I wrote yesterday about Partner and I getting comped with an ultra-cheap vacation at Foxwoods, the big Connecticut resort.

This was at Christmastime, incidentally. We checked into the MGM Grand Hotel on the afternoon of December 25, and stayed until the morning of the 27th.

Are we pagans? Are we Satanists? Not exactly. (Although I did point out to Partner that one of the Foxwoods slogans is SATISFY YOUR CRAVINGS, which is probably not the most Christian / Christmassy slogan ever written. Also I won $66.60 at one point, which means that Satan has his eye on me.)

Partner and I had a good time, at any rate. We gambled, and ate, and wandered around, and relaxed in our very comfortable hotel room, which (we both agreed) was easily the nicest $44.50/night hotel room we’d ever stayed in.

Gamblers, and the gambling lifestyle, have always fascinated me. I like wandering around the casino and watching people. There are the “hitters” – the people who punch and kick and rub and cajole the slot-machines, to make them produce. (Sometimes it works! Most of the time it doesn’t!) There are the ultra-serious groups of people playing table games, who almost never look like they’ve fun, until – rarely – someone gets on a winning streak, and they start whooping like maniacs.

Foxwoods has for the past few years run a new series of commercials and advertisements, using images of idealized patrons and gamblers. The KING is the mature man, who gambles and then has a steak dinner. The QUEEN plays slots (she “knows how to push buttons,” according to one of their ads) and goes shopping (Foxwoods has lots of shopping). The JACK is a young man who’s out with his friends. The ACE is usually a young woman, very sure of herself.

And the JOKER is – gee, I think they kind of got rid of JOKER advertising over the past year. Probably somebody realized that the Joker wasn’t just a card, but also a Batman villain.

Foxwoods was packed at Christmastime, but I didn’t see many who resembled the people in the Foxwoods ads. I saw a few groups of older men, who probably thought they were Kings. I saw lots of tooth-impaired women with bad hair and bad skin, some of them on scooters, who might have imagined themselves Queens. I saw lots of younger skinny/overweight guys in sweatshirts who surely imagined themselves Jacks. I saw no Aces at all. (I saw lots of Jokers, though I don’t think they realized they were jokers.)

What part did Partner and I play? I’m sure we were Kings. We gambled, and we ate. We’re both over fifty.

But we were probably Jokers after all.

Bwa ha ha!

Mama is a slot jockey

slot jockey

In an old episode of “The Simpsons,” Marge develops a gambling addiction. “Don’t worry,” Homer tells the kids. “Your mom just has a new occupation. She’s a slot jockey.”

Well, kids, I think I’ve discovered my new career. I’m a slot jockey too!

Partner and I got a couldn’t-refuse offer from Foxwoods recently: two nights at the MGM Grand Hotel for $89, total. Nice room, king-sized bed, etc. Loverly!

But you know why they do this. They want you to spend money. Restaurants. Services. And, um, gambling.

I have never been much of a gambler. Partner and I have patronized all the local casinos at one time or another, but I get a little panicky when I gamble, watching the money melt away like snow in the rain.

But, on this last trip to Foxwoods, everything changed magically.

Firstly there was this new slot machine: LORD OF THE RINGS – LAND OF MORDOR. You have to see it to believe it! The Eye of Sauron glowers down at you from above, shimmering evilly. You play for a while, and if you’re lucky enough to hit three bonus symbols – three Eyes of Sauron, or three Rings of Power – suddenly the world changes around you. Your chair begins to vibrate. Dramatic music (piped into you via bone conduction, through the chair) thunders into your body. The voice of Galadriel (probably not Cate Blanchett, however) speaks: “Look upward! Look at your destiny!”

And you look up at the glowering Eye of Sauron, and it shows you a special bonus: the Hands of Saruman, or Gollum’s Precious Prize, or Frodo’s Ring Bonus, or something equally bizarre.

A bonus comes up once every ten spins or so. It’s wonderful. I played that machine for about an hour, and I was thrilled every time the bonus came up. The vibrating seat was as good as any Brookstone shiatsu-massage chair I’ve ever experienced. And you get a monetary reward at the same time!

Talk about positive feedback!

Okay. So, after a bit, I realized that the Land of Mordor wasn’t paying off all that well, vibrating chair or no vibrating chair. I wandered for a while, and found a machine called GOLDEN CHARIOTS. I took the money I’d parlayed from the Land of Mordor – I’d turned $20 into $25 – and fed it into GOLDEN CHARIOTS.

In no time at all, $25 had turned into $100.

People were hovering around me, grinning at me, giving me thumbs-up. (They were also hoping that I’d get up soon and leave this hot machine, so that they could play it.)

