Sunday, May 15, 2005

high roller

So as I mentioned before, we just had our second-year resident retreat this weekend, which we spent in Mystic, CT by day and at Mohegan Sun by night. Mystic was like any other seaside northeastern town--quaint, populated with a preponderance of olde-timey occasionally maritime-themed shoppes selling either salt water taffy or flowing beach caftans. Mohegan Sun was something else entirely. I hadn't been in a casino since I was in Vegas almost six years ago, and the fact hasn't changed since then that I really don't like casinos. It's such an overwhelming experience stepping into one--the noise, the sights, the cigarette smoke, the masses of old people with cups full of quarters and baseball-hatted Asian tourists--that the truth is I really wanted to leave the second I got there.

But I wanted to be a good sport. This was our big annual retreat, after all. Good times! Party on! Yeah! So I gamely joined my co-residents at the bar (matching their boozery with glasses upon glasses of water), and dinner at The Summer Shack. And afterwards, fortified with corn on the cob and steamers, I followed them onto the floor to watch some gambling.

I didn't mind sitting on the sideline just watching--in fact, I was pretty curious about it, having never played any casino table games myself. Slot machines I could well figure out, but aside from my limited exposure through "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Ocean's 11," I had no idea what the hell people were doing standing around the roulette wheel or the craps table. There was something with numbers, and betting your chips on the table. And then sometimes the dealer would move all the chips around with a little stick. Occasionally, dice were thrown, and people would make noise. That was pretty much the extent of my understanding. So it was fun having the rules and strategies explained to me, and it was fun watching my friends playing, and occasionally winning. I just didn't really want to play myself.

Aside from not understanding any of the rules of the games, I generally don't like to gamble because I don't like playing with money. In fact, if pressed to choose one two-word hyphenate for my personality, risk-averse would be an excellent choice. (Yes, "anal-retentive" is also a good one, thanks for bringing it up, but not the two-word hyphenate I was thinking of.) Gambling doesn't jibe with my personality. Anyway, it made me sad to see all the old people with the cup full of quarters, compulsively pushing at the buttons on the slot machines. It reminded me of those neuro experiments with dopaminergic receptors in rats, how the rats would keep pushing at the lever stimulating the brain's "pleasure center," forgoing even food and water, until they DIED. I know it's all just for fun, and it's just basically like a big arcade for grown-ups, but still, something about casinos freak me out.

It was 12:45am and we were waiting for the shuttle bus to the hotel when someone pointed out that I hadn't yet used my complimentary casino voucher. See, they gave us these free vouchers for food and games at the door, one of which was a $10 in "casino bucks" that could be used at the "Wheel of Fortune," a game situated right near the entrance not unlike most of the other games. Spinny wheel, bunch of numbers, if your number is picked, you get your money back and then some. I hadn't planned on using my voucher, but hell, the bus wasn't there yet, and the game was right there--sure, what the hell, I'd play for one round of "Wheel of Fortune." Hell, it wouldn't cost me anything, so who cares if I lost.

I put my $10 voucher down. Two seconds later, I won $100.

I cashed in my chips, not quite believing that what happened would translate to actual legal tender. But sure enough, they handed me a $100 bill, no questions asked. Were they kidding me? Did they just give me $100 for doing nothing? That's awesome! And then I started to understand the psychology of the gambler's fallacy, and why they put the Wheel of Fortune right by the entrance. Win $100 right off, which makes you want to gamble more. Hell, it's $100 you didn't have before, why not see if you can win again? And you keep playing and playing, figuring you're due for another win at some point, until finally the casino has all of it's money back, and maybe a substantial chunk of yours. And then you get back on the bus, kind of sheepish, but no sweat, what's losing a couple hundred dollars, you had fun anyway.

Not for the risk-averse, though. I took my $100 and ran away. Because baby needs a new pair of everything. And I was scared of Gamblor and his neon claws.

Currently reading: The New York Times review of "Star Wars, Episode 3," which is (surprisingly) being touted as the best of the four episodes directed by George Lucas ("That's right, better than 'Star Wars'"--and by that, I think they mean the first one). Not that it really matters what the review said, because we were planning, however grudgingly, to see it anyway. But what the review made me realize is that aside from the whole Anakin-becoming-Darth-Vadar part of the story, I have no idea what the last two "Star Wars" movies were about. The Trade Federation? The Senate? "Attack of the Clones"? Even after watching that movie, I had no real clue about who the clones were and who or why they were attacking. And not that I really cared that much either.

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