Lewis Carroll's 'Alice In Wonderland' was a wonderful tale that involved the kind of childhood fantasies that remain with people long after they become adults.
Carroll's imagination takes the readers into an upside-down world where black is white, white is black, danger lurks behind every tree, and a happy ending is inevitable.
Wonderland is like the world of slot machine players on nearly every level -- except perhaps the happy ending.
You can enter any casino anywhere in the world at any time -- 6 a.m., noon, 5 p.m., midnight or 3 a.m -- and you will find people with intense expectant looks on their faces pulling handles, pushing buttons and sliding bills into narrow slots in search of the ultimate jackpot.
A slot player never goes completely broke. Even when he or she is down to the last dollar, the player can find a penny machine somewhere in the casino that will accept his bet
If it were not for slot machines, Las Vegas could not exist in the scope it now commands. There would be casinos, of course, offering table games like blackjack, baccarat, roulette, poker, Caribbean stud poker and other games created by Harvard and Yale graduates with a master's degree in math, marketing or some other subject.
But a casino without slots? Unthinkable.
Slot machines provide players with too many things to list in just one article. Machines talk to players, provide them with their favorite temes from TV shows, movies, survival games, jungle settings, Sci-FI, amazon beauties, monsters, cartoons and jungles.
Most of all, slot machines give players hopes and dreams that with a single handle pull might change their lives forever.
I will never forget one night at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. My buddy Dave Molina, a hard-drinking Los Angeles Herald-Examiner copy editor that I had introduced to four women that he later married and divorced -- and I had just driven into town and valet-parked our car.
We walked into the glittering Nugget and as we passed a six-foot tall Nicklemania machine, the woman in front of it began screaming. Bells rang, lights flashed, the machine seemed to disintegrate in front of us. The woman would not stop screaming at the top of her lungs.
'I won...I won!,' she shouted. Two smiling security guards rushed to her side..
She turned to one of them, a dazed look on her face. 'How much did I win?', she said, literally gasping for breath and looking at the three gold nuggets lined up on the machine.
'Two hundred and eighty-five thousand,' one of the guards said in a laconic drawl.
The woman's husband had magically appeared. 'What happened, honey?,' he said. 'Are you okay? Did you take your pills?'
Ignoring his question, she said in a dreamy voice, 'Herman, I just won 285,000 nickels.'
The security guard grinned. 'Not nickels, Ma'am,' he said 'The machine is Nicklemania, but you just won 285,000 dollars.'
Slot machines are built to give players a thrill even when they lose, which is most of the time. Slot attendants set up machines that are regulated by a computer chip that pays back whatever overall percentage the casino wishes to pay. The percentages are regulated by law and vary from machine to machine, and casino to casino.
Bob Stupak, owner of Stupak's World, the sky-high spire that juts into the Las Vegas hemisphere, had a gimmick that pulled first-time visitors into his casino. Stupak, whose parents were Polish immigrants, would give out thousands of coupon books at Nevada Welcome Centers that would entitle first-timers to all sorts of perks, from a free glass of wine to shrimp cocktails to discounted dinners.
He also had coupons that would let a visitor have a free pull on select slot machines. All you had to do was feed the coupon into the machine and if the reels lined up, you were a winner.
The odds were long against winning -- Stupak, a high-stakes poker player who competed in the World Series of Poker many times and who played in high-stakes cash games against some of the legends of poker, was not known for giving away money. But I will never forget the night that I was broke and decided to try out his coupon book.
Directed by an attractive casino employee, I fed the coupon into a king-sized slot machine, pulled the big handle, and won $50. If I was stunned, so was the slot girl
She turned to a fellow employee and said, 'Wow! That's the first time I saw this machine pay off fifty bucks.'
My win occurred on a Friday night and by Sunday afternoon, I had parlayed the $50 into over $1,200. Thanks, Bob.
Slot players like keno players realize the odds are long against them. But those fantasies and dreams of jackpots keep them coming back. I admire them for their courage and persistence. Lewis Carroll may have written a timeless fairy tale, but in Las Vegas, that favorite slot machine of yours may just be a fairy tale that turns into a reality. Let the games begin.