Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gambling for fun and very little profit

Turns out that Miss Wendy has a little gambling jones, a bit surprising since my lovely wife has never been to Vegas, doesn't particularly care about card games and thinks the perfect trifecfta is an afternoon of shopping at three different shoe stores!

On a recent cruise to the Caribbean, we stumbled onto a smallish casino on our large-ish ship and spent a few minutes checking it out. My son-in-law, who is apparently familiar with the pleasures of Vegas and the massive casinos on its iconic strip, tried to explain the yin and yang of all the one-armed bandits in the room.

The more he explained the less I understood. The slot machines were whirring and purring, numbers flying about and colors blinking. It was information overload and none of it made much sense. I certainly couldn't figure out how you went about winning -- or losing.

We were heading for the exit, passing packs -- gaggles, herds, colonies, clusters -- of excited folks playing craps and roulette, poker, blackjack and other such games of chance, when we happened upon a Rube Goldberg-ish type contraption that caught Miss Wendy's attention.

It had at least five playing positions, was filled with quarters and, in a bizarre sort of way, was somewhat mesmerizing. After all, there were all those glittering quarters just waiting for someone to take them home.

Let me explain. The machine, creatively known in the trade as a "coin pusher", is something many of you have probably seen in arcades or at county fairs. It's essentially a large container, made up of two tiers, both filled with quarters. At the back of the contraption, on each level, is a metal arm that is in constant motion, moving a few inches back and forth. You drop a quarter into one of three slots strategically placed at the top of the coin pusher. If you're lucky, the coin plops against another quarter, then is pushed a bit by the mechanical arm, which causes several of the coins to fall to the bottom level, pushing a few more coins into the exit bin.

Slot machines -- all those bells and whistles, blinking lights and whirling numbers -- are an enigma. But the coin pusher seemed so simple, so easy to maneuver and outwit. The quarters were spilling over the edge, just waiting for a little push and the clinking coins would spill, literally, into your waiting, trembling hand.

Right, when pigs fly!

Miss Wendy rummaged through her purse, found a handful of quarters and dropped one into the slot. It clanked its way down to the first tier and did absolutely nothing. So, too, the second and third coins. But the next quarter gently nudged up against a heap of change, then slowly spilled onto the next level, unleashing a small torrent of coins into the exit slot. If you were keeping score, we were now even -- $1 had been entered into the machine and 4 quarters had been spit out.

Miss Wendy was hooked. She suggested I get some more quarters to feed the machine and a few minutes later I handed her $5 in change. For the next 15 minutes or so the demon was upon my lovely wife as she fed the mechanical beast, first down a few quarters, then up, then down, then ... well, I'm sure you get the idea.

The bottom line? The house always wins and this machine is a mechanical engineer's dream. It always looks like it's ready to deliver, but the bonanza is always just another quarter away. In the three days that we walked through the casino, I only saw one person walk away from the coin pusher a winner.

And Miss Wendy? Let's just say she spent a happy hour or so over several days having fun.

COIN PUSHER: Rube Goldberg-type contraption (photo above) looks like it's ready to deliver, but is always one quarter away from delivering.

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