First time is a charm, I’ll bet you

Sunday, March 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:13 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

When the boats came to the state, I didn’t care. Friends asked me to go to either Kansas City or St. Louis to gamble, but I wasn’t interested. But when the boat came to the tiny town of Boonville, my interest was aroused. And one day a friend called, and I agreed to check it out.

On the ride over, we made a pact. We would each put up the same amount of money, $50, and if one of us won, we would split the loot. Driving up to the “boat,” I was unimpressed. I’d certainly seen bigger casinos out West. Once inside, I still had thoughts that this was penny ante compared to the huge rooms I’d been in out East. And unlike the establishments on both coasts, we had to “sign up” to become a member of the club. We each got a plastic card with our names and assigned numbers. We were also given a small bungee cord to attach to the card. The other end was to be attached to some part of our clothing (I passed on that).

We had to present our card to the greeter before we were allowed into the “big” room. I must say that all casinos have a few things in common. There is music blaring from 50 speakers so you have to yell to be heard. The average age of the gamblers is 60, and most of them smoke. Those who don’t are wheeling around oxygen tanks from their previous sins.

I also noticed that none of the players smiled. When my friend and I entered the room laughing, everyone turned to stare at us. Apparently you don’t go to a casino to have fun. This is serious business.

We went to the cage to change our cash into fake gold coins for the slot machines. In other parts of the country the machines will take real quarters, but not in Boonville. The ploy, I think, is that you have to change the fake coins back into real currency so many people keep playing until their little plastic buckets are empty.

Walking around the room holding our buckets filled with five rolls of coins, we searched for the perfect spot. My friend stopped dead in her tracks in front of a Cherry slot. I was told to take the one beside hers — that one sported diamonds on the front.

Reading the chart at the top of the machine I saw that the big payoff for one coin was 800 quarters but with two coins, I could win 2,400.

I started out slowly. I put one quarter in the slot and won two coins. Although I doubled my money, had I put two coins in I would have won six. So the next round I put two coins in the slot. I lost them. I put two more coins in the slot. Lost again. OK, I thought, back to being conservative. I put one coin in and won 20 — it would have been 60 had I fed it two coins. Grrr. From then on I put in two coins each time and lost them all!

Fortunately, my friend won enough to keep us both going.

We broke for lunch. My friend wanted us to plan a strategy. What strategy, I thought. The house always wins. But to keep her happy, I listened to her plot. It was my turn to pick the machines. She heard that the ones on the end of the row are the luckiest. We were to alternate one then two coins. And no matter what, we were going to quit at 2:30 p.m.

With my second pull of the handle I won 1,600 coins! The little light on top of the machine started whirling and a friendly employee with a clipboard came over to take my name. I was ready to take the cash and run, but my friend said I was on a roll. Twenty-one coins later I hit again and won 800 coins and then 200. I was dizzy with my good fortune. Now it was me who didn’t want to leave. The minutes ticked by and so did 2:30 p.m. Finally at 3:15 p.m., my friend grabbed my arm and insisted we leave. Our fortune had dwindled by nearly half, but we both went home with about $200.

I was ready to go back the next day, but my friend started talking about Gambler’s Anonymous, so we agreed to go once a month. Now I’m a pro. We go to the same machines every time and get very aggravated if they are occupied. We still alternate coins and leave by 2:30 p.m. We haven’t won a dime since that first time, but now that we are regulars we get lunch free.

If you have a comment or have your own strategy, please e-mail me at

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