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How Does a Non-gambler Pass Time at a Casino?

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Recently I was invited to take a trip to Atlantic City with a friend who had first class accommodations and got royal treatment wherever she went. I soon learned this was because she often frequented resorts where there was gambling and that she definitely played in the big leagues.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed a paid-for airline ticket, being picked up at the airport in a long black limousine, and having every need attended to before I even had to ask, I found myself bored on the nights she spent six or eight hours pumping bills into slot machines.

Not having the funds to take advantage of massages and other special treatments, I swam, went to the gym and walked around taking in the sights.

But still, after dinner, when the pool was closed and the free shows over, I found myself at a loss.

For awhile, I was content just to watch her gamble. She inserted a lot of bills we never saw again, but every so often hit just enough to break even. Watching how the casino personnel handled big wins- those that paid out more than $1,200 in one a roll- personally at the machine instead of making the guest go to the cash-out window was a new and exciting experience for me.

But watching $20 bills slide into the machines with a chance they’d be lost wasn’t my cup of tea. My family finances were in shambles after my son lost his job and I started paying for two households out of my earnings as a freelance writer. In my household, every nickel counts.

That’s one of the reasons the vacation was such a great experience. For a few days I got to live like I was somebody else. That plus the fact I was getting a chance to have long talks with an old friend was definitely just what I needed.

Still, at night when she gambled for hours, I felt lost.

Obviously tired of me watching her from the seat next to her but not gambling, on the second night of our four-day vacation she gave me $300 to play with. “Just try it,” she told me. “See if you like it. Once you get the hang of it, it’s fun.”

I stuck a $20 in a machine and felt my heart sink when it quickly disappeared and my total showed a minus on the screen.

It only took me twice to know that wasn’t for me.

I knew I had to find something to do where I could exert at least a tiny bit of control. I walked through the resort, through huge rooms full of the quarter and dollar slots; more rooms of $20 slots; and through the rows of high-stakes machines that often cost hundreds of dollars to play.

I didn’t like the idea of machines controlling my destiny.

Then I spotted the live card games. People were playing blackjack and poker at card tables. Not like those playing card games on the machines.

This opened up a whole new possibility for me. I remembered how my father had kept a poker table in our basement when I was growing up. He had two poker nights a week, one at home and one at a friend’s.

“Your father taught you to play poker while the rest of us kids were playing Monopoly and Sorry,” I remembered my friend saying as we recalled our childhood experiences together on the trip to the casino. “You should really enjoy our stay.”

I certainly wasn’t a gambler, but maybe- just maybe- I could have some fun at a card table in Atlantic City after all.

I set myself a $100 loss limit. As it turned out, it cost $10 to enter the game and $10 to bet. I stood watching the tables for awhile, and got a feel for who was playing at each one. Finally I sensed a friendly non-card-playing professional crowd. I asked if I could join them, and started with Blackjack, or 21.

At least at the card table I had the choice of betting, calling or getting out. It was certainly better than sticking bills into machines pretty certain I’d never see again.

As it turned out, I had real beginner’s luck. I hadn’t played cards in more than forty years, and ended up $500 ahead before I started losing and got down to my $100 limit and got out of the game.

But the ups and down were definitely fun, and knowing I’d had at least some control over the cards I’d played and gotten up when I had planned to gave me a few hours of fun while my friend played the slots.

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