I bet big, lost it all at the casino

The casino bug bit me last night. It’s true. I willingly fed money into a gaming machine and lost. I lost big. I was up, up, up. And then the excitement got the best of me.

Admittedly, I don’t slide my hard-earned cash into slot machines or slap down chips on a table. Really, I don’t. Remember, I am the bestselling author of book telling people how to save money and not waste it.

But at least once per year, a family trip to the casino is in order for either my mom’s birthday, dad’s birthday, their anniversary, etc. My brothers and I haven’t picked up the addiction of going to a gaming facility two per week like my parents have.

We went for dinner, I pulled out $20 from the bank machine and expected to lose it. Back in the day when slots were simple and 7-7-7 was a win, I understood that. Now with it all computerized and seeing so many weird combinations that make you win, it almost made me mad watching my mom and not understanding how she was cashing in. It’s true: I was getting angry at a win because it didn’t make sense to me.

As we casually strolled through the casino I didn’t feel any machines or tables calling out at me. I was fairly unimpressed with the atmosphere. I wasn’t swayed by the blinking lights and music from respective machines paying out a win.

Then I saw it. It was called the Big Wheel. It reminded me of a carnival game from my childhood. Then, it was hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs and someone behind the betting table would spin the wheel and you’d pick a shape. If the wheel stopped on your symbol, you won. I remembered the game.

This was similar. It had dollar bills on it. The payouts were based on how many times the amount was on the wheel. There were more $1 spots than anything so the odds were low and so was the payout.

I started out betting conservatively. It was a $2 bet. Pretty rich for my blood considering I only had $20 with me. But the first spin I won. I won big — at least according to my standards. I won $8. I was impressed. No, I was wowed. I needed to go again.

Second spin. Same thing. I won another $8 with my $2 bet. I was on a roll. Though, was I? I was. Four spins in and winning each time. Very quickly I had doubled my money. With every win my excitement grew and so did my cheers. Yeah, I was causing a scene. And people were coming over to see what was going on.

That prompted others to get in on the fun. My brother, who initially said he wasn’t going to play, sat beside and slipped in a 20. His first spin: a win.

Once we got comfortable, the greed took over. We started to stray from the “safe” bets and ventured for the numbers with higher odds. And it paid off. My brother, me and a stranger who also wagered hit the jackpot and each won $153 when we bet on the “joker” that was only on the wheel once. (Note: The wheel spun so conistently that it was clear it was controlled by a computer.)

We cheered, high-fived and clapped. It was fun. The thrill was getting to me. Soon the bets were increasing, I was playing upwards of $30 per bet on a combination of numbers. I was striking. Not striking out. Striking.

My mom came over to see what the fuss was all about and was amazed my winnings were up to $285. My brother was close behind at $240. The other guy was getting greedy and betting hard and winning big. He was at nearly $500. My dad came by and also fed the machine some cash. He also won a conservative amount and stopped very early.

But I didn’t know when to stop.

My brother cashed out and had to get home. The high-fiving stranger also pulled out his money and ran (not literally). I was the lone spinner of the wheel. It was just me. Putting it all on the table. And I did. All of it.

Convinced the “joker” would hit again because the wheel hadn’t landed on that symbol I doubled and tripled my bet in the hopes of winning $500. In addition, I kept betting on the frequent numbers that were constantly coming up.

Joker didn’t hit. My brain kept saying, “It will this spin.” But it didn’t. Again and again. Then thinking I could beat the machine by believing, “It paid out when three of us had big money on it, surely it will see I am the only one playing and reward me big time.”

Nope. It didn’t.

My mom came back to check on my winnings and called me an idiot that I was down to $12 after riding the wave of wins. Yup, I had blown it all. I had nothing left. It was gone. All of it. Gone.

I had no idea I spent nearly two hours sitting in the same spot without moving. I had no idea what time it was. I had no idea what was going on around me. I was in that gambling zone.

Thankfully I was able to call it a day and not feel the urge to rush to an ATM and pull out more cash. I had my limit. As we left the casino I watched people sliding dollar bill after dollar bill into slot machines. Most people looking stone-faced — I assumed they were losing. There was no excitement, even as people were winning a few dollars here and a few dollars there. They almost looked pissed off.

Even on the way out, I commented to my parents that I had fun. It was enjoyable cheering on numbers, high-fiving and celebrating with strangers. We had a good time.

It was when I got home that I started thinking about the night. I thought I should have cashed out when my winnings got down to $200. I thought I should have set a limit that after three spins of no wins I should stop. It was all hindsight, of course.

Even as I laid in bed, the adrenaline still pumping I couldn’t get to sleep. I was thinking about strategies for next time. Did I have a way to beat the system? I thought so.

When I woke up this morning I did a lot of thinking. I realized how people can get addicted to gambling. I had fun but at the end of the day, I still can’t justify feeding dollar bills into a machine and not getting anything in return — well, not anything guaranteed.

Did I blow my life savings? No. Did I win enough to retire? No. Did I have a good time with my family for two hours to celebrate my mom’s birthday? I did. Will I do it again? Only for the next family fun night.

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