Friday, March 6, 2015


Every time I hear on the news that New Hampshire once again might be considering allowing casino gambling, I think of my mother (rest her soul).

From the first day my mom set foot in Las Vegas back in the 1970s, she fell madly in love with slot machines – so much so, she decided to forego all of the touristy activities she and my father had planned to do during their Vegas vacation, and just play the slots.

She came home $1,200 richer.

Many trips to Atlantic City, which was much closer than Las Vegas, followed.

Twenty years later, my mother discovered Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. My father had passed away by then, so Mom pretty much was on her own to travel to Foxwoods whenever the mood struck. And it struck often. She and the driver of the Manchester to Foxwoods bus were on a first-name basis.

Still, she always came back home richer than when she’d left. Friends who went to Foxwoods with her told stories about how she could stare at a line of slot machines, point at one of them and say, “That’s the one that’s about to pay off,” and it would.

So when my mother asked me to drive down to Foxwoods with her one day back in the late 1990s, I didn’t hesitate. I figured I’d come home with enough cash to pay off my mortgage. After all, I was going to learn the ropes from one of the best. I couldn’t lose.

Once again, I’d figured wrong.

As we approached the enormous casino, I had no clue what to expect. I’d heard so much about the “criminal element” being attracted to casinos, I’d envisioned the place overrun with men wearing pin-striped suits, black fedoras, and holsters strapped across their chests. So I was surprised when I walked in and saw what looked like a recreation hall in a nursing home. Sweet-looking, little gray-haired grandmotherly types were everywhere.

My mother led me to a room filled with slot machines. It was a slow day, so we pretty much had our pick of whichever ones we wanted.

“Well, let’s have fun!” Mom said, immediately rushing over to sit down and start playing.

I selected a machine with a lot of colorful fruits on it, because I thought it was pretty, and pulled up a stool in front of it. Within 15 minutes, I’d lost $50. I got up and walked over to see how my mother (a.k.a. “Lucky Fingers) was doing.  She’d already won 200 quarters.

“This machine won’t pay again for a while,” she said. “Time to switch!”

She moved to a different row of machines, then studied them before selecting one. She inserted a $20 bill and frowned.

“This dumb machine just gave me only half the credits it’s supposed to!” she said.

I stepped closer so I could check it out. “That’s because this one’s a 50-cent machine, Mom, not a 25-cent one,” I said.

“Oh…well, I’m not about to play a 50-cent machine. The money goes too fast that way.  I’m going to cash out my $20 and put it into a quarter machine.”  But instead of hitting the “cash-out” button, she accidentally hit the “spin” button…and won 100 half-dollars. 

I rolled my eyes and groaned.

My mother’s good fortune inspired me to use my credit card to get more money so I could continue to play, even though I’d promised my husband I’d limit my spending to only $50. But I was naive enough to think I could win triple or quadruple that amount, so he wouldn’t mind that I’d spent a little extra.

Let’s just say that even Houdini couldn’t have made my cash vanish any faster.

Frustrated, I sat on the stool at one of the slot machines and waited for my mother. As I was sitting there, I remembered seeing a TV documentary about casinos and how all of them were set up with so many hidden cameras, if you dared to even pick your nose, it would be seen by the entire security staff. The documentary also had pointed out that the cameras could zoom in on something as small as a freckle. The thought that my every move was being watched made me feel uneasy. I wondered if I could spot any of the so-called hidden cameras.

I looked up at the ceiling, then left, right, and back up at the ceiling again…several times.  I didn’t see anything.  But apparently the security people saw me and must have thought I was plotting something sneaky, like using a hidden magnet to stop the machine’s spinning, or trying to feed a slug into it, because two men who looked as if they’d jumped straight off the pages of a security instruction-manual approached and sat down on either side of me.

“Having any luck?” one of them asked me.

“Nope,” I said. “I’ve already lost my shirt…and other assorted articles of clothing.” I laughed at my own statement.

They didn’t.

“But my mother, who’s over there,” I paused to point at her, “is really cleaning up.”

In retrospect, I realized my choice of words probably hadn’t been the wisest under the circumstances. One of the security guys immediately went over to visit my mother.

They finally concluded that Mom and I weren’t Bonnie and Clydella, and went on their way.

An hour later, my mother, carrying two nearly overflowing buckets of coins, decided she was ready to leave. “I just have to cash these in,” she said.

I won’t say I was jealous, but I was hoping she’d drop one of the buckets so maybe I could scoop up a couple of the coins, quickly stuff them into a slot machine and win a jackpot, so I wouldn’t have to go home empty-handed and face my husband.

My mother read my thoughts. She reached into one of the buckets and handed me a fistful of coins.

“Here,” she said. “Have fun. I’ll be back in a minute.”

I rushed over to the nearest slot machine and shoved the coins into it. The money disappeared so fast, it left skid marks.

That day, I think I figured out how to come home from Foxwoods with a small fortune.

Go there with a large fortune.

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