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Best of John Grochowski

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My first casino trip

20 May 2008

For every casino player, there has to be a first time. But what is it about that first trip to the slots or tables that leads to a second?

I can only speak for myself, though if you care to e-mail your stories to casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com, I'd be happy to share them in the coming weeks.

As for my first time, it was a trip to Las Vegas with my wife Marcy in the days before riverboats, barges and Native American casino made blackjack and video poker accessible as a day trip to nearly everyone. We bought a package deal, airfare, rental car and room, to stay three nights at Bally's Las Vegas.

To say we were newbies would be putting it mildly. Oh, I'd wagered some, in poker games with college dorm buddies and with co-workers at a couple of different newspapers, and on the horses during annual days at the track with long-time Chicago horse racing writer Dave Feldman.

"Play the poker slots," my mother-in-law Ruth told us — video poker was commonly called "poker slots" in those days. "We had a lot of fun on those."

My brother-in-law Mark insisted craps was the best bet and the most fun around. He drew a table diagram and tried to explain. I was just like anyone trying to comprehend craps for the first time — totally lost.

Mark also told us the best place to play was downtown. So we asked the woman at the car rental counter where downtown was, and she hemmed and hawed. "There are really two areas that are downtown," she said. "One is kind of old and crummy, you don't want to go there."

And she directed us to the Strip. We eventually found Fremont Street on our own.

It was a trip full of misadventures, heading in wrong directions, missing a show and being frustrated by service glitches in the hotel, in casinos and in a restaurant or two.

Not altogether successful, and yet we went back less than six months later.

Why?

It really came down to one glorious, low-rolling afternoon with the kind of fun you could have only in Las Vegas. Even today, with casinos so widespread, nowhere else matches the kind of low-cost, casino-hopping entertainment we had that day.

We left Bally's and crossed the street to a little joint called Bourbon Street. We'd already played there a little, mostly on three-reel nickel slot machines, but on this day we both sat down to some quarter video poker. There were no bill validators or credit meters. On every hand, you had to drop coins into the slot, and every win brought coins dropping back into the tray. It made for a low-key, long-play experience.

We probably didn't carry more than $100 between us, but at Bourbon Street, I drew a four of a kind, and Marcy had a straight flush. We filled our coin buckets and walked up the Strip with a few dollars more than we had at the start.

Next up was the Barbary Coast, then the Flamingo. I won a few dollars here and lost a few there, and Marcy lost a few there and won a few here — we were holding our own. At the Holiday Casino — now Harrah's Las Vegas — with its riverboat motif, I hit another four of a kind.

Then it was on to the Sands. There, it was Marcy's turn for four of a kind, and we finally decided it was time to get back, freshen up and get something to eat. We took our buckets of quarters to the change booth, and discovered we had a big $60 more than when we started six hours earlier.

"All on quarter poker?" the man at the change booth said. "That's a good afternoon's work."

We weren't expecting to get rich, and we didn't. But we saw new places, new people, new things to do. And that night, we were able to splurge at a Japanese steakhouse with money we hadn't budgeted.

I've had bigger wins and my share of losses since then, gone to bigger, glitzier places, played games, eaten at restaurants and seen sights I couldn't even have imagined on that first trip. But when people ask me what's the most fun I've ever had in the casinos, that stretch of casino-hopping with Marcy is No. 1.

Without that stretch of extended fun on a budget, a return trip to Las Vegas most likely would have been put on the back burner, and you certainly wouldn't be reading this today.

WEBSITE UPDATE: After some time in dormancy, my website, www.casinoanswerman.com, is active once more. All four articles, which are drawn both from back columns and from my work for various magazines, have been changed. You can look for something new there at least monthly.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski