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April 17, 2005

Lots of Slots, But No Dancing Girls

Tom McLaughlin

I had been ambivalent about slots. I had no opinion after having read all the literature from both sides of the controversy. It was time to travel to Charles Town and see what the raging fuss was all about.

My previous experience with gambling occurred in Paradise Island, The Bahamas, when I traveled on a college escapade about .well a long time ago. To give you an idea - it cost $49 for hotel and airfare from Friendship Airport.

At the casino, most of us ignored the machines and table games and watched, with tongues hung out as only late adolescents could, the topless floorshow. Things had not quite gotten that liberal in the USA and the sight of lines of dancing young ladies, chests bared, caused disbelief and then a rapture during the entire performance. To be honest, that is about all I remember about the entire trip.

I drove over to this West Virginia, wicked, pernicious and degrading den of inequity or this apparent, ostensible, plausible and specious savior of Maryland, depending on your point of view. As I entered the building, the first thing I noticed was the cigarette smoke. As a former smoker, I had grown very intolerant of the habit.

When I complained, the floor walker referred me to the non-smoking section. They may know about the statistics in setting the machines, but haven't a clue about the laws of physics. Gases always move from a higher concentration to a lower one, therefore the residual fumes filtered into the open "smoke free" area. A dull headache began.

I sat down at the nickel machines and began to play. The first problem was trying to figure out how to win. All sorts of incomprehensible buttons were lined up at the base of the screen. Closing my eyes, I randomly depressed the knobs and allowed the dials to whirr until they stopped. Lines appeared in geometric fashion connecting representations of fruit.

I asked a wizened elderly lady next me how they worked and she admitted she did not know as she simply awaited the results of the spin.

I again blindly pressed a few more times and then suddenly went from 36 chances to 12. This certainly was a mystery. I got the feeling most people don't know about the intricacies or even begin to understand the game. They simply throw a coin in and hope for the best.

After about 30 minutes, I won about $3 and became convinced this was the most boring waste of time since watching a reality based television program. How anyone could get addicted totally eluded me but I have read it is a real problem.

I wandered around to find the desperately poor people ruining themselves at the machines. Visions of these monsters accepting food stamps, child support monies and house mortgages were not in evidence. Nor were there the happy, gleeful shrieks of winners planning their purchase of a new Mercedes. Just bleary eyed non-communicative robots automatically feeding these games of chance, or no chance, as some would contend.

President Bush has been touring the country trying to convince Americans to consider his social security reform package. According to him, the system will run out of money, again.

After my three-hour jaunt, the government needs only to invest in casinos because all I saw were seniors sitting at the machines. Most were playing at a leisurely pace and I saw none of the desperate and wild-eyed types attempting to place capsules of $500 pills into the machines as portrayed by the anti-slot advocates.

I believe many find the twirling of dials much more entertaining than anything on daytime television. I also must believe they will all die of lung cancer as the non- smoking area was tiny compared to the rest of the gambling area.

Hungry, I began to search for the mile-long, all-you-can-eat buffet tables laden with rare roast beef and oysters on the half shell, all for 99 cents. I had seen and heard of these eating troughs on the television shows featuring Las Vegas. They were not to be had.

Instead the guard directed us to a restaurant whose owners still knew nothing about physics and the second-hand smoke hung in the air despite the whirring of what I think were mighty fans desperately trying to suck out the smoke, causing most of the pollution in Charles Town. The cup of soup and turkey sandwich special cost $7, while the ice tea was $2. The sandwich was large but no chips - I guess they thought we would try to stick them in the machines.

The waitress took our order and returned in a flash with the food similar to the lady in the old Bewitched program. She didn't exactly rush us and as there were only two other tables, but I got the distinct impression they wanted us back out on the floor feeding the slots.

I lost a total of $8, my smoke-related headache bloomed into a full-fledged migraine and I had a solution to the Social Security shortfall. And, I never want to see another gaming parlor again.

Unless there is a floor shop with lines of dancing young ladies with bare tops.

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