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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Before You Go: ‘Life’s a Gamble’

CRL columnist John Gray takes a trip to the local casino.

So imagine yourself sitting in a chair minding your own business when the person not two feet to your left is having a very intimate conversation. You are not a nosey person, but it’s impossible not to hear the steamy details. “Come on baby, don’t make me beg. You know what I want and you haven’t given it to me in so long. Please, oh please, just one more time.” If that’s not bad enough, then the rubbing starts and this tawdry person starts pulling money out by the fistful and offering that up, as if a couple of Andrew Jackson’s will get them what they crave. To your shock and surprise, moments later this stranger does get exactly what they were hoping for, but then the embarrassing screaming starts, “Yes, yes, OH YES baby. I knew you could do it. Give me more, don’t stop.” Where are you? The casino. The person to your left is sitting at a slot machine and just got a bonus. Don’t believe me? Take a trip up the Northway or to your favorite racino and people-watch for awhile. It can be quite entertaining.

From an early age when my friends and I pitched pennies against the schoolyard wall (closest to the wall wins the others that were tossed) I guess you could say I liked to gamble. It was never an obsession, more of an itch I’d scratch once in a while. And early on I was given a gift by the gambling Gods: I lost my shirt. Or as much as a 12-year-old could lose back in those days. It was a gift because once you get stung that way you never forget it and quickly learn you should only gamble what you can afford to lose. I’ve often said the worst thing that can happen is for someone to have a big day at the race track or casino the first time they go because they assume that’s how it always is and spend their lives chasing it. Losing can be an education and actually save you more money in the long-run.

Years ago you had to hop on a bus and drive many hours to see the inside of a casino; not today. I always found it amusing that the state made millions on the lottery system, but was dead-set against casinos. Talk about being half-pregnant. Of course it wasn’t a lousy hand of blackjack, but a recession (and seeing all those expendable dollars go off to Turning Stone, Atlantic City and Foxwoods) that suddenly made a row of Sex in The City slot machines appealing.

Since casino gambling is here and growing I thought it might be fun to give you a beginner’s guide to what scientists might classify in Latin as “Slotus Patronus”, or patron of the slots.

Put simply, they go by the names Thumper, Jumper, Bumper and Dumper.

Thumper is the slot player who can be heard from a quarter mile away because of the abuse they bring to the machine. Put simply, like Tony Soprano they solve their problems by whacking it. They are convinced the harder they hit the “spin” button on the machine the more successful they’ll be. You do not want to sit near Thumper because they will not only distract you, but I’m convinced they are filled with bad karma and with all that swinging some of it might get on you.

Jumper is the player who can’t commit to a long-term relationship, at least with a slot machine or blackjack dealer. They are convinced luck is like a butterfly that flits about and lands randomly here or there. If they play two hands and lose, they scoop up their chips and move. If they win a big hand they are convinced lightening cannot strike twice so they move again. I have seen people jump from seat to seat going the entire row of slot machines in under a minute.

Bumper is the rude gambler who apparently got the memo that says this entire casino is theirs and you, my friend, are just a piece of furniture. They will spread out taking up their seat and half of yours. They will bump into you and not say “excuse me.” Worse yet, they will sit at one slot machine and play two or three at once; a big “no no” by casino standards. On rare occasions you get Bumper and Thumper sitting next to each other and that’s more entertaining than front row seats at the circus because, trust me, when the angry and the ignorant get together trouble ensues.

Dumper is the worst in the family of “Slotus Patronus” because they seem incapable of stopping. No matter how much they lose, they are convinced that the next hand or pull of the slot machine will turn this whole miserable – can’t pay the mortgage – what in God’s name was I thinking – day around. They are the only person at the casino I can’t watch because it is actually painful. You only hope on the long drive home they come to their senses and learn their lesson. As the saying goes, bet with your head, not over it.

I’ve always treated gambling as entertainment. I go in NOT expecting to win and if I do it’s a pleasant surprise. For me, a day at the track is more about laughing with friends then screaming at the finish line. The minute you’re squeezing that race program so tight your knuckles are turning white it’s time to find a new hobby. Oh, and Gray’s #1 tip: those “free drinks” at the casino are not free if they numb your brain and lead to you making another trip to the ATM machine at 4am.

Once when I was at the track in Saratoga I interviewed Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day and asked him if he had any tips for me since he was riding the next race. He asked me to hand him a $10 dollar bill which I did. He folded it in half, handed it back to me and said, “There, I just doubled your money. Now put it in your pocket.” With a wink and a smile he was gone. Do you think I took his advice? Nope. I took that $10 and bet it all on Pat’s next race. Twenty years later I think that horse is still running.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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