A day at the Rama

I have now been to four casinos in my life.

Gananoque is always a good place to start one's gambling life. I won playing roulette. Thousand Islands Casino as it's officially called, is a tiny box off the 401 with a soaring sign and a performance room in back, about the size of my bedroom, where a Blues Brothers cover band was belting it out.

I lost a bit of money at Casino du Lac-Leamy in Hull. I was there celebrating a one year anniversary. Relationships! We were down a bunch but then I noticed there had been 6 reds in a row on the roulette wheel so I bet $50 on black and won. Odds and logic not in support of the decision, but who cares.

Then there was the spur of the moment, let's drive 2 hours and across the border to Akwesasne Mohawk Casino just south of Cornwall because there's some sort of poker tournament on. Didn't win the tourney, lost more playing poker later and I think I lost at blackjack too. More importantly I learned a valuable lesson: don't loan money to gambling addict friends in a casino. Sure he paid it back, but I felt bad for enabling (also I didn't really realize what was up until the evening was drawing nigh and I was able to watch how he *ahem* played).

And now with a visit to Casino Rama this past Sunday we can make it four!

The casino trip was part of the increasingly infamous Swimprov class. Said class started as a way for musicians and non-improv performers to play and learn in a low pressure, high fun setting. Of course it's helped along by having two of the best improvisers in the city, HAL and Kayla, as coaches. (HAL is a great nickname for a number of reasons, but we'll see how it holds up, and Kayla will get one soon. I'm still searching for inspiration.)

We were at Rama, in part, to celebrate HAL's birthday. Her birthday isn't until June 6 of course, but why should that stop us from boarding a bus filled mostly with seniors? Oh, that's right. We took one of the subsidized casino coaches that had been organized through HAL's condo. Worried about fitting in we were costumed, approximating what we felt casino-bound retirees look like.

HAL had even gone so far as to have a 45 minutes chat with Betty, a condo stalwart and organizer of the trip, beforehand so we had all the hot tips.

-visit the buffet early, because it gets busy
-the Canadian buffet is vastly superior to the Chinese option
-the bread pudding is an absolute delight
-the 5 cent machines are fun
-if a machine isn't winning, try another one
-25 cent machines are actually 25 cents for each wheel, meaning they're actually 75 cents

And that's just a sampler of the tips!

Betty was right on almost all counts, except the bread pudding was a bit disappointing. The buffet as a whole was great though. I ate THREE butter tarts.

I should also mention, that after paying $6 for the bus, we were given a $10 credit on our players card, so everyone was making money. Then we left the restaurant and hit the floor.

After being confused for a while we figured out the 2 cents machines and went to town. Some of us more than others. You'd think with a 2 cent machine the games would last forever and at a low cost, but no. In order to win the big bucks you have to max bet, and that of course means betting up to 125 credits (aka 250 cents) at a time. Some people in the group were good at keeping their bets small, others were not.

I was in the latter group.

I can't help myself (those are good words to say around gambling!). I'll throw a few small wagers in, enjoy the lights and patterns, but inevitably think, Hey, what if the next one hits big and I don't max bet? Basically I'm a casino's dream customer, except that I can usually just stop. Especially when I know myself and am able to plan ahead, taking money from my wallet before leaving the house.

It's also interesting to watch some of the other people play. They might lose as much as me, but they aren't doing it try to win a pile in return. They were doing it because there was a machine in front of them with fun lights and noises and buttons that NEED TO BE PRESSED!!!

Speaking of slot machines, this was the first time I've played them since I dropped a single loonie into a machine at Lac-Leamy. The machines at Rama don't take coins, only bills and tickets. You buy in and the machine calculates how many credits you possess. When you're done playing, if you have money left, you print out another credit ticket that can be used to gamble more, or can be cashed out using a cashier machine, or even, dare I say it, a live cashier. Weird.

All the machines have trays underneath that could conceivably be used to catch untold riches in coins when you hit the big one, but instead just sit empty. When you win there're some fun tunes that play for you, becoming slightly more excited the longer the credit count up goes on. I don't know who wrote those, or how much research went into them, but they are great and have the, I would assume, desired effect of making the player want to hear more of the same.

Maybe it was just me and an irrepressible urge to dance though.

And while many machines have arms on the side that can be pulled, most people opt for the buttons up front that make all whirlies spin.

I've decided I'm not a slot machine fan. I don't have the patience to bet small for long enough that I get to play the novel bonus games they have. And I don't have the money to bet big for long enough to access the same games. Also, I don't know what the odds are set at, and while I don't think for a second it's set at ZERO CHANCE there's something alienating about having the fates controlled by an unknown algorithm. The fact you don't need to pull the arm, your wealth is tracked on printed slips and the machines feature useless coin trays is alienating as well.

I'm well aware that I'm describing modern slot machines as alienated from the human condition, just as Marx intended, but seriously. Those trays were designed to maximize the noise of plinking coins for crying out loud! Such a waste.

Table games at least give me chips to fiddle with, but when the minimum bet on those is $15, they're a big no no. Poker would have been nice, but there are a lot of people that felt the same and the poker room was rammed. That and it was a class outing that would have been defeated if I'd wandered off to play alone.

We were definitely the most 'dressed' people in attendance. I was expecting a certain amount of ridiculousness as far as good luck trinkets, funny hats and the like, but was grossly disappointed. The red bulldog I had hanging from my pocket all day not only did not bring me luck, but drew all sorts of odd stares from the hardcore gamblers around the room. Maybe it's because there's a preponderance of rural Ontarians in the crowd and you don't get the flash and sizzle of Vegas grannies.

Few people looked excited to be there. Perhaps the excitable people were at table games, but amongst the machinists if we made too much noise or were having too much fun people generally moved off or glared.

At the same time when we were getting all bent out of shape because one of us was up $4 people would sometimes appear. On more than one occasion a Chinese family arrived, different each time, but always composed of a couple aged 50-60 and a significantly older, presumed mother (in-law). At other times it was lone women who would hover, eying their chance to jump in on a winning machine. When they figured we were making all that noise over less than $5 they tended to leave.

The day's most confusing look, however, came when we were celebrating a modest uptick and I commented that I couldn't believe Kayla was up $30 000 playing the penny slots. A woman a few machines down turned and eyed us all. At the time I though she was either a) mad we were making noise, or b) trying to assess the veracity of my claims. Subsequently, I think it's something else.

She was sitting in front of a machine that has buttons and lights. She had probably deposited a pile of dough and had been moving her finger a minute amount, again and again, for hours. If that's what your eyes and brain are focused on when you turn to look at people it's not surprising that your face is blank and your eyes are empty. She probably wasn't thinking anything about us, and sure enough turned back to her screen in short order.

And I just remembered I've been to one more casino. It was the Circus Casino Edinburgh, but I can hardly count it because I was playing poker there and for me that's not gambling.

Then I lost.

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