Last night, my mother and I took my little brother, Karson to the casino for the first time. Its like a rite of passage in our family. After you turn 21, you go to the casino and hopefully learn a life lesson about money (and how to hold your breath so you don’t get lung cancer). My mother is the type who admittedly spends too much in casinos. She decides upon a limit before she enters, but that doesn’t always stop her when she has emptied her pockets.
As we walked in, my mom handed Karson $20 and headed over to a machine. Now, she gave Karson this money with the understanding that if Karson did win anything he had to give her back what he started with. Otherwise, she would count it as a loss.
Karson stood there with a blank expression waiting for me to say or do something. I imagine he wanted to follow me, so I decided to give him a tour even though I had never been to this particular casino. I figured that casinos have to be pretty similar and began pointing things out.
“Here’s the beverage station!” I pointed. “You can get free drinks here. You can get a soda, or a tea, or a coffee, or–“
“Ugh,” he cut me off. “Where’s the beer!? I came because I wanted a free drink! If I’d known that-“ Apparently, behind that vacant stare was a brain set on getting through the evening with alcohol.
That’s when I had to stop him and explain that he needed to wait until we got on a machine. It never stops to amaze me how quickly he can go from 0 to 100 on the sass meter. We continued our lap around the room, and then he surprised me by asking, “Why does everyone look so sad in here?”
I thought for just a second and mentioned that a lot of these people were not coming because it was some special occasion, that the majority of these people were likely regulars, that they were spending their check (it was the middle of the month after all). I explained that it was possible there were a fair number of disabled adults in the room who were gambling away what they felt was not enough to live off of in hopes of increasing their income.
I was happy he’d asked. I thought it was a good question. We made our way back over to Mom, and Karson sat at the machine beside her, while I played a machine on the other side.
I put in a 20, played a few rounds, hit and cashed out with $28. I moved back to the other side where Karson and Mom were playing. I sat down on the other side of Mom and put in a new $20. I was oddly paranoid that if I put in the ticket I just cashed out, the machine would know I won and would not let me win again. I hit and cashed out with $34.
My mom wasn’t doing as well. But weirdly enough, I could tell she was enjoying herself. She apparently loves giving the machine money. Win or lose, it’s still fun for her.
I couldn’t tell what Karson was feeling. He looked a tad frustrated…and it looked like he was making extremely conservative and slow bets, terrified that the 20 would disappear.
“NO one has even offered me a drink yet!” he said under his breath.
“Cool it, dude. You’re playing penny slots. Don’t expect to be catered to.” I told him. He began shaking his head.
Amid the commotion, my mother leaned in and whispered to me, “It’s not good if we win. It’s better if he sees us lose. He’ll learn something about money.”
I was stunned. I had just won on two machines, cashed out, and told myself I would stop for the night. The wins were conservative at best, and though I had prepared to lose $100, I was happy to have won the small pots I did.
We moved to another row, and they sat down. I stood there waiting beside them as they played. And then my mother looked up at me…indignantly.
“What? You’re not gonna play anymore?” It seemed like my mother was challenging me. “We just got here.”
I know what that was. She didn’t want to feel like she was holding everyone up by continuing to play. She was enjoying herself… but then I started to wonder if it was more than that. Did she really want us to lose? On the way there she had joked with my brother, telling him to close his eyes. “You don’t need to know where this place is,” she told him. “Let it be a surprise.”
Just then the cocktail waitress came by, and Karson’s eyes lit up.
“Do you have Dos Equis?” he asked her. The woman told him a price, and he was appalled that he might have to pay for a drink. Embarrassed, I started to walk away but heard her explain that he could have a free drink if he picked something like Budlight.
I decided to go ahead and play since we would be there a while. So I put some money in a machine, and then another, and then another and then… it was all gone like I knew it would be. When I finally found my mother again, she was alone and had only a few dollars left which quickly dwindled as well.
“Ok. Where’s your brother?” she asked me. And when he appeared with his cash out of 50 odd dollars, it occurred to me that we would be leaving empty handed, and that he would be leaving with a profit of $30, without ever having invested any of his own money. He handed the 20 back to my mother, and she donated it to another machine.
How’s that for a lesson?