Column: Even a stay in Reno can’t shake anti-gambling conviction

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 22, 2002

To me, gambling is a lot like touching my mother’s hot iron &045; I only needed to do it once.

I have put money in a slot machine only once and I won. Pigs flew and there was ice-skating in Hades. The coins trickled out into my little plastic tub. It looked like a lot of money, but it was not quite enough to pay for the buffet I ate at the casino that day. That was disappointing.

I gave up gambling &045; who needs more disappointment in life? So Reno, Nevada seemed like an odd place for me to spend some time. Reno is a place of slot machines and wedding chapels. There were lots of slot machines at the airport. Advertising itself as “the biggest little city in the world,” Reno isn’t really very little with a population hovering somewhere above 300,000. There are more casinos in Reno than a fellow could shake a stick at.

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Work brought me to a huge casino/hotel called Harrah’s in Reno. The hotel room they fixed me up with was a spiffy one, but I am not at ease in a borrowed bed. Sleep doesn’t come easy for me when I am away from home. The hotel was a big one with a maze of hallways that were enough to strike any man stupid. The casino was a noisy place with lots of machines yelling “Wheel of Fortune!” and about every third person screaming into a cell phone.

There was a room called the “Sports Book” that featured 20 TV sets on the wall that reminded me of an old Montgomery Wards store display. The difference was that at Monkey Wards, all the TVs were turned to the same channel. At the sports book every TV was tuned to a different sporting event. Ball games and horse races galore. Young women not quite dressed for church served drinks to the assembled gamblers. I guess that some young women today are so busy that they can’t find the time to dress completely. You would think that such lack of clothing would serve as a distraction to a serious gambling man, but it didn’t seem to. I watched a guy with a tattoo reading “What, me worry?” smoke two cigarettes at a time. He stared at the TV screens with a look that indicated that the boat that was his brain had drifted away from the pier. I watched the people place bets. I have never fully grasped the odds system. It seems, well, odd to me.

Then there were a great number of folks playing keno. All I know about keno is that it involves a lot of numbers and a lot of folks losing their money. I watched new dealers for 21 being trained. A cashier offered me a list of the top 40 hot slots. I felt as out of place as a hog in a little black dress.

The first thing I did after walking through the casino was to do a little reconnoitering in order to find a good place to have breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I think it was Aunt Jemima who said that. I found a place that would feed me hash browns, eggs over easy, bacon and wheat toast with jam for only 99 cents. The waitress pretended to like me and gave me three jelly packets for my toast each morning. That was as cool as the other side of the pillow. I was as full as a tick. Life was good. I bought a newspaper every morning from a man selling five different editions from a tiny sidewalk stand. A newspaper always makes the food taste better.

I walked a few miles each day, passing a plethora of pawn shops. That many pawn shops proved to me that most folks that were gambling were big winners. I passed a private eye’s office. The P.I. had a photo of himself taken with his arm around O.J Simpson, whatever that was supposed to indicate. I walked by many &uot;lawns.&uot; They were lawns that were missing one important ingredient of lawns &045; grass. There were a few weeds here and there in front of a house. The yards screamed “No mowing!” to me. There were a lot of homeless people spread about the city like beads from a broken necklace.

My stay in Reno was a productive one. No, I didn’t weaken and gamble. I pulled no arm of a slot machine. I matched wits with no dealer of cards. Oh, but I did lose a dollar in the casino’s snack machine. You cannot win.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.