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Claire Thinking
Claire "The Geek" Gambler

On a recent trip to a nearby casino, I realized something about myself. I'm not a gambler. I would much rather play pinball than play the slots. I like the flashing lights and the plinking and buzzing, but about half an hour into the day, I'm wishing for flippers and a spring-loaded ball shooter.

It's not about the money. I don't mind spending money. I just want to have fun while I'm doing it. Buying new shoes…fun. Buying toilet paper…not so much. Playing Capt. Fantastic (back in the 70's)…fun. Playing Double Diamond…uh, kind of like buying toilet paper. Where are the pop bumpers and the drop targets and the free replay?

I spent the evening before my trip learning Three Card Poker and Let it Ride. My friend called and said he was coming over and he had the cards and the chips. I was excited until I found out that the chips were clay, NOT potato.

I learned fast, but when given a choice of table games, I think I prefer Air Hockey to poker. Banking the puck is much better than breaking the bank.

I grew up in Geneva-on-the-Lake and whiled away many summer days in the arcades along "the strip" perfecting my flipper action on various pinball machines, giggling over the naughty playing cards in the claw machines, and standing on the antique foot vibrator.

My favorite game was - and still is - Skee-Ball, which was a bargain at only 10 cents per play compared to the extravagance of 25 cents for a game of pinball. Part of the fun was pulling the lever to release the nine wooden balls. The balls would clatter down the return where I would grab them up and roll them down the alley to the ball hop, and hopefully into the 50 point target - if I banked it just right.

Depending on the score, tickets were awarded which could then be traded in shell rings, flower erasers and bamboo backscratchers. At least that's all I could get with my few tickets.

All the larger prizes were unattainable in one day, but if I saved my tickets over the summer I might have enough for the plush Scooby-Doo hanging from the rafters. If not, my tickets were still good the next year too!

Walking into the casino for the first time, it had that familiar arcade feel with the colorful swirling lights and ringing bells, but the security guards at the entrance were my first clue that this was going to be a little bit different.

Where were the inflatable guitars and the rows of stuffed animals dangling from the ceiling?

Where were the cute boys with aprons full of quarters waiting to change a dollar?

Row after row of slot machines beckoned me with their video displays, spinning reels and promises of jackpots. I put $15.00 into a quarter machine that didn't actually take quarters and cost 75 cents to play - go figure.

I lost it all but then won $15.00 more. I quit while I was ahead and cashed in my winnings, which I promptly lost on another machine.

I spent another $20.00 later in the day, but that was the extent of my gambling. I couldn't wait for all my credits to be used up so that I could quit playing. When you are hoping you lose, it's probably a good time to go do something else.

I looked up at the wall and saw a big sign that said REDEMPTION. Ah, if it were only that easy.

Luckily the casino was just a short walk from the American Falls. I could have easily spent my day there instead. The roar of the rapids and the spray from the falls cleared away the haze that clung to me from the smoke-filled casino. I decided that the view made my 3 hour bus trip worthwhile.

Back at the casino, I took a final gamble and ate at the buffet. With the volume of people coming through, I was hoping that the food was fresh and that no one had sneezed on the mashed potatoes. The meal was satisfying as was the thought that I had finally gotten something for my money.

One last pass through the casino and I was ready to go home. I had no desire to try another machine. All the slots had different facades - Star Wars, Price is Right, I Dream of Jeannie- but underneath they were all the same. Put in your money, push a button, lose; repeat. Where is the fun in that? What I wouldn't give for a good game of Whac-A-Mole.

So I'm not a gambler, but that's not a bad thing. Give me a bunch of quarters, a good arcade, and some tacky prizes, and I'm happy. I may not be real good at DDR but I can still bank a good Skee-Ball shot and work the bumpers on the South Park pinball machine without making it "tilt".

Oh, and by the way, if you call and say you are coming over to my place and bringing chips, make sure they're Ruffles (and some French onion dip would be nice).


Have a question or comment for Claire?
e-Mail her at Claire@ClevelandWomen.com

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