Several months ago, I had plans to meet a girl I had been talking to at Casino Morongo, one of the boomiest of the booming California Indian casinos. I’d offered to get drinks, because what the hell else do grownups do when they first meet? No, not that. Not yet.
Her name was Alexandria. Her and I used to talk when she was 19 — I was 21 — but she soon moved to Arizona so we fell out of touch for a few years. Then one day she apparently found my Instagram account and we started talking again. One thing led to another, and it led us to Morongo after I got off work on a Friday night.
The casino was popping, as it ought to have been on a Friday, and I made a line straight to the bar once I got there, and ordered a Jameson on the rocks. I lit a cigarette and sat there, waiting for her to show up, until she did.
It was crowded. There were only a few seats at the bar, so I found an elevated booth nearby, thinking it would be the perfect place to isolate myself with a woman, so we could talk. Her and I had only met casually before, and since it’s not my style to “go out,” I was sort of looking forward to this. Sort of.
When she initially walked by, she noticed me, smiled, and I smiled in return, and proceeded to take a seat at the bar. That’s weird, I thought to myself. Why didn’t she come over and sit with me? Out of my element, I did what any sane, confident man should do, and left my drink at the booth to approach her.
“Hey, I’m Eric, officially,” gesturing for a hug.
She didn’t get up to hug me, which irked me right off the bat.
“I’m Alex,” she said, giggling, like a little girl. She’s shy, apparently.
“You know, I have a booth over there… what do you want to drink?” I asked.
“Why don’t you just stay here? My dad already got me a beer,” she responded, still giddy.
YOUR DAD IS HERE AND HE GOT YOU A WHAT?
I couldn’t believe it. I mean, how old are you? You came here with your parents? I can’t even buy you a goddamn drink? And she just sat there, sheepishly, thinking I was going to stand up next to her while she played some stupid fucking video poker machine in front of me.
I think she didn’t really have any idea how this was going to play out. I didn’t either, but I knew it wasn’t going to involve me playing the bitch guy while some immature girl hung me out to dry. The whole situation was not my antisocial style, but I was still willing to go out of my comfort zone. This was well beyond my threshold — especially since she brought her parents — so it took me (maybe) 15 entire seconds to cut my losses, admit to myself this situation was a complete bust, and take my luck to the nearby high-limit blackjack tables.
“I’m gonna go gamble, have a good night,” I said.
“This isn’t what I had in mind,” I finished.
Amidst the disappointment, the type of disappointment that made me question why I ever put myself through any of this bullshit in the first place, I left.
* * * * * *
I love to gamble. One might even conclude that I’m a gambler. After fleeing my botched scheme to actually make a human connection with a female, I resorted to three of my favorite petty vices: Alcohol, cigarettes, and blackjack.
I found a $50 minimum table and bought in for $300. How much was I hoping to make? I’m not sure. After ten minutes or so, I had more than doubled up, counting out $750 worth of $25 chips; I was sitting pretty, thinking I was on my way to a thousand dollar night.
I was sitting next to a middle-aged mexican man — probably in his late-40’s or 50’s — and he and I had a nice little gambler relationship going on. Naturally, since I was coming from work I still had my uniform on, and he understood early on that I was a dealer, so whenever he had a questionable decision to make on his hand he would ask me, and I’d tell him what I would do. (Even though I’m a dealer at a casino, I still see myself as a gambler first, so in everything I side with the patrons over the house, unless my job is on the line.) He trusted me.
I had been drinking, so my motor skills weren’t functioning as properly as they should have been. When you’re playing $50 a hand, sometimes $75, sometimes $100, the large stack I had in front of me dissipated pretty quickly. It didn’t take long before the $750 I had turned into $500, then to even money, then down to where I was struggling to stay afloat.
I should have left a long time ago.
Everyone at the table was losing money; it wasn’t just me. After the dealer made a 21, cleaning all the money off the table, the mexican gentleman sitting next to me asked — because he just had to ask — “Hey, you’ve gotta tell me… what’s the secret? How does the house always do this?”
I had a smile on my face, because this is a question I get asked all the time. Every dealer gets asked all the time. The answer is, sadly, far more disappointing than any dollar anyone has ever lost.
“You know, I hate to say it, but there is no secret. It’s just whatever card comes next. That’s all it comes down to,” I responded.
He wasn’t upset with me, but I could tell he wasn’t happy with my answer. I think he would rather believe that the casino had control over which players win and which players lose on any given night, like there’s some mystery behind the cards. It brought me back to something my teacher told me — the guy who taught me how to deal cards — “Even though you know there isn’t any secret, don’t tell anyone that while you’re dealer. You want to give off the impression like you have control over the cards.”
Gamblers are a rare breed. They are comfortable signing their own death wish, but they’re inevitably disappointed once they find out there is no conspiracy theory designed for their demise. The key is that every game the casino offers is made so, no matter how much people spend, or how many people are there to spend it, the odds will be the casino’s favor. It’s sad, but true.
I was disappointed when I first understood that casinos have no personal vendetta against me. But after awhile, after many nights of epic wins, and even more epic losses, I thought to myself this has to be completely random. Some people win money, and more lose it, but that’s all it comes down to. You have to be disciplined enough to know when to leave.
I lost all my money that night, broke some poor old man’s heart, and never saw Alex again. It was a forgettable evening, but it was completely under my control. There was no luck involved — because if luck existed then I’d just be unlucky — just choices I made.