Honestly, who can figure slot-machines out? There’s an algorithm controlling the machines: it makes the payouts more or less frequent, and/or more or less large, depending on the time of day, and the number of players, and lots of other factors.

Also, the machines know who I am. Whenever I sit down at a machine, I insert my Foxwoods Rewards card, so that I can earn points and money from the casino. But also, the casino can track me and see what I’m playing, and how much I’m betting. I’m sure the slot machines’ algorithm is sophisticated enough to learn something about what makes me tick.

In a few slot-machine sessions, I earned a hundred dollars over and above what I’d played.

Then Partner and I had dinner.

Then I went back to the casino and played other machines, and I ended up giving my winnings back to the management (all but a bit).

Foolish? I know.

But entertaining.

During the in-between time, when I was still ahead a bit, I bought a GREEN CORN POWWOW hat from the Native American store with my lucky winnings

I should have worn it that evening. But I wore my French hipster hat instead, and lost.

Maybe I can blame it all on the Eye of Sauron.

Happy birthday, Partner


Today is Partner’s birthday. If all is well, we should be in DisneyWorld (or Universal Studios) right this moment, having a wonderful time.



Our first meeting was a dinner date at Downcity in downtown Providence in 1995. (The place burned down a few years ago.) I ordered fish, which arrived burnt on one side and half-frozen on the other. I would have sent it back, but I didn’t want to make a bad impression on Future Partner, whom (for some reason) I liked very much.



About a month later, we went to Newport Grand. We bet on a few jai-alai matches, and we put down some money on one of the Triple Crown races (either the Belmont or the Preakness – the records are unclear). I’d never bet on a horse race before, so he coached me. He pointed out that my birthday was July 10, and his was October 7, and his sister Peggy’s was November 7, so it was obvious that the ideal trifecta bet was 7-10-11.



He was in line in front of me at the betting window. His theory about 7-10-11 sounded interesting, but – I mean, really? So I watched him bet those number, and then it was my turn, and I bet 1-2-3. (In Roseanne’s words from the last season of her series, when her character won the lottery: “A perfect straight.”) And I thought no more about it.



Next morning came a call from Future Partner. “We won!” he yelled. “Twenty-two hundred dollars! How much did you bet?”



I was uncomprehending. “I’m glad you won,” I said. “But I didn’t bet the same numbers you did.”



He was incredulous. “How could you not – ”



I didn’t understand, you see. It was magical. He knew it right away. Me, it took a while.



That was sixteen years ago, when we were both young and foolish.



Now we are old and achy and irritable.



But we’re still together.



Partner: I love you very much.



I hope you have a hundred more birthdays at least.



And I will still not bet the numbers you tell me to bet.



Playing the ponies


Partner and I went to Lincoln to play the Kentucky Derby last weekend. I put down four dollars! on two of the horses, mostly because of their names: Pants On Fire and Mucho Macho Man. Pants On Fire actually came in third, but sadly I bet on him/her to place, so I lost.



The Triple Crown races are important to Partner and me, and here’s why:



Back in the 1990s, when we were first getting acquainted, Partner took me to Newport to watch a jai-alai match. It was also the day of the Preakness (or maybe the Belmont; we’ve argued about this endlessly). I’d never bet on the horses in my life. Partner tutored me a bit, and explained exacta and pefecta and trifecta. The gist of it, basically, was that our birthdays (in triangulation with his sister’s birthday) created a perfect group of numbers: 7 / 10 / 11. And we had to bet these numbers.



Yeah, right, I thought.



I stood behind him in the betting line, so that I could watch him place his wager. It’s not really difficult; the guys taking the bets are used to rookies. When it came to be my turn, I bet a trifecta of 1 / 2 / 3. Why not? As Roseanne Barr said on her sitcom, it’s a “perfect straight.” And, I reasoned, it had as much chance of winning as any other set of numbers.



The next morning, Partner (who was in those days, I suppose, really Boyfriend) called me on the phone, very excited. “We won!” he yelled. “Twenty-three hundred dollars!”



“What are you talking about?” I said.



“The trifecta!” he said. “It came in! Seven-ten-eleven won! Twenty-three hundred dollars!”



“Congratulations,” I said. “You won.”



“Well, you won too,” he said. “You bet the same numbers, right?”



See, we hadn’t compared tickets afterward. He’d assumed that I’d accepted his birthday-trianguation reasoning, and . . .



So he won a bunch of money, and I didn’t.



To this day, sixteen years later, he has not let me forget it.



But we still bet the Triple Crown races. And one of us always bets 7 / 10 / 11.



Because you just never know.






