A penny for your slots

A relative of mine came to town to gamble. He’d recently gotten his tax return and wanted to put it to good use.

“You could put it in the bank,” I suggested.

“Nah,” he said. “Too risky. When it comes to losing money, I prefer a casino to inflation. At least a casino is upfront about robbing you blind.”

With the correct alignment of the stars -- and the collect alignment of the slot reels -- anyone can win a jackpot. Except me. And you.

With the correct alignment of the stars — and the correct alignment of the slot reels — anyone can win a jackpot. Except me. Oh, and you, too.

He asked if I knew of any good places to go.

Absolutely, I said. Being a native Nevadan, I’m exposed to the gaming culture all the time. Casinos, table games, slots, rolling dice, free drinks — all of them are threads that weave the fabric of Nevada’s soul. And that fabric’s starting to look like a worn casino carpet with one of those intricate, busy designs that makes you sick — especially after a jaunt at the $1.99 buffet.

Yes, I told him, I live and breathe gambling. And what I’m breathing smells like cigarette smoke and fried-food fumes. Good thing most casinos these days have air-filtration systems.

Because I live and breathe gambling, you might assume I know something about it. You might think I’d be clued in, know the score, or have an inkling of the odds.

You’d of course be wrong. I know nothing about gambling. Nothing at all. Well, that’s not true. I do know that when I gamble, I lose money. I’ve at least ascertained that fact, albeit after several rounds of keno. (All those free drinks must have impaired my judgement.)

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the odds are against me. Casinos don’t make a profit by giving away their money. They’re run by entrepreneurs, after all, and not by politicians.

Gambling allures because it offers the possibility of instant riches. And getting rich quickly is a basic human desire. None of us wants to work hard to survive; we do it only because we have to. I imagine most folks, if given the choice, would love to make untold riches without having to work. Sadly, not all of us can be Justin Bieber.

Gambling offers the thrill of chance. With a little luck and the correct alignment of the stars — not to mention the correct alignment of the slot reels — your average joe can turn $1 into $30 million, and all without spilling his free drink.

The problem, I told my relative, is that winning is rare. Only a certain number of people ever win a jackpot, and as a rule, none of them can be you or me. I think it’s a state law.

“Oh,” he said.

Casinos are designed to pluck money from our pockets, and they do so with a vigor matched only by the government. However, when we give money to a casino, at least we have some fun. And isn’t that the point? I’ve got nothing against casinos or gambling. If people want to gamble, that’s their own choice.

“Actually,” my relative said, “in my case, it’s my wife’s choice, and she’s probably going to tell me no.”

Too bad, I said, because gaming’s the backbone of Nevada’s economy. Without the casinos, we’d have nothing to sell but our sand. The federal government would have to pay us to store its nuclear waste.

Speaking of which, a glowing pile of plutonium might make a good tourist attraction. We could dump it in the middle of the Black Rock Desert and call it a Burning Man exhibit.

“You know,” my relative said, “maybe I’ll spend my money on something else. My daughter’s been begging me for Justin Bieber tickets.”

Wow, I said, snorting. Talk about throwing your money away.

This article originally appeared in The Comstock Chronicle, Virginia City, Nev. 

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