Always Bet on Odd.

The first time I visited Atlantic City, I did what any self-respecting idiot would do: I fed $60 bucks into a slot machine and lost it all within minutes. I then went from machine to machine trying to win it back, printing out vouchers, popping in twenties, and generally acting like I wasn't playing with real money. Mind you, this all happened before I'd had my first drink.

This was not a good time. In fact, I began to feel anger and remorse at letting my buddy talk me into going to the worst arcade ever. Then I settled in at a roulette table. A waitress brought over some drinks, on the house. The game was more interesting than the slot machines, and sometimes I actually won. In the end, I still walked away from the table with less than I started with, but then you don't win money playing video games either. You pay to be entertained, and I felt like I was doing that. The slots were just these super-efficient money donation machines in which you pushed the same button over and over and never had any control of the odds.

I did a little better on my last trip. Oh, there was one slot machine that ate 20 bucks as a reminder of my first experience, but I was a little wiser overall. I stuck with roulette, and found three ways to play. One was the traditional kind with a dealer at a table and real chips. Another was completely virtual, played on a giant touch screen. A third was a hybrid, in which players sat around with individual touch screens, but an actual dealer and wheel stood in the middle of us. At the classic version I lost 20 bucks, then bought another $20 worth of chips, and played until I had $62, at which point I quit. I found I had better luck sticking with things like “odd” or “black”, where I had roughly a 50-50 shot at winning. Picking specific numbers for the ball in the wheel to land on paid more, but the odds were tougher. Like all things financial, more risk gets more reward.

We stayed for two days, this time. I caught a train with one friend after work on Friday and didn't get there until 11 PM. It was a fun ride that included a conversation with a cute girl who needed to charge her phone near our seats. She was only a college student, heading home for a wedding, but despite being young, pleasant conversation helped us all pass the time. Two of my friends had driven up already. After one guy finished a poker tournament, we took a break to enjoy some 20-year-old bourbon then headed back out to the floors, where our adventures included my aforementioned roulette win. By 5 AM, it had been a long night, but didn't include as many of the mistakes I'd made my first time. I think stopping for breakfast at the hotel diner where a very annoyed waiter took 45 minutes to bring me horrible pancakes may have been the worst thing I did.

Saturday was where things got dangerous. I didn't sleep well since I never do when I'm away from my own bed. I got 3, maybe 4 solid hours of sleep. We didn't want to start drinking or gambling too early, and wandering the boardwalk taking photos killed only so much time. I did discover the roulette video game which allowed bets as small as a dollar on which I actually doubled my money after playing for a bit. I also made the mistake of getting some pizza, after ironically chastising my friends the night before about getting pizza outside of New York. I should have taken my own advice. Back at the hotel room, watching Terminator 2 killed some time, especially as I dozed through some of the loudest bits. I awoke to one friend heading out to test his luck again. When he returned, he was up $150.00. Another friend came in and took a nap in his room, while the guy who was winning went back out. Later he returned to say he'd lost it all. We all got dinner at The Rainforest Café, possibly the loudest theme restaurant ever. Even the screeching animatronic animals did nothing to dispel the bad dance music playing in various bars. Some were better than others, but by the 900th time I heard this one, they could have turned off all the speakers and the music would still be bouncing in my head. “They play whatever crap keeps the girls moving,” explained one of my friends. When he put it that way, I suppose it made sense. In one bar, I heard a crash, only to see two feet sticking out under the curtain surrounding it. Friends of that overserved young lady rushed over to help her back to her feet. Thankfully, the floor broke her fall.

My best win was at the hybrid roulette, where I turned 20 dollars into 50, and promptly cashed out. I began to think I had a “system”, and figured that if I placed two equal bets that covered 2/3 of the board, I had a 66% chance of doubling my money since a winning bet in those sections paid 3 to 1. Obviously, luck is still a factor, and no one should be deluded into thinking a system exists. I was pretty lucky, and kept doubling my money, but I also played with caution, and a few times came close to losing everything. The key was walking away when I was up. With any game in any casino, the longer you play, the greater chance you'll lose. Know when to walk away. Know when to RUN.

Surprisingly, I outlasted everyone else on Saturday. One guy drove home during the day to get back to his wife and kid. Another, who didn't take a nap in the afternoon, went up to our rooms early. A third finally called it a night at 5 AM, probably the first time he's ever left a party before I did. I probably should have done the same instead of staying out for another hour, but I did meet a charming young prostitute when I was walking back to the hotel. “You dropped something,” called out a stumbling chocolate fantasy, as I fumbled in my pockets and doubled back to the sidewalk scrutinizing the ground. “What did I drop?” I asked naively. “Me,” she purred, sidling up to me. I had to give her credit for creativity, but still politely declined. Atlantic City is strange like that, with all these wealthy casinos bordering some really run-down and economically-struggling blocks. The girl on the train had told us how her brother, a firefighter, was beaten unconscious by a gang and lay bleeding in an alley before police found him. I guess I was gambling wandering the streets by myself at night, and was lucky a hooker was the worst thing I ran into.

When I got home, I found that I pretty much broke even as far as betting went. I had less money than I started with, but it all went to dinner, drinks, and travel expenses. I won back anything I bet, and had as much fun if not more than my first excursion. I stayed one night last December and came home $600 poorer. This time I stayed from Friday night to Sunday afternoon and the whole weekend cost about $200. That's not bad for a vacation, and worth the escape from real life. I took off on Monday, but did plenty of work. I trimmed the hedges, mowed the lawn, and picked up rotten pears at my dad's lot, where I also repainted the address number on the front of his garage. I mowed the lawn at our house, and climbed up on the roof to clean leaves out of all the gutters. I washed two loads of laundry. And yet, I feel strangely energized. Hopefully that energy carries over when I'm back in the office. The hardest part about coming back from a vacation is that sudden desire to take another vacation. I haven't seen the last of Atlantic City, and I'm glad I got to experience it in warmer, sunnier weather than my December trip in 2009. Everywhere I went on this trip, I either saw signs or spoke with locals about Boardwalk Empire. That show will serve to sate my longing for my happy place, until my next exciting adventure. Of course, my kind of adventure has less gunfire and more eating good food, playing games, enjoying sights, and generally not having to worry about getting home by any specific time. It's not real life, but that's the point.



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