Partner and I went to Foxwoods, the gigantic Connecticut casino, a few days ago. When you approach it from the east, it’s impossible to believe that they didn’t plan the view: you’re driving through a pretty-but-dull New England landscape, and then you come around a corner, and there, framed perfectly straight ahead of you, is a Disney castle of cream-colored brick, with a roof of angelically beautiful blue.



Welcome to the Mashantucket Pequot Nation.



I hated it the first time I went there. There’s the continual din of slot machines chiming in C major, and the smell of stale cigarette smoke, and the grim spectacle of people with oxygen tanks riding from slot machine to slot machine in their scooter chairs. And you don’t see a lot of smiling faces, oh no children you don’t.



But it’s fascinating nonetheless. And you might win a million dollars.



We go a couple of times a year. The food ain’t bad, and once in a while you leave with more money than you arrived with. (Not this time, unfortunately.) I love watching the table games, especially things with names like Pai Gow and Dragon Poker and Caribbean 21. Also, I am amazed at the security staff, which is mostly made up of overweight men over seventy years of age with ambulatory disabilities. I think I could have kicked their asses, for the most part, if I’d wanted to.



Partner tells me that business is off at the casinos, and I think it’s true. It felt – empty. Foxwoods is an enormous place, and normally it’s swarming with people, but the other day there were big lonely spaces. And the machines weren’t paying. You could tell that all the machines were set to some slightly-lower payoff point; you won a little, once in a while, but never enough to inspire or encourage you. The grim faces were a little grimmer than usual.



It’s beginning to feel like a fancy upscale mall on the verge of going into decline.



Next time we’re going to Mohegan Sun.




GambleTron 2010

Partner and I spent some time recently at Foxwoods, the big Connecticut casino. I normally stick to the slots, but I also like to hang around the table games and watch people playing poker and blackjack.


Well, guess what they’ve just installed? Virtual-reality table games.


There were four huge TV screens on one big unit, facing the four cardinal directions. Two were displaying life-sized virtual blackjack dealers, one was a virtual craps table, and one was a virtual roulette table. I am normally intimidated by table games; I’m not very sure of my gambling skills, and I’m afraid I’m going to either slow the game down for everyone else, or (worse) make a fool of myself, or (worst of all) lose all my money in a single bad bet. Or all three.


But this was just a big video display dealing virtual cards.


Well, I says to myself, I can handle this.


I did quite well, actually. I played $20 into $120 over an hour or so. I also attracted quite a crowd. Casino managers kept coming over one or two at a time, wanting to know how I liked it. Players kept wandering idly by and kibitzing over my shoulder. I especially liked the old guy who kept whispering “Stand!” and “Hit!” under his breath as he watched my cards.


The virtual dealer was a woman. Actually, it was four different women. All of them were quite attractive, although evening gowns seem a little dressy for 11:00 am. Now and then they’d look up in an eerie Max Headroom way and wink in a random direction; since I was the only player, I only got about one wink out of five. The image also jumped and stuttered from time to time, which I think was on purpose, to remind you that this was not a real human being. Then, after dealing about ten hands, Virtual Valerie would suddenly morph into Virtual Veronica or Virtual Violet (my favorite was the one who appeared to be standing in the middle of a swimming pool). One, a blond in a low-cut dress, seemed to fascinate most of the men who were kibitzing, including one of the casino managers; he giggled whenever she looked in his direction, and whenever she said “Dealer busts!” – well, you can just imagine.


Casinos have two basic kinds of games: obsessive one-player games like slots, which require very little human interaction, and table games, which are all about human interaction – with the dealer, with the other players, and with spectators. And slot machines, if you haven’t played them recently, have gotten very videoized; they morph and swirl all over the place. (They also don’t seem to pay off the way they used to. I’m just saying.)


But now they have figured out a way to turn table games into video games.


When I was the only player at the table, I did quite well. As soon as other people joined the game, however, I played much more poorly. I was trying to pay attention to everything at once: the dealer’s cards, the bets, my own cards, and the cards my fellow players were getting. And the comments, and the little interactions, and the actual near-approach to human contact. My poor head just doesn’t work as fast as it used to, especially with so much stimulation.


The virtual roulette table right next door was very popular. It soon collected a rowdy little crowd of players, chatting and having a good time. Those of us playing blackjack were a morose group of loners, staring at our cards and making furtive eye contact with one another from time to time.


Roulette is just luck, you see. Blackjack actually has a skill component and requires concentration, and my concentration is very limited these days.


But I had a very nice time anyway. Technology wins again.


But as a card-carrying Luddite, I have to tell you also about one guy, wearing the vest and nametag of a casino dealer, who stood behind me for a few minutes and watched me play. Finally, before moving away, he muttered: “Great. They don’t have to pay her a cent, and she can deal cards twenty-four hours a day.”



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