Vegas 40


7 a.m. Sunday. The Mirage.

Pink neon emanated from the Revolution bar, creating peculiar back lighting for a pair of bulky security guards in dark green blazers one size too small. The stoic pair stood at opposite ends of a bank of “Wheel of Fortune” slot machines. They clocked the crowd, which had quickly blossomed into 20 or so observers including eight shitfaced comrades, a sloshed 40-something in a tight leopard-print skirt, a pair of German tourists with a video camera, and a quartet of perky retirees from Minnesota on their way to the breakfast buffet.

Talk about a Vegas first for me. A festive rail gathered around a bank of slot machines. Even a curious hooker sipping a diet Red Bull limped over when she heard the unnatural commotion. Usually when a blue-haired slot zombie hits a jackpot, a semicircle of jealous curmudgeons gathers to curse the winner under their breaths. But that was not the case. This crowd gawked at Houser, who had $5,000 spread out over four different $5 “Wheel of Fortune” machines. He erratically jumped back and forth playing between them. When he whiffed on a couple of spins on one machine, he bounced to the next one.

“There’s my good luck charm!” screamed Houser. The security guard stepped aside and a voluptuous waitress delivered a Malibu and Coke. He took a drag off his cigarette and tossed her a redbird. She leaned in and kissed him on cheek. Houser hammed it up for the crowd by faking a fainting spell.

Houser sprang up and chugged his complimentary cocktail. He smacked the button on one machine, pulled a lever on another, and then dramatically twirled before he gently dropped his elbow on a third. The machine unleashed a shimmering array of lights and regurgitated the all-too familiar sound of a bonus spin, which elicited a wave of “ooooohs” from the crowd.

“I told ya she’s my good luck charm!”

A few hours earlier, Houser was stuck $2,000 but he hit up the ATM. He reloaded then embarked on one of those insane hot streaks we all dream about. It’s that specific ubiquitous rags-to-riches fairy tale that entices suckers to fly to Vegas and gamble away the last cent in their pockets. But for some reason the gambling gods decided that out of millions of other gamblers, Houser was to be the chosen one — $12,000 courtesy of two massive jackpots.

The grinning slots manager stood right behind one of the security guards. She wasn’t used to seeing someone with so much enthusiasm playing slots, but more importantly, she rarely got tipped out. The old fogies always stiffed her, but Houser greased her after winning both jackpots. She was naturally rooting for him to hit another one.

Houser had not slept for at least two days, maybe more. The adrenaline of riding a winning streak and the infectious mood of the rail helped him stay alert. Well, that’s not true. He was mainlining rum and who knows what pills he gobbled after breaking into my stash. Houser was up. His bankroll was up. The crowd continued to grow and Houser didn’t show any signs of crashing.

“This is something like out of the ‘Hangover,’” whispered JB. “I hope this makes the sequel to ‘Lost Vegas.’”

JB was the primary reason we were raging hard on the Strip at sunrise. He chose to celebrate his 40th birthday with a dozen of his closest friends in Las Vegas. It coincided with March Madness’ Final Four weekend and a deluge of sports betting and binge drinking ensued. The results were not pretty after I lost the majority of my bankroll betting the Ohio State moneyline against Kansas. Ohio State lost an ugly game and it felt like my innards were gnawed away by a jaguar.

The best way to stave off mega-sportsbetting-tilt? Dull the senses by any means necessary. After all, I was in Vegas with a small army of middle-aged guys on a mission to do as much damage as possible, while they had a rare weekend pass from their wives, who were back home with the kids. After a couple of hours of heavy liquor and pharmaceutical consumption, JB suggested we play the 1 a.m. tournament at Harrah’s.

I usually avoid tournaments, especially $25 buy-in donkfests on the Strip, but I was too wasted to really care. To sweeten the pot, JB and I engaged in a last-longer side bet worth the same as the buy-in. It prevented us from bombing out on the first hand. JB decided that the tournament was the perfect opportunity to milk Harrah’s for as many free drinks as possible. He pounded a six-pack of Coronas before the first break, but finally slowed down when he realized he made the final table with the chip lead.

