Geek Girl Tries to Find a Steampunk Connection to Roulette
Roulette tables at Ameristar bring entertainment, for awhile.
Gambling seemed like an intuitive leap for a geek. After all, I own plenty of cards at home. OK, they’re for Dominion, Bang, and, because I’m a girl, Lost Cities.
I also own plenty of dice at home. All right, most of them have 20 sides, though in a pinch I can always whip out my iPhone DiceBag app if for some reason I need a four or eight-sider.
Despite this, I failed miserably at gambling with cards. Gambling with dice worked a little better. This week, in the spirit of steampunk, it was time for me to gamble with gears. I was ready to try roulette.
I left my brass goggles and astrolabe necklace at home in favor of a look that wouldn’t get me thrown out as a terrorist. Because I hadn’t seen any roulette tables at Harrah’s, it was time to venture into the nearby Ameristar casino.
Sometimes, I wonder if casino architects are reincarnated castle dungeon designers. You always walk into a fortified faux medieval city, complete with armed guards, that looks like a budget Disney set. Cobblestone or brick floors lead to quaint village shops such as Pearl's Oyster Bar or the Hi-Vi Video Arcade.
Wait. That one stumped me. Ameristar had a baby training room for future gamblers. Here, kids could learn to plug their money into entertaining machines with bright flashing graphics for a limited value of entertainment. Unlike their parents playing slots, they didn’t have the illusion of winning any cash back.
Alas, I wasn’t there to hit the buffet then work it off at Dance Dance Revolution. I was on a quest to learn an older, more mysterious game, a game of gears and luck where all the beautiful people in the movies cheer one another on and get free drinks from gorgeous staff. I was there to learn roulette.
I passed by the mysteriously named "ergonomic" electronic roulette with seating for eight, grim-faced players. No one there seemed to be having fun. At the nearby real roulette wheels, four men and a woman were gathered around a perky dealer. As I walked up, she did a little victory dance before handing one of the men an imposing stack of chips. Even the table losers seemed happy for him.
Wait. Isn’t gambling supposed to be for angry, snarling people? What was this?
I slid up, trying to quietly watch and learn before asking any questions. Gigi, the friendly dealer, let me watch for one round, then said, “Don’t be shy. It’s the easiest game in the house!” The rest of the table nodded agreement. Put down some money, already, geek.
Before I could even ask how to play, Gigi laid some house chips on the table and walked me through roulette’s basics. Wait, friendly and informative dealers? What alternate world did I esape into?
The rules of roulette are pretty straightforward. There’s a big, spinny wheel labeled with numbers 0-36. Each number has a little drawer at one end. The dealer spins the wheel, drops in a ball, and waits for gravity to work its magic.
Meanwhile, over on the table, the 36 numbers on the wheel are laid out in a flat graph. Half of the numbers are red, half of them black. If you’re feeling conservative, you can bet on one color for one-to-one odds (a $5 bet wins you $5.)
The numbers are laid out in a grid three boxes wide and 36 boxes long. If you’re feeling a little bolder, you can bet on the first block of 12, the second block of 12 or the third block of 12.
Most people, however, bet on a single number. Gigi said birthdays, anniversaries, or the day’s date were the most popular.
After my hostile receptions at Harrah’s, I was genuinely stunned at her patient, clear, cheerful explanation. Roulette looked a heck of a lot easier to figure out than slots. I handed her $20. She handed me a stack of pretty pink chips.
In order to keep bets straight, Gigi had a virtual crayola box of assorted colored chips. Whenever one of the guys lost, they’d trade for a luckier color. I held onto my pretty pink ones. My fellow female was equally fond of her red-and-green-striped chips.
I watched one of the guys hand her a $100 bill and lose it all in four spins. It made my time investment of about 15 minutes for $20 feel downright economical. Mind you, even though the minimum bid was $5, I asked for my chips in singles so I could feel like a high roller. She laughed and said everyone should do that.
Gigi cheered us all on with every single number. If one of us bet a number close to the other, she'd playfully tease us about competing. If anyone won, no matter how small, she did her victory dance.
The random strangers ended up in this fun sense of camaraderie, cheering each other on, betting on one another's numbers, and enjoying Gigi cheer, "Come on three, come on 11, get these girls a new pair of shoes!" In retrospect, that quick artificial camaraderie is a great way to encourage people to bet less strategically (after all, if everyone plays the same number, there's less chance of a winner) but she was so bubbly and fun I didn't care.
Just when I was sure no one had ever won this game, a $5 bet on a woman’s birthday won her $150. Gigi was ecstatic. I half expected her to come around the table and hug the winner. The lady who won handed us all a $5 chip so we’d keep playing, tucked half the remainder in her purse, and tossed another chip down on the table. No matter what, she was coming out ahead, but she wasn’t ready to stop playing.
For some reason, I was fascinated by the chip-disposal mechanism. After handing out any winnings, she wiped all the chips from the table into a discrete chute at one side. Someone else could count and sort them later.There was no need to interrupt the game. I kept expecting a tentacle to whip out and wrap around any strays, or if I dared touch the wheel, possibly eat my arm.
Craps is still a better deal for time spent gaming versus money lost. A single game can take 10 minutes. Let's be honest, the only reason it took me 15 minutes to lose $20 at Roulette was Gigi's patient and enthusiastic explanations of every single bet. She not only wanted us to know what we could win, she also slid contradictory bets off the table before spinning the wheel ("Hey, sweetie, you don't want to bet on both red and black. The payout is just one-to-one. Save your chips for another round.")
I like the table games so much more than the dead-eyed creepiness of slots. With both roulette and craps, the dealer cheers you on, the players cheer each other on, and there’s a sense of actual fun instead of grim-faced, bitter determination.