In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I did something I almost never do: I went to the casino after dark as a guest.
Earlier that afternoon, I helped install signage for one of the many promotions the casino is running this month, most of which are organized around the theme of luck and it’s Hibernian permutations, i.e. shamrocks, leprechauns, pots of gold, etc. I’m particularly proud of the one I had a hand in designing.
Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with a news story that ran a few years ago in Mobile, Alabama about a community in an uproar over a leprechaun who had taken up residence in a tree. The report included on-scene testimonials from various members of the community about the origin of the leprechaun. One lady suggested it was “Probably a crack head.” The televised report, which can be found on YouTube, led to several rap remixes, including a chopped and screwed version. One of the remixes features the chorus, “Gimme da gold!” and this inspired the promotion. The design features a leprechaun with a gold grill. Every time I see it—on an eight-foot-long banner, on the reels of a slot machine, on TV, I get ridiculously happy.
Such shenanigans are more commonplace than you might imagine. The graphic designers are always trying to sneak images of employees into their designs. For instance, one time a designer photoshopped a coworker’s face onto a woman’s nipple. Even though it wasn’t visible to the naked eye, we all knew it was there, adding another layer to the image. But to boldly feature a blinged-out, crack head leprechaun is probably taking things too far.
The floor seemed busier than usual and the guests were younger and more spirited (i.e. tanked) than is typical for a Wednesday afternoon. Upstairs, promo girls dressed in “leprechauny” cocktail waitress outfits prepared to hand out “Get lucky” key chains and green beads. Down in the lounge, an Irish band set up their equipment and tuned their instruments. Anticipating a festive environment, I decided to come back and experience St. Patrick’s Day at Thunderclap.
I parked my car where employees aren’t supposed to park and rolled through the front entrance shortly after ten o’clock at night. If there’d been a party, I was late for it. The crowds were sparse, the energy level somewhere between bored and defeated, and the atmosphere downright morose. I’d taken a hundred dollars out of the Indian-owned bank across the street and decided to try my luck.
Among the most popular games at Thunderclap are the Pot of Gold progressives. A progressive is a game with a bonus jackpot that steadily progresses. It’s not a static amount but constantly changes and you can watch it grow on a display at the top of the machine. Anyone playing at a bank of Pot of Gold progressives has a shot at the jackpot. Even though they’re ancient, guests love these machines because they’ve figured out the jackpot limits and know when they’re about to hit. I was hoping to get on a Pot of Gold machine within earshot of the Irish band, mainly because it would give me something interesting to write about if I won, but a gang of middle-aged Filipinas had different ideas.
At first I thought there were a few open seats, but the ladies were playing multiple games at once. They did this by setting the machines on “auto.” (If you think watching someone gamble at a slot machine is boring and depressing, watching someone watch while the machine gambles for them is about a thousand times worse.) Pot of Gold machines offer multiple games but the game of choice is keno. Keno works like this: There are 100 numbers. You select 10. The machine then randomly picks 20. You win if four or more of your numbers get picked. You break even at four numbers, five numbers pays 5-1, six numbers 25-1 and so on. Each machine has different payout schedules and, of course, the more you bet the more you win.
But the Filipina ladies weren’t having any of it. They were chasing the jackpot and weren’t going to let me play. It may not even have been their money. This happens from time to time. A shrewd player recognizes that the progressive is about to hit and funds players to sit at the machine until someone cashes in. The players each get a percentage and the person bankrolling the operation takes home the majority of the cash. This isn’t illegal, but we discourage it. Guests, however, are only allowed to play one game at a time, but this rule only gets enforced when it’s busy, which it most definitely wasn’t. Still, I could have broken up the gang by insisting on playing, but it wouldn’t look good if it came to light that an employee had ruined the party.
I watched the Irish band butcher a U2 cover. (The sexy leprechaun ladies had been sent home.) A drunk crudely waltzed his overweight wife around the dance floor. Later, I was certain, they’d tell each other they’d “gotten jiggy with it.” For humanity’s sake, tears needed to be shed, but I quit drinking a little over a year ago and no tears came. I shuffled deeper into the casino and sat down at a Lucky Larry Leprechaun slot machine.
Lucky Larry is a fully animated five reel slot machine. Technically, it’s a penny slot but you can up the bet to $10 a spin. The leprechauns featured in Lucky Larry’s are the simian-looking ones based on blatantly racist 19th century caricatures. These leprechauns are ugly. They’re also drunk. Other images feature pots of gold, toadstools, and pints of stout bearing harp designs that are so close to the Guinness logo I have to believe Arthur G’s solicitors are investigating. The machine took me for $20 before I could say “Begorah!”
I rovered over to another game, a standard three-reel Blazing 7 slot machine. I put $40 into the $1 machine and took 13 spins at max bet for $3 a pop and lost every spin. When I took the money out of the bank, my plan was to win. Even though I knew how unlikely this was, I expected it to happen. As I wondered through the casino, I started to calculate how long it would take me to earn back the money I’d lost. I found an empty seat at a Pot of Gold machine and slid my last $5 into the game and started playing keno. I figured I’d play ten times at 50 cents a bet and see what happened. I won almost immediately and upped my bet to $1 then $2. I kept winning. I increased it all the way to $10 and won back all of my money.
Should I keep going? The temptation was strong. Luck was in the air. Or maybe it was second-hand smoke. Whatever it was, I could feel it. A black lady sat down next to me and fed a twenty-dollar bill into the machine. Then she gave it another one, and another one after that, and showed no signs of slowing down. That’s when I came to my senses.
I printed out my ticket and took it to one of the attendants roaming the aisles with a thick wallet of cash. She looked to be in her early sixties and her face was lined with deep wrinkles. A smoker’s face.
“How did you like it?” she asked.
“I liked it a lot. I got lucky!” I said.
“How would you like it?” she repeated.
“Oh,” I said, embarrassed by my mistake. She wanted to know how I wanted my change. “Whatever is fine,” I said.
She counted out the bills and put them in my hand.