“I mean, really… I don’t understand how people develop gambling addictions.” I said simultaneously pulling the lever on a noisy, flashing slot machine and taking a sip of my free cocktail inside the casino of the MGM Grand. “Seriously, who would want to throw their hard-earned money away on a game where the deck is stacked so strongly against them?”
“It makes only good sense to me to play a little with some money that you don’t mind losing, have a little fun while doing it… and if you happen to win… all the better… and if you lose, oh well. It was expected.” I continued to chatter on while mindlessly pushing the minimum bet button on another machine. “It’s all about having fun without losing control, ya know?”
Thus, Lee and I continued on this way, sipping rum and tequila, hopping from machine to machine, casino to casino placing minimum bets and watching our money go up and down. We won some, we lost some. Playing conservatively was fun because we got to continue gambling and enjoying free adult beverages without feeling like complete degenerates on the verge of losing the house, the car, the boat or the very shirts off our backs.
Energized from the free-flowing booze, neon lights and Billboard Hot 100 music pumping overhead, we carried on, never giving a single thought to the 21 straight hours we’d been awake. I was feeling pretty good, enjoying the Vegas vibe and feeling rather prideful that I apparently had the keen ability to “gamble” without falling prey to its fabled, seductive qualities.
And then I saw it.
There in the distance—like a shimmering oasis in the desert—standing high above the other slots and table games was THE machine. The Sex and The City slot with its fluid pink neon and sparkling diamond marquee called to me. “Ooo!” I shrieked “I HAVE to play that machine. It’s fate!” (I was obviously not yet aware that these machines were ALL OVER Vegas. I saw it as a sign that I’d spotted it at all and thought it MUST be the only one.)
I slid into the luxurious, leather seat and pushed a fresh 10 dollar bill into the slot. The minimum bet was a quarter… which I tried and had no luck. So I increased my bet to 50 cents—increasing my odds either way. Still I had no luck. So I took a big chance by betting a full dollar and Ding! Ding! Ding! I hit some sort of “win” because the numbers in my balance kept flying up, up and up right along with my excitement and adrenaline. Mr. Big was talking sweet to me now!
Before I knew it I had turned that $10 into $85. Now I realize that’s a small win for all you real life gamblers out there, but it’s a BIG Win for this Vegas virgin. For it was then that a peculiar thing began to happen. A massive struggle started to take place in my brain. The ”sensible” part of me thought: “You just turned $10 into $85 dollars by sitting on your @$$ and pushing a button!! CASH OUT, CASH OUT, CASH OUT and take the money! You made a PROFIT tonight. See the cashier, gather your winnings and put it in your wallet now! You’re AHEAD!!”
But the “other” part of me… the part that was dizzy from adrenaline and blinded by the blinking lights and Mr. Big’s sweet nothings in my ear thought things like: “But what if you kept going and made MORE? What if you’re sitting here and on some sort of hot streak! Keep going! Imagine if that $85 were $400!?!”
I allowed myself to free fall blissfully and carelessly into the world of What-If. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little more. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little more. It was at this point that I set a limit for myself. Fifty dollars. I would NOT allow myself to dip below $50. Fifty dollars was still a nice profit considering.
Until I GOT to fifty dollars. And I didn’t want to stop. $50 wasn’t good enough anymore. I once had $85. I HAD to get back to $85. I COULD get there again. All I needed was a little more luck. So I pushed on and kept playing and kept losing. I dipped below my own “red line” and now there was no going back. A ritual had begun to develop in the ORDER in which I placed my bets. I felt a little queasy when my balance fell to $20.
“I can get it back! I can get it back!” One side of my brain started chanting as I frantically continued pushing the buttons. “You HAD $85 at one time you miserable loser! GET OUT NOW!” the other side shouted back. And then I knew. This was exactly how “IT” happened. “It” being the reason why otherwise sensible people quote: “Throw their hard-earned money away on games where the deck is stacked so strongly against them.” The house is SUPPOSED to win. This whole grown-up playground here in the middle of an otherwise giant, vacant sandbox is DESIGNED to win.
Throughout the remainder of my Vegas vacation I would learn to love blackjack — winning some and losing some. I would toss around phrases like “Bad Mojo” and “Good Juju” as though I had used them all my life. I would play swim-up blackjack at the pool with a bunch of rowdy kids from LA… later drying off my chips from a winning turn at a table that had “good vibes” and spend much of my wedding night parked on a stool in New York, New York playing video blackjack.
In case you’re wondering… I eventually walked away from the Sex and The City slot with $45 that first night… a bit more wary of the allure of friendly wagering and with a bit of an adjusted attitude and a healthier appreciation toward the seductive qualities of that twinkling oasis in the desert… And I absolutely cannot wait to board the next nonstop flight back out there.