Friday, November 30, 2007

"High Roller"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a man who is so bad at games of chance that I was once beaten in blackjack by my dog, I never thought I would be a high roller at a casino. That is why I had never been to a casino until I recently visited Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, where I defied the odds, despite being a bit odd myself, by hitting the jackpot on a slot machine and pocketing a grand total of $11.50.

My bonanza was the icing on the cake of my wife, Sue, and my mother, Rosina, whose shared birthday was being celebrated with a trip to the aforementioned gaming emporium. The party included my father, Jerry Sr.; my older daughter, Katie, and her husband, Dave; my younger daughter, Lauren; and my sisters, Elizabeth and Susan, all of whom had been there before but did not, in case the IRS is reading this, come home in a higher tax bracket.

The first thing I noticed about Mohegan Sun was that it is approximately the size of Rhode Island, which it is near and might invade after a planned expansion. The main differences between the two places are that the casino has: (a) a surplus and (b) a roof.

So it was not surprising that I did what a great many people (including some of those I was with) have been telling me to do for years: I got lost. I must have spent half the day wandering aimlessly, calling or receiving cell-phone calls from everyone except my father, who wisely doesn’t have a cell phone. They were all wondering where the hell I was. One time I said: "Rhode Island." It didn’t help.

Shortly after we arrived, I spotted a pleasant-looking, grandmotherly lady sitting at a slot machine. She looked like she knew what she was doing, so I went over and sat down next to her, hoping some of her expertise would translate into beginner’s luck for me.

"I just hit the jackpot for $750!" she announced excitedly before identifying herself as Frances Ruzzi of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Not only was she indeed a pleasant grandmother, but she was celebrating her 86th birthday with her family, including her daughter, Donna Yantorno of Danbury, who noted that her mom is a casino veteran.

"We’re celebrating my wife’s and my mother’s birthday," I said. "Maybe it’s a good omen." Then I asked Frances, as she kindly allowed me to call her, about her secret of gambling success. She smiled and said, "I have no idea."

"Neither do I," I said. "It’s my first time in a casino."

"I bet you’ll win," Frances said. "Good luck."

I got up and, as visions of moneybags danced in my head, promptly got lost.

Eventually I met up with everyone for a late lunch, followed by a round of cocktails to toast the birthday girls. Then it was time to see if I could break the bank.

I accompanied Dave, the best gambler in the family, to a craps table and, as I watched him lose $80, found out how the game got its name. Figuring I would lose my shirt, not to mention my pants, in which I had only $25, I didn’t even bother playing and instead went over to the blackjack tables. Two things prevented me from getting into a game:

1. Most of the tables had a minimum opening wager of $25.

2. My dog, Lizzie, defeated me in a tournament we played at home one night a couple of years ago. It’s too humiliating to explain how she did it, but I will say that it’s a good thing we weren’t playing for money.

So I went over to a roulette wheel with Dave and won the first game before losing the next two. The only thing left to try was a slot machine. I found one next to Catherine Mitchell, a retiree from Warwick, R.I. Like me, she was making her casino debut. "I just lost $200," said the mother of 10 and grandmother of 13. "I’m never coming back."

This did not bode well. Neither did the fact that Sue and Lauren, whom I found at another bank of machines, hadn’t won anything. I put some money in the one-armed bandit and used one arm of my own to pull the lever. Then I pulled it again. And again. By the time I was done, I had won $11.50.

I took my ticket to the redemption window and handed it to a cashier named Dora. "Do you have a wheelbarrow so I can cart away all this money?" I asked. Dora didn’t even smile. She handed me two fives, a one and a couple of quarters. Then she put a sign on the counter that said: "NEXT WINDOW, PLEASE."

I felt like a high roller until Sue pointed out that I had spent $25 to make $11.50, which means I actually lost $13.50. I’d love to go back to the casino, but maybe I should quit while I’m behind.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima


PJK said...

I was at the original Resorts International casino when it opened in Atlantic City in the late 1970s. I was in AC on business (really); the trade show I attended was at the auditorium where the Miss America Pagent is held each year.

Most recently, I dropped $2K in Shreveport, LA, when I was living in Ft. Worth, TX, about 5 years ago. That was a kick in the face. I haven't been to a casino since.

$11.50 you lost, Jerry?! That's what I tip the girl who brings the free drinks. Sheesh!


Anonymous said...

I'll trade places with you at the redemption center . We lost but we had a blast. Seems I was winning until I sent someone to redeem about $200.00 and she found a few interesting slot machines on the way over there . Well we had loads of fun and Mohegan had the last laugh .

Anonymous said...

How nice of you not to mention that I lost over $100.00 of the folk's money. But I am flattered to be mentioned none the less. Sorry about all the times I told you to Get Lost. I just never expected it would really happen. Be careful what you wish for, I say.