As I have recounted (repeatedly) in Parts I - IV of these tales my early gambling excursions were alcohol-fueled trips that resulted in pretty big losses, and not so fun hangovers. In short, I was everything casinos love, uneducated, inebriated and bereft of bankroll management knowledge. In short, I was a sucker, a mush if you will.
I have also, and remain, a cold runner my entire life. So when I imply that the trip to Atlantic City of which I'm about to relate "changed everything" I meant more toward my outlook on gambling as a whole. Not my relationship to the standard deviation. On that metric I'm still very much trending toward the casinos side.
We went to Atlantic City in October of 2012 for our birthdays. The wife and I share birthdays exactly 2 years and 1 day apart. Her on October 30th, mine on Halloween. The upside to this is that, in 18 years of marriage and 20 years as a couple, I have never forgotten her birthday. But we wanted to see Atlantic City before it went away. All I knew about the City is what I had seen on Rounders, and on the remake of Ocean's Eleven (Clooney, Pitt, et. al.). I knew Trump had some casinos there, and Caesars, and I knew there was a Golden Nugget there, and it was from them I received an offer.
It wasn't a great offer as those things go, 20% off the room rate but it was enough to whet my appetite so we decided to find a flight.
First problem. Back then United Airlines hadn't yet made the stupid business decision to start a flight from Houston to Atlantic City (in return for gate considerations at Newark) so if we wanted to fly direct we would be stuck flying Spirit Airlines. Yuck. There was, however, a loophole, so with a direct flight to and from Philadelphia, and plans to catch the train to Atlantic City, we took off on a trip that would change how I, and my wife, gambled forever.
Plane rides don't bother me, so we had fun. During those years both the wife and I had status so we both copped upgrades to first class and were halfway lit by the time we arrived at PHL. We were only staying three days so I didn't have a bag to check, but my wife did, so we grabbed her bag and shot off to catch the next to last train to Atlantic City.
Which we made, with 30 seconds to spare. We purchased the ticket in our seats from the porter and settled in for around a 90 minute ride. As I stated before, the wife loves trains. Since she lived on one for two years while working with the circus she enjoyed the ride. I got somewhat bored (it was dark, so you couldn't see anything outside of the windows) but we made it and then hailed a cab from the train station to the Nugget, which is (unfortunately, for why you'll read later) some way away from the Boardwalk.
We got in and hit the bar. Hard. I then proceeded to take out my first night's money and blow it all playing slots. "That was fast" I told my wife, and we agreed not to gamble any more until the next day. We had some more rounds, chatted with the bartenders and then went to sleep.
In the morning (honestly) we woke up and it was raining, but we really wanted to head to the Boardwalk so we put on our drip-dries and went to find the jitney. We did, and we were off. Our first stop was the Trump Taj Majal.
In short, and I'm not being political here, it was a disgusting dump. Half of the slot machines were out of order and the ones that were working were old and filthy. It looked as if the casino hadn't been cleaned in 50 years. On top of that, most of the bars were closed. Not having my typical morning Bloody Mary was going to be an issue. But, we found a place to eat breakfast and decided to head over to The Borgata, and Revel.
Here's what I remember about the Revel, it was a beautiful property, laid out terribly, and the slots were brutally tight. In fact, ALL of the Atlantic City slots that we played seemed to be unusually tight. It was like pouring gasoline on a brush fire every time we added money. My wife, who is very risk averse and hates gambling (but enjoys going to casinos) quit after losing $40 in just under 10 minutes. By the time we had reached 3PM on our first day there I was down $300 with little hope of getting it back the way things were going. I had $200 left for two days, and I had promised myself I was NOT going to be hitting up the ATM this trip.
Then, something miraculous happened. I won. Not a ton of money but enough to get me into the positive for the first time in a long time. We had sat down at a bar in Borgata and ordered a round of drinks. Looking for something to do I put $40 in a video poker machine, the first time I had played since I had the win at Mandalay. Other than that I hadn't played. I had seen it played, talked about it with friends who played, and had even watched people play it while sitting at bars, and as a live poker player I understood it, but you could throw things such as basic strategy out the window.
But I won. It was while playing twenty-five cent "Double Double Bonus" and I got dealt 4-two's with a 3-kicker. $500.00. I hadn't hit anything that big since my visit to Delta Downs. I glanced at my wife, hit "cash out" and we spent the rest of the day walking to the various casinos on the Boardwalk, signing up for their players cards and playing off the free-play for new signups when we found it.
On the 3rd day there I gave some (not all) of it back. By the time we had left however I still had over $400 in my pocket which I was planning on giving back to the bank when we got home. After the win I continued playing video poker, with my wife's blessing, except at the casinos that gave us slot free play that is. On the whole of course, after the hit, I lost. But the rate of loss was smaller, and slower, than I was used to playing slots which convinced me that there might just be something to this whole video poker thing.
All in all I remember the Boardwalk not for the crappy casinos, or the good food (there is a lot of that, especially the pizza) what I remember the most is sitting in a bar inside the Borgata and winning something at a casino game for the first time in a long time. For a brief, fleeting second, I was ahead of the casinos on a trip and I wanted that feeling again. For the first time I realized that gambling outside of the poker room could be affected by skill (except for slots of course). I realized on that trip that in order to continue to play consistently, I was going to have to get a hell of a lot better at playing the good games in order to make my bankroll last longer.
I almost didn't have time to learn those lessons however. Because on our way back to the Nugget, on the jitney, while driving through one of Atlantic City's neighborhoods several windows in our little bus were broken by locals throwing rocks at us. One of the rocks missed our head by a foot or so and landed in the seat in front of us. The driver promptly floored it, and we returned to the Golden Nugget where we stayed up all night drinking and thinking "whew! that was close". The next morning we caught our train at 6AM, rode to PHL where we caught our flight home. Tired, a little freaked out, but glad to be putting money in the bank for a change.
After getting home, and depositing back the money, I promptly went to Barnes and Noble and bought my first book on gambling.
But I'll save that tale for Part VI.