The House Always Wins

BXP52482“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.

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Matrimonial Insanity

bride in a straight jacketThere’s a reason the groom is not to see the bride before she walks down the aisle on the day of their wedding. And it isn’t what you’d think. I discovered this truth about two weeks ago when I myself took that storied stroll from the back of the chapel toward my (now) husband.

Lee and I decided a year ago to get married in Vegas. We didn’t want to make a huge fuss, spend a lot of money and find ourselves tangled in the tricky threads typically associated with tying the knot. But mostly, we just thought it sounded like a lot of fun. Which it most certainly was, however, we learned that some matrimonial stress is bound to find you no matter how far you and your betrothed decide to run.

It WILL sniff you out… in the middle of the desert… surrounded by bright flashing lights, eager blackjack dealers, endless cocktails, thumping music, Elvis impersonators and a cacophony of clanging slot machines. And it isn’t a matter of IF prenuptial stress finds you — it is merely a matter of WHEN.

Weddings ARE stressful. No matter how simple you may try to make them. The concern over family members’ opinions, ideas and traditions will weigh on you (if you invited them). Intrusive thoughts of forgetting or “misplacing” the rings, the marriage license or the cash for the minister’s fee will pop up at the most inopportune times. Fear of the right music NOT being played on cue, having a bad hair day or waking up to discover a rogue pimple on your face the morning of The Big Day will haunt your dreams.

Thus it is not uncommon for a blushing bride to scare the $#!* out of an anticipatory-if-not-already-anxious groom from time to time before the impending nuptials can occur. Which leads me to my initial observation: There is a reason the groom is not to see the bride before she walks down the aisle on the day of their wedding.

What, you may ask, is the “actual and unexpected” reason behind this time-honored wedding tradition? People THINK it is bad luck. But the real reason the groom should not see the bride before she walks down the aisle… is to prevent him from RUNNING.

Let me clarify. This man—already slightly nervous himself in the face of this major life change he is about to make—would head straight for the hills were he to see his beautiful beloved for the actual train wreck she has become by the time the day arrives. She has worried and fretted and planned for THIS moment since the first time someone read Cinderella to her as a child.

And now it is here. And there is NO WAY—in Las Vegas or elsewhere—that she is gonna gamble on the fact that her Prince Charming just might hop on the back of his trusty steed, riding off into the sunset because of a teensy, weensy case of  momentary insanity.