SunSpot plays the slots

Players to Charles Town Races & Slots enjoy a day with its slot machines. A busload of Baltimore-area residents heading to the racetrack believe slots would be good for Maryland.
Players to Charles Town Races & Slots enjoy a day with its slot machines. A busload of Baltimore-area residents heading to the racetrack believe slots would be good for Maryland. (Sun file photo by Doug Kapustin)
I've never been much of a gambler.

I've never played lottery, and I only participate in drawings to help the cause. Never put my ticket in the bowl. I could do worse with a dollar.

In the 1980s, I played blackjack at a casino in the Bahamas. It was my first visit abroad. While I got caught up in the "Casino Royale" effect, I wasn't schooled in the wiles of table games. "Do not touch the cards please, sir." It was not a winning night.

Nearly 20 years later, I set out to try my luck at the Charles Town Races & Slots in West Virginia. The slots were just fine for me; the machines don't talk back. I always limit my spending; in this case, it was $10 -- $5 came from cashing in my lunch voucher.

After 25 plays -- on which five I "hit" -- I ended up nearly blowing the entire amount. On my last play, for 25 cents, I made $4. I added that to the $1.05 in my cup and quit.

But getting there wasn't so easy.

Stepping through the front doors to Charles Town Races seemed as if going through Grand Central Station in Manhattan -- people moving about the carpeted floors, finding machines, playing slots, jumping between machines, walking to cashiers, casing the scene -- jingling cups full of change in hand -- or heading to the Sundance Cafe. It seemed a bit overwhelming.

After cashing in my ticket, I started on my journey. I found it difficult to figure out which machines to play first -- "Wild Cherry," "Double Diamonds," "Little Green Men" or "Filthy Rich" with that tuxedo-clad smiling pig. I took the easy way out: "Well, I'm in the nickel machines; may as well start there."

I sat down at "Wild Cherry." I just looked at it. Couldn't figure out a thing. I only had dollar bills and didn't know what was happening. I found the pull lever -- that was easy.

I also managed to figure out that if I pressed the "change" button, I'd get help.

The Charles Town Races employee got to me within seconds. "Do you need change, sir?" she asked. "I need to figure out how it works." She chuckled a second.

"You slide your dollar in there," she began, pointing to the right of the machine, "and press the number of plays you want to make here." That was when she pointed to a row of buttons to select the number of "credits" I wanted to play.

"Can't you just do it one at a time?" I asked. "Seems so much simpler."

"Yes you may, sir," she responded. "You can play it anyway you like."

I thanked her, mostly for her patience, and sought to get in the game.

I slid in two dollar bills, making a play for a single credit. I pulled the lever: No hit. Another single credit: No hit. Two more singles: Nothing. Thirty-six single hits left. Too many. Hit the button for my change. Too tedious, I thought.

I then headed into "Slots City" for a try at the quarter machines. That took me to "Double Hearts." I slid $1 into the machine. One play: No hit. Thought I'd be daring and play three credits. A hit. Two quarters popped into the slot machine's tray. Just call me "Diamond Jim."

Feeling lucky, I thought I'd try another single play. No hit. Took my 50 cents and headed for the $1 machines. Taking stock: $12.80.

I stopped at "Triple Play," playing $3. Tried a double play. A hit: The machine said "winner paid $5," adding to my $1, for $6. A second play, this time a triple. A hit, paying $2. A third double. Winner paid $5. Two straight triples. Bombed out two times. Another double. No hit. Take the tokens and run! Taking stock: $11.80.

Moving farther along in Slots City, I found myself at the "Double Black Jack" $1 slot. Blew $3 in three double plays. "I think I'd better stick to quarters," I said to myself.

Taking stock: $7.80.

I played those quarters in the OK Corral. I landed at "Triple Diamond." Four plays, all 25 cents each. A dollar lost. Enough. Taking stock: $6.80.

I wanted to go back to playing $1 machines. "They pay better," I thought. But, you play more, too. Also, I was getting tired. Needed a nap.

At "Double Black Tie," I played $5 in two tries. No luck. Taking stock: $1.80.

I went back to the quarter machines. I found "Red, White and Blue" a couple of rows over.

First play, a single. Nothing. Taking stock: $1.30. I had had enough of slots.

I came to my last quarter. I looked at it carefully. "You're it," I thought. "Here goes." Single play.

A hit. The bells rung loudly. The $4 in quarters kept coming. It sounded like they had been falling for an eternity.

Taking stock: $5.30. Well, I have laundry money.

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