April 7, 2005

Turn Your Fortune Around

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I resolved to become a professional gambler this semester. The benefits of this career path seemed exceptional: millions of dollars, gorgeous women, bottles of scotch, well-fitting suits, free rides on the casino yacht. It sure as hell was going to beat attending college! I confess that my delusions were spurred by the 25 lucky dollars I had in my bank account at the time. So I headed off to the local casino, the upstate New York equivalent of Atlantic City, a gritty wonderland where dreams come true and then immediately become false again.

My first experience at one of the casino’s 100+ tables was less than encouraging. “I’d like to double-down,” I announced eloquently as I winked at the jaded waitress.

Then I realized I had already lost all my money. Later, I found out someone had keyed my car in the parking lot.

Welcome to the fast-paced world of the Turning Stone Casino & Resort, a glittering orgy of high-rollers and dead-beat parents that offers everything from War to Hold ‘Em, as well as 2,400 slots and the wondrous “tallest building between Albany and Syracuse.” In addition, guests can take advantage of three golf courses, 11 restaurants and a showroom that features performances from people like Rick Springfield and the men of Chippendales. It is not at all clear why these moderately interesting activities would require more than 600 guest suites. One must speculate that it has something to do with sex and alcoholism. All I know is that my wife refused to speak to me for three days after I planned our second anniversary around a trip to the Tower at Turning Stone.

For those who have never gambled, or for those who have only gambled in the laser-infested pandemonium of Vegas, the fundamental rule is to only spend as much money as you think your own depression is worth. In other words, put a price on the strangely serene experience of losing so much money in so little time. There is nothing quite like blowing an entire week’s earnings in less than a minute, and that experience is probably worth around 60 dollars for the average person. (Note: Cocaine is highly recommended for the casino neophyte.) If you’re inordinately successful in life, the adventure of extravagant failure is worth much more, and you can probably gamble at least 300 dollars with little compunction. Understand that the same effect can be achieved without driving out of town. All you need is a chandelier, a paper shredder and a thick stack of 20-dollar bills.

(If you’re actually interested in turning a profit, check out one of the four games at Turning Stone’s Poker Room. For any pot over $10, the rake is $2. Be forewarned: the competition, particularly Bob Robertson ’73, is often cutthroat. Although smoking is permitted throughout the rest of the casino, it is inexplicably prohibited in the Poker Room. Don’t be intimidated by all the leather-clad cigar-smokers loitering outside the doorway.)

One Turning Stone hostess patiently explained to me that you don’t need to gamble to have fun at the resort. This is patently absurd. Still, if you’re completely out of money, you can always enjoy the losses of strangers. First, find a smoky roulette table filled with people wearing nice suits. Cash 40 dollars in chips. Spread your bets around the table. The other players will often place their bets in relation to yours. Then, as the ball spins around the wheel, immediately take all your chips off and act like you just had a premonition of tremendous loss. This will infuriate everyone at the table and display your true colors as a moronic undergrad. Continue as needed.

The croupiers are all seven-feet goliaths with stoic countenances and sleepy eyes, and there is nothing funnier than watching these dispassionate employees take away all of your money without even glancing in your direction. The War and Spanish 21 tables are also a good people-watching spot since all the daiquiri-sipping novices play them thoughtlessly only to suffer enormous losses. There is hardly a more depressing prospect than getting wiped out at a card game invented by small children. The extensive slot selection ranges from traditional “get-three-bars” machines to elaborate webs of numbers and letters that seem less like games and more like the back-end of a large website. In fact, one of the machines took three dollars off my Diamond Card before I even pressed a button. I marveled at a neighboring slot player’s $400 account only to be told that she started with $1200.

In my experience, the opportune playing time seems to be 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night. At this hour, the casino feels like a vaguely elegant Denny’s, except instead of getting food you get nothing. And the plates of nothing run for hundreds of dollars. The tables are cleared of rubbernecking tourists, leaving the gates open for herds of bourgeois libertines (who have nowhere better to go) and destitute home-wreckers (who have nowhere to go at all).

If you’re lucky, some unfortunate toddler will be crying the entire time. Smoke will obscure the kitschy wallpaper. Glazed eyes will barely register the spinning lights. Drunk salesmen will lay their heads on the Caribbean Stud tables and bored spouses will keep text-messaging distant relatives on their cell phones. And you may be sitting at a table with an angry grin on your face, realizing you just had the most irresponsible night of your life and that now you need to get four summer jobs. But don’t quit playing. Trust me: the next cool thousand must be right around the corner!

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Sun Senior Writer