January 01, 2008

Vegas Virgin

By Kajagugu © 2007

I had been to Las Vegas several times in my life, but never like this.

I remember the first time my parents dragged the family through the west coast national park tour and we stopped in Sin City for a night or two. I'm talking late 70's, early 80's, so the only place kids could really enter at that time was Circus Circus. I dragged my kid sister around playing Defender and Ms. Pacman video games along with a bunch of whack-a-mole carnival games that they had on the upper level of the casino. Kids were obviously not allowed on the casino floor so every time we needed to re-load our stash of quarters we would go half way down the circular staircase and yell for my mom to come over with her bucket. It seemed like that bucket was self-replenishing. Mom, the luckbox, was apparently cleaning out the slot machines.

The next times I ended up in Vegas were during national park tours with either a girlfriend or a buddy who came out to visit me while I lived in LA. My uncle showed up once and we couldn't figure what to do in LA so we drove out to Vegas for the night. But all I did when I was of legal gambling age was play low-limit blackjack, roulette and Caribbean stud. What did I even know about gambling back then?

No, the first time I 'really' popped my Vegas cherry was a few years later. I had taken up a job as the night-teller at a 24 hour pawn shop owned by a distant family member and located in the heart of Pico Blvd in LA. Not the nicest part of town to work a graveyard shift. Especially with all the crack-whores and gay-boys hanging around trying to find a piece of gold-junk to pawn for a five dollar fix. It was a good thing that I was behind four inches of bullet proof glass. There were a lot of dead hours between visits from these night ghosts so I eventually got one of the laptops in the store to work well enough to where I could run some casino simulator and practice my new craps betting strategy. I was going to perfect my system and hit Vegas for all it's worth.

One morning, I got back home from an all-nighter and after a short nap woke up to see that a family member had decided to borrow my truck to go fishing. He had left his sport Jaguar for a couple of days and told me to have fun. Just my luck, I was off for the next couple of days, so it was time to hit the road. I made it to the state line in record time and parked at the first casino I saw in Nevada. They had a craps table open and the betting minimum was one dollar. I needed some live practice before I hit the big city so this was a perfect place to practice. All I remember is that I pretty much broke even. At least I was not losing money, which was a nice change. I was off to Vegas for some real action.

The first place I stopped at was the MGM Grand. But I pussied out and sat at a blackjack table instead of hitting the craps pits. I quickly went through my extremely small bankroll and was left with a measly $2. This could have turned out to be one of the shortest Vegas trips of my career. I had only been in town for about 20 minutes and I was almost broke. I asked the dealer what I could do with two bucks and he pointed to a wall of slots behind the blackjack area. I went to the first machine I saw, inserted my last two dollars and pulled the lever. Ding. Ding. Ding. I have no idea what came up but the machine started spitting out a bunch of dollar coins. I lucked into a 100-to-1 payout. Maybe my mom had passed some luckbox DNA my way.

I headed out of the MGM and down to Fremont Street in downtown Vegas. I knew the old casinos were eager to accommodate the old-timers and spread some very low craps games. I walked into Binion's Horseshoe because I think I had heard of it somewhere before. I walked right past the poker room and stopped for a few minutes to try to understand why these people were sitting around and playing against each other instead of trying to take the casino's money. It made no sense.

Binion's was a real dump back then. The carpet was filthy and the entire place smelled like a urinal filled with cigarettes and disgusting moldy walls. I figured this was the standard for downtown Vegas and made my way to the only open craps table. There was only one other player at the table, a giant Texan who looked like a caricature of a typical Texas gambler. Big cowboy hat, handlebar mustache, denim button down shirt with a string tie, big gold star buckle and some fine leather boots. His chips filled up about half the rail and the table and when I got closer I noticed that he was betting $1,000 chips. Lots of chips. This immediately put me on massive craps tilt, because all I could buy-in for was the $200 I just won at the MGM. I bought in anyway.

Part of my brilliant strategy was to always bet a dollar on the hardways, snake-eyes and two sixes. I am sure this is a pretty easy way to lose a lot of money but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I got the dice and started shooting everything. I rolled those dice for almost 45 minutes straight and the big Texan was racking up those chips faster than he knew what to do with them. He was a big happy guy and kept hooting and hollering with every roll of the dice. Even though it was just the two of us we sure did make quite a scene.

And then it happened. The roll. I hit the snake-eyes for a 30-to-1 payout. Then I hit it a second time in a row. The giant Texan belted out a huge "HOLD IT" that made every octogenarian in the casino freeze in their place. "Son, if you do that one more time I will give you five grand", he said and placed five of those pretty chips on the snake-eyes next to my puny one dollar bet. It seemed like a thousand eyes were on me now. The dice were shoved back in my direction as I felt a bead of sweat start to form on the edge of my eyebrow. I didn't want to think about it too much or I would lose my nerve. I just picked up the dice and threw them to the other side of the table. One bounce. Hit the wall. Roll back and stop. That bead of sweat now rolled right into my eye and blurred my vision. I tried to wipe my eye clean but all I could hear was a huge burst of applause and screaming and before I knew it the Texan was lifting me up in the air in a huge bear hug.

Casino security was called to validate the tapes and check the dice. It seemed like the prefect setup for a couple of cons to pull a fast one on old Benny Binion. But it was totally legit. The Texan made $150,000 one my roll and happily handed me my cut of the profits. I made a 5000-to-1 roll on a craps table. I was done. Or so I thought. It wasn't even 5 pm yet. The Texan then arranged for everything you can think of when you've just won 150K in Vegas, from limos, to booze, to girls, to VIP seats at Siegfried and Roy's show, to the best clubs and best strippers in town. It was a night long bender that lasted for a solid 12 hours.

I found myself at 5 am outside Binion's with no hotel reservation and no other plans. I had torn up the town just as I had planned to do. I jumped in my Jag and headed back to LA with the sunrise at my back. I was no longer a Vegas virgin.

Kajagugu is a wannabe poker player and veteran world traveler who now lives in Atlanta.

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