Tag Archives: Gambling

The Last Harrah

5 Apr

Harrah’s Casino in Tunica is closing. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, but I am not here to write about the economic condition of the gaming industry. I am here to write about why I am saddened by the news. It may sound strange, but I have great memories of Harrah’s Casino in Tunica.Harrahs

I have been going to Tunica with my family for many years. Most of that time was with my parents and my aunt and uncle. We have all liked the comped rooms, comped food and the gambling that you have to do to get those things. We have also liked the laughs on the drive down and the good times when we arrived.

Early on, we stayed and played at other casinos, but, at some point, we settled on Harrah’s as our stomping grounds. As I write this, I can picture being there with all of them.

Playing video poker at a machine next to my dad.

Checking on my mom and finding out that she won a few hundred dollars at the penny slots.

Sitting in the third base seat of the Blackjack table while Johnny, my uncle, sat at first base. We liked playing the $25 tables and watch the green chips come and go. When he was losing, he would buy more chips so my aunt would not know how much he had lost. Of course, she always knew. I must admit that I got a little nervous when my parents came around to check on how we were doing.

My uncle passed away a couple of years ago. He fought cancer for a decade, and Harrah’s was a place where he could get away from the struggle and have fun for a while. Each time we walked in, he said, “I am getting well.” That is the reason we went to Tunica so often.

I always drove and would drop everyone off at the front door. I can see everyone walking through the front doors and knew where I could find them once I entered the casino. Everyone would be at their games. I always made my way to Blackjack but would stop at a slot machine first. The movie themed ones were my favorite. Star Trek. Ghostbusters. If it was a movie I liked, then they were guaranteed to get my money.

Food has also been one of the great things about Harrah’s. There was nothing like eating a hoe cake at Paula Deen’s buffet. It was upstairs, and, honestly, the upstairs has always been my favorite part of the casino. Quiet. Away from the smoke floating around the tables. I could always find an oasis of calm up there.

A few years ago, I took my girlfriend, who is now my wife, to Harrah’s with my parents. She got to experience all of the things that I have written about. However, she never got to meet Johnny. Our trip to Tunica was great, but my favorite part was sitting and talking with her in the hotel lobby. That beat winning a$500 chip at Blackjack.

Not long ago, my parents and I went to Tunica. We did not stay at Harrah’s, but we gambled there for a while. We did not know then that it would soon close. However, I still got a nostalgic feeling. I missed having to old gang talking about when we were going to head up to the buffet or hiding how much we had lost.

The last time I went to Harrah’s with Johnny, it was a guy’s trip. Me, my dad and him. This time Johnny wanted to eat in the steakhouse. My aunt and mom would never agree to eat there. We gambled enough to get a free meal and got the biggest steaks they had. We ate, talked and laughed.

That is what I will miss about Harrah’s Casino in Tunica. The talking and the laughing. We went to gamble, but we really went to spend time together.

Let’s Gamble One More Time

29 Jul

This weekend, we attended a local fundraiser, which consisted of a reverse drawing. That’s where they sell 300 tickets at $100 a piece. The holder of the last ticket drawn wins $10,000.Ten Thousand

Usually, people start making deals when they get to the final few. They will agree to stop the drawing and split the prize money. It’s a pretty fun event when your ticket stays in the barrel for a long time. This time, we went out early, but it brought to mind a time when my ticket was in the mix.

I had bought a ticket but was not going to go. My friend, who was the emcee, took my ticket with the instructions that if I get to the final three, then he could agree to split. At the last minute, I decided to show up. I would hang around until my ticket was drawn and leave after that.

The drawing started, and people were dropping like flies. He called out numbers, and names were taken off the board. As time passed, I began to get anxious. My number was still in there somewhere. Final 100 – still there. Final 50 – still there. The crowd was thinning as names got pulled, but I still sat in the back of the room.

I began to tense as each number was called. Final 20 – still there. Final 10 – still there. Then, it got down to 5. At this point, they called those of us who were left to sit in the front. We were huddled up to see if everyone wanted to split the money at $2,000 a piece. Then, my buddy says something along the lines of – “I know one person who said he wouldn’t split until there were three left. Let’s see if he has the guts to do it.”

The others had agreed to split, but I wasn’t sure. Then, he calls me out in front of everyone. The lady next to me pleads with me to split. Her son needed the money. What was I going to do?

I said, “Let’s gamble one more time.” I couldn’t let him call me out like that.

They pulled the next number, and it was the lady who was next to me. She went back to her seat and glared at me for a while. Now, it was time to make another decision. Do I keep the $2,500, or do I go one more time? My buddy reminded everyone that my original plan was to whittle it down to three. Everyone was waiting on my decision.

I chickened out and ended it with four people left. We each won $2,500. For fun, they drew out the rest of the numbers. I would have survived one more pull. The original plan would have worked.

The lady that missed out on the money didn’t hang around. I am sure that she wasn’t very happy with me. The rest of us hung around to sign some papers, and my buddy, the emcee. says, “Hey, you know who that lady was.”

“No. Who is she?”

“She’s the one whose son got attacked by a shark and lost his leg.”

Now, I was mad and jumped all over him.

“Why didn’t you tell me who that was? I would have stopped.”

I felt terrible about it, and people kidded me about it for a long time. Actually, I still feel bad about it, but most people have forgotten. Wait, I guess I just reminded them.

The Senator in the Coonskin Hat

17 Sep

Did you know that a Tennessean tried to end gambling in Las Vegas? Estes Kefauver was born in Madisonville, Tennessee and practiced law in Chattanooga. Interested in politics, he won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1939 and became a Senator in 1949. Kefauver’s trademark was wearing a coonskin hat.

During his time in the Senate, Kefauver became chairman of the Special Committee on Organized Crime and used this seat as a platform to gain national exposure. He attacked the influence of organized crime in the casinos of Las Vegas and urged the federal government to put a stop to legalized gambling in Nevada.

In 1952, Kefauver attempted to take advantage of his nationwide fame by running for president. His campaign failed, as did a run for the vice presidency in 1956. If Estes Kefauver had succeeded in his fight against legalized gambling, then what happens in Vegas would…not be all that much.

Gambling in Another World

29 Jun

I love everything about casinos. The lights and sounds of the slot machines. The yells as people win at the Craps tables. The feel of the felt under my fingers as I sit at the Blackjack table. The thrill of putting chips in the circle and anticipating the cards. The cocktail waitresses who deliver free drinks. I love it all.

When I tell people about going to a casino, they automatically think of glamor, and the things I just mentioned could, I suppose, be considered glamorous. In Las Vegas, they definitely are. The cocktail waitresses are hot. People are dressed their best and ready for action. After all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. I bet Monte Carlo is more glamorous than that. I mean anywhere James Bond gambles must be cool.

I say all of this because I just returned from a gambling junket to Tunica. It has the same slot machines, Craps tables and Black jack tables and would like for you to think that it has the glamor to go with those things. Just check out one of the promotional photos.

Everyone is dressed up, smiling and attractive. However, that is not exactly how it is. Some people look like they have slept in their clothes, and others have no idea how to dress. I saw one man wearing flip-flops, shorts and a blazer. Also, it seems that every Southeastern Conference school is represented by a cap or a t-shirt. Now, I have plenty of that gear as well, but I try not to wear it all the time.

I reckon the best way to describe the fashion of Tunica is to describe one of my Blackjack sessions. I was sitting with a wanna be Hip Hop king when a man wearing overalls and a “South Shall Rise Again” t-shirt sat down. He pulled $6,000 in cash out of his bib pocket and played $2,000 a hand. After three hands, he was done; stood up; said, “Fuck this.”; and left. In Vegas, you will see large amounts of cash but not a “South Shall Rise Again” t-shirt. That’s the difference.

Soon, I left the table and walked around the casino and figured this must be what the scene looks like in Lourdes. Everywhere, people were using canes, walkers, wheelchairs and scooters. It’s as if the disabled go to Tunica for the healing waters or the miracles of the Poker Slots.

After scanning the scene, I eased over to the bar for a drink and a bit of reflection. As I considered my surroundings, I was reminded of a place I saw in my childhood and realized that I had stumbled into a similar world. It was a place with lively entertainment and a variety of characters. I wasn’t really in Tunica. I was here. Except, there was no live band. These beings were rocking out to the best of the 80s.

The next day, I changed venues and went to a smaller casino. I had not been there in a long time because it always gave me a weird vibe, and that vibe returned as soon as I walked in. Are you a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation? If you are, then you may remember an episode where Riker, Worf and Data find themselves in a casino on a distant planet. It was built by aliens for an astronaut who was stranded in space. The episode was The Royale and the trio was trapped in a cramped casino with eccentric characters.

That’s the way I feel when I walk into this particular casino, and this trip did not disappoint. There was one Blackjack table in operation, and it had two people playing. I sat down to play, and they wanted to have a conversation. One was a woman who looked like Elvira if she was addicted to meth and Krisy Kreme donuts. Doing her best to flirt, she asked me what I did for a living. I told the truth and said that I was a history professor. Thankfully, she said that history was boring.

Unfortunately, the other player thought it was interested. He was a man wearing an oxygen tank who had traced his family’s lineage. In short, he was a history buff and was convinced that I was interested in his family history. I didn’t stay long.

With all of that being said, I came home with more money than I left with, and I suppose that is the point. If you ever go to Tunica just don’t expect the glamor of other gambling destinations. And, watch out for what may be happening in the corner.

Things on the Dresser

13 Mar

I have this weird notion that we can tell a lot about a person by the things they have lying around. That’s the reason I created a post about the things in my office. Well, that’s not the only reason. I was sitting in my office trying to come up with a mind-blowing topic to write about. At a loss, I just went ahead wrote about what I was looking at. It was also a good way to work on my description skills. Maybe I could create a mental picture with my words like most professional writers do. I am not sure if it work, but I am going to try it again.

I have meant to clean the clutter off of my dresser, and, before I do, I feel the need to record what is there.

Category 1 – Illumination

Like a lot of dressers, mine has two lamps sitting on it. You know the kind. They are skinny and have a small shade on top. They don’t put out much light, and the bulbs tend to blow out a different times. Usually, one works when the other one doesn’t.

I also have a couple of small candles. I am not a big candle fan, but they come in handy if I want to create a romantic mood – like when I am watching Cinemax After Dark.

Category 2 – Pictures

Most people would say this, but these are the most important items on the dresser. One is of me and my nephews piled up on a couch. It was made a few years ago when we took a luxury bus to the NASCAR race at Talladega. I’m not a huge racing fan, but I went because of them. It’s one of my favorite pictures.

Another picture was made when my dad was inducted into the Tennessee Softball Hall of Fame. We are standing there with some of his old players and friends. Everyone is laughing, and I know that he was very happy and proud that night.

The third picture was taken many years ago and included most of my extended family. We were on the deck of my grandparent’s lake house. We had one of those timer cameras, and people are kind of looking different directions. Three people in the picture have passed away – my grandfather, my grandmother and my uncle. One of my nephews is cradled in my dad’s arms. The other one wasn’t even born yet.

Category 3 – Art

That is a term that I use loosely because one was created by yours truly. I had a girlfriend that liked to go to one of those ceramic places where you can drink and paint. This is a two-sided thing with a green, black and blue sun on one side. The other side has an orange moon with red stars. Apparently, I was going through my color experimentation stage.

The other is a piece of pottery I bought in New Mexico. An old Indian woman claimed to make it, but I think some old Chinese woman actually did. It is a cattle skull with cool designs painted on it.

Category 4 – Cards

These are not Hallmark cards. No, these are truly close to my heart. A blackjack strategy card; 3 MGM Players Club cards; a Resorts Casino card; a Hollywood Casino card; a Harrah’s Casino card; and a deck of playing cards with the theme, “Hooker’s Live Bait – There’s Something Fishy Going On Around Here”.

Before you start thinking that I am a total gambling addict, I also have an Elvis Membership card to get discounts at Graceland. Oh, there is also a business card from the men’s shoe department at Nordstrom’s. I would say that I don’t shop there much, but there is a stack of receipts under all of the gambling cards.

Category 5 – Notes

Before I get to the clutter (you thought the other stuff was clutter?), I was surprised to find a couple of notes during the examination. One was written by an ex-girlfriend (not the one who liked to paint) as a thank you note for taking her on a trip.

The other came from my therapist with the instructions that I tape it to the mirror and recite it every morning. It reads, “Stand in your own space and know you are there.” I’m going to tape it up right now.

Ok, I’m back

Category 6 – Other Crap on My Dresser

There is a small stone club with a clip sticking out of it. I think it is to hold letters, but I have a devious mind with it comes to the use of clips. Maybe I can put the therapy note in there.

It sits on top of a flat piece of quartz, or something that looks like that.

I also have an unused Fossil wallet that was once a Christmas gift. I have gotten two other wallets since then.

There is a pair of black running shorts. Obviously, I meant to run. All kinds of people run around here, but I can never figure out what they are running from.

Two pairs of glasses, one sun and one regular, sit in front of their cases.

Oh, there are also three watches. One is broken. Another is a sample that my watch salesman friend had in his truck. The other one is a Rolex that my parents presented to me when I got a Masters. It’s pretty, expensive and pretty expensive, but it doesn’t keep good time.

Somewhere on there is a small remote that operates my iPod when it is hooked into the speakers and some buttons piled on top of it.

I collect pins, so there is one from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. For someone who isn’t a big race fan, I just mentioned it twice in this post. I can feel my neck turning red.

There are some scissors and a jar filled with coins.

Next to those is a ticket to see Footloose. I never saw the first one and didn’t want to see this one, but my girlfriend wanted to take her daughter. It wasn’t all that bad, and I got to look at Julianne Hough. Yowser!

However, the prize of this category is my stuffed Jackalope. What? You don’t know what a Jackalope is? Well, it is a rabbit with antlers, and they are all over New Mexico. Google it and see what you come up with.

Category 7 – Coin Dish

Last category, I promise. My coin dish contains everything but coins. Actually, there are a couple of Kennedy Half Dollars. I got them at a casino.

Other than that, there is a souvenir golf ball from The Masters. It’s the only sporting event that remains on my “wish to go” list.

There is also a chess piece that was supposed to be a therapy reminder device and a blue rock with “courage” printed on it.

There are ear plugs and a couple of guitar pics that I picked up at a Metallica concert. Those and the plugs seem to go together.

I also have a Godiva Chocolate card and a gold chain from the glory days of the 1980s.

Oh, there is also the Brothel Inspector badge that some students bought for me in Madrid, New Mexico.

However, there are four items that are very special. Two belonged to my grandfather – his pocket knife and a University of Tennessee tie pin.

The other two are championship rings. In 2010, my university won the baseball national championship, and I got a ring for serving as Faculty Athletic Representative. The second ring represents the ten state championships that my dad’s softball teams won over the years. That’s why he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

And that, as they say, is that. Can you tell anything about me from the items gathered on my dresser? Or, did you make it this far?

I Left (Some of) My Money in Tunica, Mississippi

29 Dec

For the past few days, I have been immersed in the entertainment possibilities of Tunica, Mississippi, a place to which I have been traveling with my family and friends for many years. Quite a few people in these parts go to Tunica, but you may not know that it is the gambling capital of the South. It doesn’t have the glamor of Las Vegas or the boardwalk of Atlantic City, but it has all I need to escape from the stress and worries of life – Blackjack tables.

Dominated by cotton and other crops, Tunica County was the poorest area in the state. Then, the Mississippi legislature, ahead of other states, legalized riverboat gambling. Casino owners, wanting access to the growing population of the South, quickly searched for a willing municipal partner, and the leaders of Tunica were eager to take advantage of their vicinity to the Mississippi River. It wasn’t long before casinos and grand hotels were springing from the flat bottom lands. Imagine looking out of your hotel room and seeing cotton fields all around. That is Tunica.

Gambling hit northern Mississippi a few decades ago, and I have visited the area countless times since. Many of the trips have been lost from memory or have blurred together, but the first time always stands out. I went with a bunch of friends, and we spent the first night in Memphis. A member of our group had a friend that we were going to meet up with, and when we met I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She was beautiful with jet black hair and dark eyes. Coincidentally, we had the same last name, and I started to think that will make things simple. We hit the town hard that night and headed the 30 miles south to the casinos the next day. I had just lost quite a bit of money in Las Vegas and began to brag that I was going to win all that back and more. Everybody was telling me that it was impossible and that I needed to shut up. However, she took it further. If I won more than I had lost, then she would take off all of her clothes and let me do a body shot off of her body – on any area I wanted. Game on.

When we walked into the casino, I picked out a Blackjack table and told them to get me there when they were ready to go. The table was packed with fun-loving people. We drank, laughed and gambled. I drank so much that I lost track of what I was betting (not a good idea generally). I was also distracted by the girl sitting next to me – Holly from Hope, Arkansas. We talked and flirted and bumped up against each other all night. She wanted my undivided attention, and I probably should have given it to her. But, I was on a mission. I don’t know how much time passed, but my good friend walked up and said everyone was ready. I said goodbye to Holly and went to the bank to cash in my chips without knowing exactly how much there was. With money in hand, I walked to where the group was sitting and pulled the cash out of my pocket. “Shot Girl” couldn’t believe that I had won double what I lost in Las Vegas. To her credit, she went through with our agreement, and a good time was had by all. Well, maybe not all, but I had a blast.

Through the years, my trips have calmed considerably. I have taken several girlfriends, but they didn’t grasp the enjoyment of gambling. My parents like to go, and I have taken them several times. The most fun was with my uncle. He loved Blackjack as much as me, and we spent many hours sitting at opposite ends of a table trying to break the bank. He passed away last year after a decade-long battle with cancer. Whenever we walked into a casino, he would say, “I’m getting well.”

This trip was just me and my parents. We stayed at Harrah’s and did most of our gambling there. I always start slowly and build up my pace. I played some video poker with my dad while my mom worked the penny slots. Then, I found my own penny machine based on “The Hangover” and won some money. By this time, we were getting hungry and hit Paula Deen’s Buffet. I am sure Paula’s real restaurant is a lot better, but this one is a great place to eat. Plus, gamblers get to eat for free, and it is easy to get into than her original locale – or so I hear. After dinner, I tried my first foray into Blackjack on a $5 table where the players were not too bad (more on that later). The conversation was fine, but I would rather not talk to anyone. The dealer should be a robot and the other players should just play. But, this was a chatty bunch.

I was at my usual 3rd base position (the last player before the dealer), and the guy at 1st base (the first player) was having a difficult time making decisions. On one hand, the guy asked for advice, and another player told him what “The Book” says. For serious Blackjack players, “The Book” is like the Holy Grail, as it charts every situation that you’ll face and tells you the play to make. Before sitting down at a table, I highly encourage you to memorize it. However, players have a love/hate relationship with it. They follow it but complain about it when they lose. The key is to play the percentages and get the best odds on your money while understanding that the house is still the favorite. That’s why they can build big buildings and provide free rooms, food and drinks.

Anyway, the player giving advice said that the only person to make money from the book was the guy who wrote it. It’s a common line with people who lose after making the right play. I hate it.

So, I interjected that I watched a documentary about him man who developed the Blackjack chart. He was a mathematician who was approached by a gambler about helping him win. After a weekend proving his theory worked, the math whiz quit Blackjack and used his formula to gain wealth in the stock market. In return, I received a smart remark about how it must have been a long time ago because nobody makes money in the stock market now. No shit, Sherlock. How long do you think “The Book” has been out? Another thing to remember, don’t try to bring an intelligent conversation to the table.

The next day we decided to get out of the casino for a while and check out the countryside. Most people who go to Tunica think they have actually gone to the city of Tunica, but they haven’t. The casinos sit in the Robinsonville community, and Tunica is several miles down the road. Riding through the city provides clues that the city fathers did not anticipate this. There is a History of Tunica Museum, and the town center has been turned into a park-like area surrounded by shops and small restaurants. Obviously, they expected an influx of tourists that did not show up in the expected numbers. And, the people who do not venture out are missing a lot. Tunica is a nice little town with a beautiful courthouse and interesting things to look at. Also, the Hollywood Cafe is closer to the casinos than Tunica. It was one of the great music clubs where many of the great Blues artists got their start. When Marc Cohn sings “Walking in Memphis”, he includes this line:

Now Murial plays piano

Every Friday at the Hollywood

He is referencing this place. I wonder how many gamblers even know it’s there.

However, a more famous blues place is just south of Tunica on Highway 61. Clarksdale, Mississippi was also one of the great Blues locales, but one with more mysticism. According to legend, it is where Robert Johnson went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the Devil in return for being a great Bluesman. Again, I wonder how many gamblers have ventured that far away from the slot machines.

When I returned to the tables, I realized how bad it can get. I sat at another $5 table and immediately knew that I had made a mistake. No one was playing by “The Book” except me. The man next to me even asked why I was making bad decisions. The guy at 1st base agonized over every decision. This is a bad sign because if someone knows “The Book”, then there is really no tough decision. You just do what you have trained yourself to do. Play the odds instead of hunches. In short, it was terrible, so I got up and went to a $25 table. Most people who are willing to bet a minimum of $25 and probably more know how to play the game. It was wonderful. No delayed decisions. Everything by “The Book”. Splits. Double downs. Fast-paced. I lost $600.

The only person to make money from “The Book” was the guy who wrote it.