I haven’t been to a casino in years. In fact, the last time I went, all of the slot machines still spewed coins into a tray. Now I’ve been told the machines give out receipts instead. To me, that seems much too…quiet.
I think I can understand, however, why the slot machines are more silent now. About 20 years ago, when my late husband and I went to Las Vegas, we quickly learned that the sound of coins pouring into the slot-machine trays was equivalent to the sound of ringing a dinner bell for a pack of hungry wolves. I actually was fascinated by the clever (a.k.a. devious) ways people tried to con me out of my winnings. In fact, I began to think I must have had the words “naïve tourist” tattooed across my forehead.
Take, for example, one afternoon when I was playing a slot machine in the hotel where we were staying. An elderly woman came and stood next to me and acted as if she had known me for years, telling me about her recent surgery, her poor health, and how she had no family to take care of her.
At first, I was polite, nodding and commenting as she spoke, but when she began to hug, rub and kiss my machine, I began to wonder if she had escaped from some nearby facility, if you know what I mean.
“I’m going to bring you good luck!” the woman explained, smiling. “I have the magic touch.” Again, she lovingly rubbed my machine. “You just wait and see!”
All I could think about at that moment was she was leaving smudges and lip prints all over the screen on my machine.
“It’s a con game,” a man who slipped into the seat next to mine said out of the corner of his mouth. “If you win, she’ll expect you to give her a few bucks because she brought you good luck. That’s how she makes her living.”
When the woman overheard what he was saying, her eyes shot daggers at him and she stormed off.
I didn’t try my luck again until much later that evening. Almost immediately, I won 80 quarters. As I sat there, enjoying the sound of the coins clinking into my tray, a man in a wheelchair suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
“Boy, you’re having some good luck, aren’t you?” he said, smiling.
I smiled back and nodded.
“I sure do wish I could have some luck, too,” he said, his expression sobering. “I lost my wallet with $400 in it today and now I don’t even have a place to stay tonight.”
“That’s terrible,” I said, with genuine sympathy.
“Think you could spare me a few dollars?” he asked. “Every little bit helps.”
At that moment, my husband, who’d been gambling a couple aisles away, joined us.
“This poor man lost his wallet with $400 in it,” I told him. “He needs a few dollars to get by.”
The cold, unsympathetic look my husband gave the man surprised me, until he said, “Funny, when you came over and told me that same story a few minutes ago, you said your ‘lost’ wallet had only $250 in it.”
Never have I seen a man vanish so quickly.
I didn’t touch another slot machine until our last night in Las Vegas. I found a machine I thought looked lucky (as if I could tell the difference) and sat down to play. I’d played only two games before a blond woman who appeared to be in her 50s, came and sat next to me.
“You’re going to win on the tenth try,” she said matter-of-factly.
I rolled my eyes. By then, I’d had just about enough of these Las Vegas con-artists.
“And if by some miracle I do win,” I said to her, “I suppose you’ll expect me to give you some of the money?”
She smiled in amusement. “Why would I want you to do that?” She pulled a plastic bag filled with quarters from her purse. “I’m psychic. I can win my own money.”
She placed both palms on her machine and frowned. “This one won’t pay off big for another 25 tries. But the jackpot will be big enough to make it worth my while to stick with it.”
By then, I was convinced someone had hung an “Attention weirdos! Please come sit next to me!” sign on my back.
Still, curiosity made me stay right where I was and continue to play…just to prove the “psychic” wrong.
Believe it or not, on exactly my tenth try, I won 200 quarters. Even though I knew it was nothing more than a lucky coincidence, I felt as if I’d just stepped into the Twilight Zone.
The woman smiled smugly at me. “I still have 15 more tries before mine pays off,” she said.
Even if a parade of naked male models had come walking through the casino at that moment, I wouldn’t have taken my eyes off that woman’s machine (okay…maybe for just a couple seconds) because my curiosity was killing me.
Sure enough, on the 15th try, bells and whistles went off on her machine. She won $375.
I was speechless. I didn’t know whether to be frightened or impressed.
But unfortunately, as much as I would have loved to stay and see what happened next, the hour was growing very late.
“Well, I’d better be getting back up to my room,” I finally said to her. “My husband’s probably already asleep, and we have an early flight in the morning.”
“Oh, don’t leave yet,” the woman said. “Your machine is about to pay off again in a few more tries. It would be a shame to lose all of that money.”
I wondered why she didn’t just keep quiet and win the money for herself. Still, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to add a few more quarters to my bucket. On the sixth try, I won another $80.
It took everything I had to finally tear myself away from that machine and the “psychic.” In fact, I wanted to hang around with her until dawn, going from machine to machine until I had so much money, I’d have to hire an armored truck to bring my winnings home.
When I went back up to my hotel room, I excitedly related the story of the psychic woman to my husband as I showed him my winnings.
He shook his head and sighed. “You’re SO gullible,” he said. “If she really is psychic, why would she be wasting her time on the quarter machines? Don’t you think she’d be playing the $5 or, at the very least, the $1 machines? Or how about high-stakes poker?”
“Well, it’s a shame you don’t believe in her,” I said, “because she said if you wanted to come downstairs and take my place, she’d help you win a bundle.”
He was gone before I could tell him I was only kidding.
Funny, but when we later went to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, we weren’t disturbed, not even once, by anyone. It was nothing like we’d experienced in Las Vegas.
To be honest, I kind of missed all of the weirdos.
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