Saturday, July 17, 2010

Okay, One More Twenty and That's It!

Rule #3
Gambling: I am committing, for the next year, to not put one single dollar of my own into a video poker or keno machine or any other slot machine. I will assign myself an allowance for sports betting only and it must never exceed $100/month. I will also allow a total of $300 to be applied towards any Bingo excursions with my mom over the next year. Besides Bingo and minimum sports betting, no other gambling will be permitted for the next 12 months.

In re-writing this rule for my blog, I am pretty happy that I was as specific as I was. My palms don’t itch when I think about placing a bet and I don’t obsess over the sounds of slot machines when I go to sleep at night. I don’t use words like “When I hit the big jackpot” or “When that MegaBucks money rolls in”. I know better than to count on gambling as a source of income.

People outside of Las Vegas frequently ask me what it’s like to live in this kind of city. I’ve lived in a couple big cities in my life now and I reply by simply telling them that it’s like any other big city you could think of, except when you are done paying for your groceries or before you put $20 of gas in your car, you can sit down with a few bucks and try to win a thousand dollars in the slot machine bank at the back of your local Vons or Chevron station. I do think of my response as nonchalantly as I say it. I think it’s an unusual and kind of neat perk that Las Vegas has to offer.

This is, of course, the light and carefree version of the oddity that is the video slot machine.

A few years ago, we got a new employee at work. I was still very active in the training program at that time and spent one of his training days showing him the ropes. He had been a server before so it was really just a matter of him getting use to our way of doing things. He was a nice fit for the restaurant, got along with everyone and wasn’t afraid to be a team player or work hard. He was instantly accepted amongst even the harshest critics in the restaurant.

I think he moved from the Midwest somewhere with his wife and their three kids. He had a run-down Buick that barely got him to work and a 3XL shirt that still hollered at the seams across his very “healthy” belly and yet every day, came in with a smile and a gratitude for life and his family that even I envied.

I can’t remember exactly but I think it was about a year ago, he went to pick up his wife from work. He arrived a few minutes early and decided to stick a couple of dollars in the slot machine at the back of the store in which he waited. He wasn’t in a casino or a gaming bar and was not, by any means, a gambler. He took his dollar bills, stuck them in the machine and played a couple hands of video poker.

He hit a Royal Flush on his second draw for a thousand dollars. It might as well have been a million.

Everything that happened afterwards must have been a blur for him because it sure was for me. He started taking every dollar he made at work and trying to hit that second Royal Flush. For those of you that live in Las Vegas, it is very possible to play poker every day for hours at a time for years and years and not hit a Royal Flush. It is also possible, if you are my mother, to hit a Royal Flush 6-8 times in just a couple of years. That’s why it’s called gambling. Nothing is a sure thing except the fact that the chance you are taking is a big one, especially if you truly think you can beat the system.

I watched from the outside, in horror, as this once carefree and happy man started showing up late to work, drenched in sweat from stress, picking up shifts left and right, always asking to close when he wasn’t scheduled, just so he could get that extra $20-$40 that might just win him those next thousand bucks. I watched all 300 pounds of him come into work, soaked all the way through his clothes as he just made a mile and a half walk to work in 110 degree weather from the Budget Suites down the road where he had to move his family because his Buick died on him and he couldn’t afford to fix it. I watched again as the bags under his eyes grew bigger from the lack of sleep he was getting playing online poker into the wee hours of the morning.

On the days when he couldn’t make the walk to work, I watched from the bar as the taxi dropped him off and then waited while he came in and asked other servers for money so he could pay his fare. I heard the gossip throughout the restaurant about the $20 he owed this person and that person and that new person over there. Pretty soon, I didn’t see him as much as usual because of the shifts he was starting to give away in order to spend more time chasing this mystical “free” money.

And then, by the act of God or the Universe or whatever it is that you believe in, something miraculous happened. His wife got pregnant.

I remember going into a mini fit of rage when I heard this – not only could he not support himself, his wife and the three kids they ALREADY had, now he was going to bring another child into his world of chaos and poverty?? I was mad, frustrated and completely helpless as there was nothing anyone could do but watch him flop about madly on the kitchen floor, gasping for air, trying to climb so desperately back in the cozy fishbowl of the world that he once knew.

However, something changed in him when he found out he was going to be a father for the fourth time. The man I trained on that day a few years ago stepped up, took a theoretical mallet and knocked this new, crazy man across the skull and then burned him right there on the floor in which he was flopping. Out of the ashes and broken bones came my old friend, exhausted, sweaty and defeated. He took a deep breath, brushed himself off and walked back to his family.

I was out with him and some friends a few weeks ago after work which was actually rare as I’d never seen him go out after a shift to be social. But, we had a mutual friend in town that he wanted to see so there we were. He sat in front of a machine, chatting it up with our friend, smoking a cigarette and as the conversation continued, his gambling past was brought up. He simply said that he didn’t gamble anymore. Not one dollar. He talked briefly about how things had turned sour from him and then looked at me and asked if I had known about how bad things had gotten. I simply smiled, said yes, and just told him I was happy to have him back.

This is just one of many Las Vegas “success” stories.

I had a bit of a Keno addiction for a while – it wasn’t so much about the Keno itself but everything that came with it; solitude at the bar, freedom to smoke my cigarettes without judgment, complimentary drinks and the steady, monotonous pushing of a button again and again and again to quiet my mind. It wasn’t until I missed my car payment for the first time in my life that I realized how much I had been gambling. Then, when I was planning my trip to England last year, I had to take a very close look at my budget and after crunching the numbers, I realized that I was spending close to $600 dollars a month in slot machines. When it sank in that there I was, living at home with my parents – again – and thinking that I couldn’t afford my own place, I knew it was time to make a change in my gambling habits as $600 is plenty for a decent apartment in this city.

So over the past year, my Keno habit has gone down and down – going from $20 a day to about $40 a week. When I wrote my rules, I figured I might as well give it up for the next year altogether and see if I could break myself of this more annoying that detrimental habit.

As the rule states, I left an allowance for Bingo with my mom because, technically it is gambling, but we just laugh and goof off and spend good quality time with each other – and we rarely go. And the sports betting? I’ve been talking about putting $20 on the Superbowl every year since I moved here and still haven’t. It takes quite a bit to get me into an actual sports book. These are not vices – football season is one of the most exciting times in this city, especially for me being such a huge fan of the NFL. So, my tiny allowance to bet on a game here and there does not worry me.

I admit, while I have moments of wishing that little caveman would come and grant me $700 by dropping his rocks over the right numbers, I think I’d rather stay in my lovely little apartment with plenty of food in my refrigerator and plan my next vacation instead.

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