, or planning outings to Vegas, or even putting more than that $5 on a March Madness bracket … I’ve known a lot of guys who do it, some to the point of obsession. But it just doesn’t make sense to me. Never has. Maybe it’s my lower-middle class background. Maybe I am cheap. I don’t know.

I do know this: I’m not alone in my gambling bashfulness. It is in your blood. Or it’s not.

The family flew into Las Vegas last weekend — because we’re talking Vegas, I should make it clear that the family I mention here is my family; me, my wife and the kid, and not “THE family” — on our way to spending a few days at the gorgeous, soul-cleansing national parks in the Beehive State. We found a free parking spot (!) at the Venetian, walked up and down the famed strip, dove into a couple casinos, avoided the smoke as best as we could (naively, we did not expect smokers in casinos), ooohed at the Fountains of Bellagio and never once thought of having Mary Jo blow on a pair of dice as I rolled for boxcars on a crap table. (That, there — “boxcars” — probably tells you what a gambling dork I am.)

In all honesty, I did consider trying out a slot machine. But I didn’t have any change on me when the thought crossed my mind, and the smoke and overall life-weakness seemed awfully strong in that area of the Venetian, so I let the feeling pass.

(All that cigarette smoke wasn’t the only thing that threw me off about the town. I thought that Vegas — this was my first trip there — would be more white dinner jackets, high-slit skirts and Oceans Eleven. Instead, in our few hours there, it had more of a horny drunk frat boys, sleazy streetwalker, jorts-wearing rubes kind of vibe.)

Going to a gambling Mecca and not gambling, or not gambling much, is not a unique experience for me. In the early ’90s, on a business road trip to Philadelphia, a bunch of us newspaper scribes zipped over to Atlantic City for a quickie infusion of sadness.

My buddy Jack went up to the teller, asked for $20 worth of chips, sat down at a blackjack table, lost $5, put down five more bucks, won it back, swept his chips dramatically toward his chest and sashayed his way to the cage to get his $20 back.

From cash-in to cash-out: Probably three minutes.

For my family, we left for Utah after watching the Bellagio fountains do their thing. The total for our few hours on the strip and thereabouts was probably about $10-$15. (Lunch at In ‘N Out.)

A week later, after another successful and unseasonably hot vacation that was about as far away from Sin City as Utah is from being cool — it’s an out-there state, you have to admit — we dropped off the rental car at the Las Vegas airport, only to find that our flight was slightly delayed.

McCarran International Airport, you should know, is filled with slot machines. They’re everywhere. Unable to stamp down a final urge, I dug into my now broken-in backpack, fished out four quarters and found a lucky-looking bandit.

I guess it’s a sign of my severe shortage of gambling know-how that I didn’t realize that this machine — maybe all machines? — did not take quarters. So I pulled a buck out of my wallet, put up with the eye-rolling and head-shaking of my family (seriously, the Corleones are much cooler) and commenced to showing that one-armed bastard who was boss.

With my buck, I got four plays. Nothing on the first. I had three credits left. Nothing on the second. I had two credits (50 cents) remaining.

On the third spin — I was pushing a button now instead of pulling a lever, like the slot pros do (I should’ve lit up a Camel just to go full-on degenerate) — something happened. Lights. Bells. My balance jumped — jumped, I tell you! — to $1.50. I was on a genuine roll.

I was about to let that whole baby ride on the next pull — yeah, we’re talkin’ gamblin’ now! — when a finger shot from over my shoulder and hit another button on the console. The cash-out button.

Luke. The kid will spend $100 on a pair of sneakers in a half-heartbeat. But allow me to drop $1.50 in an airport slot machine? Wasn’t about to happen. Maybe he saw his college tuition heading into that flashing monster, a quarter at a time.

Before I knew it, a ticket spewed out and a four-pack of malocchio stared me in the direction of the cashier. This was, as they say in the family, an offer I could not refuse.

And that was that.

Left to my own debauchery, I probably would have played that machine ’til I lost my buck (maybe another spin or two) or won a million (maybe a few more than that).  Luckily, the family bailed me out.

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