Area man discovers penny slots

MY GIRLFRIEND and I did a staycation a few months ago, back in June. Staycation, staycation โ€” whenever I say the word in my head, itโ€™s always autotuned with an apologetic eye-roll, or a little self-conscious bray of irony. Like Iโ€™m making an excuse or deflecting embarrassment. Maybe itโ€™s because a staycation is sad in the same way going on a cruise is: Itโ€™s more not-something than something.

But this staycation at Circa would be different. I had a purpose and a goal. My goal was to gamble as an adult โ€” to gamble for real. See, it has been a deep and long-standing shame of mine that I am a terrible gambler. Itโ€™s not even that I merely lack a gamblerโ€™s proper instincts โ€” that ability to intuit risk, to muster mental arithmetic on the fly, to assess probabilities in real time. Instead, my thing is: I can barely remember the rules and basic strategies. I donโ€™t know what happens. I sit down at the blackjack table, and it all falls out of my head. Iโ€™m hitting on 15 and sending waves of dismay through the casino floor.

My goal was to finally get into craps. Iโ€™ve played craps for decades, but only ever just infrequently enough (doing the irregular tour guide thing for visiting friends and relatives) such that itโ€™s a Groundhog Day proposition every time.1 This time, though, I had a regimen. In our hotel room, Iโ€™d watch at least four YouTube craps videos at least 17 times each, and then Iโ€™d hurry down to the casino floor to play, as though I were carrying precious basic craps strategy liquid in a sieve. I did okay. I had a convincing semblance of fun. I felt a little like Danny Ocean, but also a little like that meme of Nazarรฉ Tedesco with the complex math equations floating around her head.

AFTER MY NIGHT was over, my night began. I wandered out of the table games to meet up with my girlfriend, and I tried to play penny slots with her. Tried. Only tried, because something has happened with penny slots while I wasnโ€™t paying attention for like 20 years. They have evolved into something sleek and monstrous, super-predators, grotesque and gorgeous at the same time. The polarities at work in the realm of penny slots are mesmerizing: This elaborately senseless yet highly sophisticated forest of flashing and humming consoles with their criss-cross, multi-line options and arcane bonus formula systems is premised, wut, on mere pennies and a single button to push. The collage of themes and franchises is itself paralyzing in that postmodern, everything-at-once way: Willy Wonka, Buffalo Princess, Dune, Conan, Jade Kingdom, Caribbean Gold, Autumn Moon. I can type random words and it is probably a penny slot.

I did not enjoy playing penny slots until I stopped trying to play penny slots, and instead gave myself over to their bewilderment, their throbbing oblivion, and simply played. More like succumbed. Does that make sense? I did not win, I did not lose. Money migrated between me and the machine in the way of a current or mysterious transmission. Iโ€™m convinced that nobody really understands penny slots and that we are basically paying ritual money to be in the presence of an uncannily entertaining form of inscrutable technological sophistication. Iโ€™m really trying to resist finishing this blog with a sentence like, โ€œTo play penny slots in 2022 is to pray to chaosโ€ because it is pretentious and terrible, but it feels deeply true in the way that penny slots in 2022 feel so deeply, stirringly true.

Every year at the table, I actually feel myself chewing through my brainโ€™s dendrites to muster some marginally useful memory of the game rules.

Andrew Kiraly

Andrew Kiraly

Andrew Kiraly is publisher of TheList.Vegas.

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