Living in Sin: Slot machines and the suckers who love them
Moments after I took my seat, a woman attached to an oxygen tank tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to lean in closer.
“I wouldn’t sit there,” the woman said. “That machine is trouble.”
“Thank you,” I told the woman. “But I already know slots are rigged, and besides, I’m not playing with my own money. I’m here to lose someone else’s.”
Before I could finish, the woman had already lost interest in me. She was playing a slot machine called “Money Blast” and it did not appear to be going well. She was banging on the screen, screaming for bonus spins and clutching her lucky pendant.
I couldn’t help but notice her dwindling funds.
“Are all of these machines trouble?” I asked her. “Because you don’t seem …”
“No,” the woman interrupted. “I usually win!”
I didn’t believe her, of course. But I was in no mood to argue. I was here for a reason: To play $100 on my mom’s behalf at a slot machine, and that was it. My mom had hoped to make a trip out to Las Vegas before Thanksgiving but had to cancel due to other obligations.
Knowing I wasn’t a slot player, my mom tried to prepare me for what to expect. She told me the key to winning is to play multiple lines at minimal amounts.
“But I’ve never actually seen you win,” I told her.
“You just have to be patient until the progressive hits,” she said.
My mom, you should know, has been waiting out the progressive for more than a decade, through losses at machines called “Coyote Moon” and “100 Lions” and “Fireball” and so on. Her strategy, whatever it is, has been a consistent losing one.
She leaves a casino with money as often as the Miami Dolphins leave a football game with a win.
I decided to sit down at a machine called “Uncle Sam.” It was a penny slot but strangely each spin was costing me $1 and sometimes more. There were multi-colored lines going every which way on the screen, and there were pictures of George Washington and inheritance checks and American Flags.
Clearly, the goal wasn’t to line up three cherries in a row.
Within five minutes, I was down $25. This was despite “winning” on almost every spin. The machine consistently returned anywhere between 25 and 50 cents, giving the illusion that I was doing well even though I wasn’t.
I decided to leave the machine and try a different one, a decision I immediately regretted as I maneuvered past a bunch of smelly old people dressed in wind suits and sweat pants. (If this is what I have to look forward to upon retirement, I’ll work forever).
I soon arrived at “Outback Jack,” a game that seemed to be popular because it had a progressive jackpot bonus, which is pretty much all anybody cares about.
Over the next 45 minutes, my funds fluctuated anywhere between $50 and $150. Not that I was paying much attention. I spent more time watching the strange people seated around me.
On my left, a woman was rubbing her lucky rabbit’s foot so hard that she produced smoke. A few seats down to the right, a man was pounding buttons and shaking the machine.
“Either he’s really mad,” I said to myself, “Or he has a bag of M&M’s stuck in there.”
As my account balance inevitably fell toward zero, from $100 to $75 to $50 and so on, something unexpected happened. I earned a bonus game. Suddenly, I was overturning cards that revealed whales and crocodiles and a guy whom I presumed to be Outback Jack.
Moments later, my account balance was $262. I’m still not sure how that happened.
I was mostly indifferent and didn’t care to play another spin. I retrieved my card, cashed out and then called my mom to inform her of the good news.
“Well, you won about $150,” I told her. “I’m in my car and am leaving now.”
“That’s great!” she said. “Now go back to the casino and turn that $150 into $10,000.”