POSTED ON DECEMBER 31, 2008:
If you're gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right
For the duration of my life, my father has been staunchly opposed to gambling. For him it's a cause of self-imposed human suffering, no vigorous argument there. But, and this seems of the utmost importance in his world, gambling is "a primary cause of crime." Nevermind the underlying issue of large equity gaps in our society (before you send me a comment suggesting this particular phenomenon is self-imposed, check the previous sentence).
As I grew older, I'd often joke about a friendly wager here or there, but if my father was in the room, so was the tension. All bets were off.
He'd respond only with a menacing stare, as if to say, "Oh. You're going to invite crime into your home, ehh? Don't be surprised if it bites you!"
I envisioned crime coming out of a closet to abduct me. Crime, in all its malevolence, would get me. It had a built-in radar for blackjack, keno and roulette. Lotto wasn't safe either, but it was harder to detect with its store front in gas stations as opposed to casinos.
My mother represents a different mindset. She's never been assaulted by crime. Slot machines calm her. For her, gambling has been a relaxing form of entertainment. She doesn't take it too seriously.
I am not a blue print of either parent. I don't think playing a hand of blackjack is inherently evil or that I'm contributing to higher crime rates, but for relaxation I'd prefer a back rub. Frequent exposure to the jing-jangling of a slot machine could potentially threaten my sanity, but I can brave an annual trip.
2008 was drawing to a close, and my girlfriend and I had talked about taking in a night of gambling. After all, gaming establishments surround us. There's new construction and billboards and talk of money making: all constant reminders. Who wouldn't want to "make it a million dollar night?"
I haven't always lived within walking distance of a casino. For the majority of my life a trip to the casino meant a six-hour trek one way in a car. Given my mediocre affinity for such venues and my previous location, I'm not as familiar with gaming as some of my peers.
That may not change, but I thought I'd give it another shot. I bribed Cristi with $20. She agreed to accompany me.
"So, which one should we visit?" I asked. We were both unsure.
Cristi explained that she'd heard a radio advertisement for a casino-related giveaway earlier in the week. The winner was to receive a winter excursion to New York City in 2009. The only way to be eligible for the vacation was to visit a Cherokee Casino.
I could return to the big city, I thought. The advertisement worked on us. Okay, me. Cristi was only going because of the bribe.
"Which one is Cherokee Casino?" I inquired. I later found my answer on the Internet.
Our choice wasn't premeditated. It was solely determined by distance and an arbitrary radio advertisement. We didn't care if it was ladies' night or guys' night or if they were having a knock-down-drag-it-out Texas Hold 'Em Tournament.
We considered a Million Dollar Elm experience (www.milliondollarelm.com) and "that one down on Riverside" (www.creeknationcasino.com). Creek Nation's new expansion project will open in early 2009, but Catoosa would have to do tonight.
After a 10-minute drive and two trips back to the car, one for identification and the other for a confirmation on a locking of the doors, we arrived at the grandiose entrance to Catoosa's Cherokee Casino. Cherokee was much like every other casino I have ever visited.
Our first stop was to the customer service, so we could signup for Cherokee's version of the players' club. We'll now receive frequent soliciting via mail. I'm okay with it. Especially if I get something out of the mailings, like a free night's stay or something. They have a pool! It gets hot in Oklahoma in the summer, people. They scratch my back; I scratch theirs.
Cristi was growing impatient with me. I couldn't locate the customer service booth among all the table games and slot machines. With each passing second, we were both inhaling more noxious second-hand smoke than we had in months. I was in a panic.
Where is that service area? I thought. "Yeah, we want the players' club thing. Do you see it, Cristi?"
"There's the cashier. What about the cashier?" she repeated. It was her first time making use of the customer service in a casino.
Buffet, nope. Live band, not it! Cigarette, cigarette. Jing, ding, ding. Bar. No, no, no!
"Where is that stupid, oh, there it is!" I exclaimed with glee. We signed up so the machines could greet us by name and keep a record of our spending. In return, I would like a trip to New York City this time next year, Cherokee Casino gods.
The two of us fortuitously stumbled upon the no smoking section of the casino. "Hey, this isn't so bad," we echoed one another.
We settled on a couple of neighboring penny machines near one of the many back corners of the casino.
This feels like a winner, I thought. 150 seconds later I'd know my choice was erroneous. Cristi, with her more conservative or superior playing style had added to the $20 I shared with her for the evening.
Cristi stayed on her winning machine and I searched for a friendlier slot.
How do you pick one? I thought. I asked my mother years ago after she won a couple thousand dollars on a day trip, but her advice hasn't paid off yet. I guess slot machines are relaxing when you're making a couple thousand dollars.
Blackjack had always been good to me, but I preferred playing with a friend. In the end, I decided I felt the same about slot machines. It's like most experiences in life. It helps to share it with others. Makes the ding, dinging more bearable.
Like each of my earlier adventures at gaming establishments, I took the amount of money I was comfortable losing and after that, I quit. It was a recipe that has worked for me often and one that could benefit many of my friends.
After re-joining Cristi, I adopted her slow, patient playing style. I didn't win, but it took me a lot longer to lose my money. That translated into more shared time, more jokes and a generally happier experience.
At the end of the evening, Cristi was up $9. I was down fifty and a nickel. I budgeted for fifty, but then botched the cash-out. I spent the change on ice cream.
On a serious note: Addiction has the possibility of touching all of our lives. If you are concerned that you or someone you love may have a problem with gambling, call the National Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-800-522-4700. "It's free and confidential and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."
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