Sartre said hell is other people. He has obviously played poker at Harrah’s on Saturday after midnight. The skill level was utterly atrocious. Everyone was either a total fish or shitfaced. Some were both. The wannabe wiseguy to my right wouldn’t stop bragging about how he makes a plush living betting thousands of dollars on basketball games. The kid to my left wore a flatbilled hat and sunglasses. Only total douchebuckets wear sunglasses at the table. You never see Phil Ivey or Erik Seidel wearing sunglasses do you? Less than an orbit after I made fun of the douche in sunglasses on Twitter, I got it all-in with A-10 suited and lost to K-J when a fucking jack spiked on the river.

JB won our last longer and proceeded to run over the final table. He eventually chopped it up when it got down to two players. He took his winnings and we raced across the street. The Pai Gow tables at the Mirage were calling our names.

We sat down at a table with three shitfaced frat boys from the South. They spoke with thick drawls and at least two of them didn’t know how to play, or were so blotto that they kept forgetting the rules. The dealer, an adorable young woman originally from Hong Kong, called the floor on every other hand to point out incorrectly set hands. The pit boss, an older Chinese-American guy in a pristine pinstripe suit, felt bad for the drunken frat boys and always ruled in their favor. Tourists are always treated better on the Strip. Whenever I play Pai Gow at the Gold Coast, those Nazi-like dealers never deviate from the rules.

When the frat boys screwed up for the 10th time in a row, the dealer said something to the pit boss in Mandarin. “Look at these drunk monkeys. They are losing all of their parents’ money.”

“They should be playing white boy table games like Blackjack instead,” joked the pit boss.

The drunk frat boys went busto and we cashed out with a small profit. JB went looking for the rest of his crew, which we found cheering on Houser at the Wheel of Fortune slots.

“Bonus spin time bitches! Where’s the cougar?”

Houser called out to a lecherous middle-aged spinster in a leopard print dress who stood on the rail clutching a ginormous souvenir margarita glass. We chanted “Cougar time! Cougar time!” like idiots until she lumbered over. He pointed at one machine and on cue, she rubbed her breasts against the screen. She whirled around and wiped her buttocks up and down in a circular motion as boisterous chants of “Cougar time!” drowned out the cacophony of ambient casino sounds.

Houser smacked his hand on the bonus button and the wheel accelerated. When it reached top speed, the chants quickly morphed into “Big bucks! No whammies! Big bucks! No whammies!”

The wheel slowed down and crept toward a $1,000 bonus. A mere $50 bonus preceded the $1,000 spoke of the wheel. The crowd begged for “Big bucks!” Houser got down on his knees and made praying gestures with his hands.

The wheel appeared to have stopped at $50, but somehow its momentum carried it over to the $1,000 zone. Houser went berserk and ran around the bank of slots.

Instead of cashing out, he pressed his winnings. Twenty minutes later, Houser snagged another bonus spin and searched the rail for one of his groupies. Another rowdy chorus of “Cougar time!” rang out. She repeated her lascivious routine, rubbing her private parts against the machine. That particular bonus spin was only worth an extra $100.

A pair of octogenarians wandered over at the end of the cougar’s interpretative good luck rain dance. Houser pulled the lever and instantly picked up another bonus spin.

“Oh, heavens to Betsy!” shrieked one of the old ladies as she pointed her wrinkly finger at the thousands of dollars in credits at one of the $5 machines.

“What have you done, young man?” said the other old lady. Houser pointed at both of them and screamed, “Bitches! This is the kind of shit they make movies about!”

An uncomfortable silence fell over the crowd and even the working girl cupped her mouth with her hand to prevent from laughing. The tension was broken when one of the ladies unleashed a howling cackle.

The old lady slid past the security guard and rubbed her chest against the machine’s screen. Houser was stunned. The burly security guards laughed. The rail applauded.

“Looks like we’ve been doing it wrong the whole damn time!” said the old lady.  

June 2012