Slot machines are dangerous.
I don't care what kind of lures casino owners toss at you, they're dangerous. They're exciting. They can break your heart, and send you home with a pocket full of cash and a smile on your face.
But slot machines often live up to their nickname -- one-armed bandits. And when you are approached by someone or in this case a machine that wants your money, you have to do a lot of maneuvering to get yourself positioned to counter the machine's strategy and win.
Now I confess I have never been much of a slot player. My younger brother, John, who was nicknamed Legs because of his height and some other silly reasons his school pals conjured, is addicted to them. I recently asked him his secret for winning at the slots. He lives in a small town in Western Pennsylvania and plays at the Meadows near Washington, PA. where they know him by his first name.
Legs hummed and hawed and said something about putting three coins in a machine and if you fail to hit, go to another one and then another until you hit on the first three coins. Sounds reasonable to me.
Over the years, since I became a gambler at poker, horse handicapping and blackjack, I have only won big on a slot machine once. It was such an extraordinary event, I have to tell you about it.
About 10 years ago, a publisher friend John Carroll, who owned Weekday, a weekly newspaper in Lake Park, FL., invited me to accompany him to Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I had been doing some writing for Carroll and eagerly accepted his offer.
John's game was craps. He loved to throw dice and he bet big. A millionaire publisher, he knew nothing about poker, which was my game, but when he was winning at dice, he would press his luck.
As we drove south on I-95 to board a seaplane in Miami for the short flight to Paradise Island, John turned to me and smiled.
'My goal this weekend is to win $20,000 at dice,' he said. 'What's yours?'
Telly Savalas, the actor, and his organization Players Club International, were sponsoring a poker tournament at the casino resort. 'I'm going to try my luck in the tournament,' I said. We shook hands and wished each other the best.
After checking into our suite which overlooked an incredible white sand beach, we strode down to the casino. Beautiful girls were everywhere. They draped themselves on sofas and lounge chairs. Some wore revealing tropical gowns of all the rainbow's colors, while others had on the briefest of bikinis.
Always the gentleman, John smiled at each and gave them a little bow.
'Respect,' he explained, winking. 'They'll remember it later.'
He found a dice table and removed his jacket. He tossed one of the croupiers a bill and they gave him some chips. Shaking the dice, he blew onto them and rolled a six. Three rolls later, he made his point and pulled in his winnings.
'See you later,' I said. 'My poker tournament is about to start.'
We gambled all that afternoon. John ran up his winnings and I made the final table. Savalas, the star of 'Kojak,' came by our table and congratulated us. I played hard and lucky and wound up in third place, pocketing $3,940.
The next morning, I had breakfast. John was late joining me -- our flight on Chalk Airlines back to Miami was scheduled to take off at 11 a.m. Since I had nearly three hours to kill, I ambled through the casino. A pretty change attendant pushing a portable change machine came by and I stopped her.
Taking a $20 bill out of my pocket, I placed it in her hand.
'My plane leaves in three hours,' I said. 'How about letting me exit the island with a smile on my face? Can you take me to a lucky machine?'
She glanced around to make sure nobody was watching. Then she grabbed my sleeve and led me down a line of dollar machines.
'That one,' she said simply. 'It's ready.'
I slid a $20 bill into the slot and pulled the handle. Three pulls later, bells rang, sirens went off and the machine lit up. I had hit the jackpot.
Turning around, my eyes met the change attendant.
'Welcome to Paradise Island' she said.