Reno or bust

One gambler’s getaway gets away from him

Hey, I’m not a gambling addict. I have a day job, as a state worker, and a wife. No kids, but I’ve got a mortgage, and that’s like one big mouth to feed. I tell my wife that I go into the office a couple of Sundays a month when I’m really at Thunder Valley playing pai gow and blackjack. It’s no big deal. Anyway, she works on weekends, and I’m always home by 3 with enough cash to take her out to Sunday dinner.

I’m not a gambling addict.

Yet, when SN&R asked me to go to Reno and file a dispatch on the perfect gambler’s getaway, I started wondering whether my hobby in fact had become an affliction. It’s not like my life is a sequel to Rounders or Owning Mahowny, but what does it mean that the first thing I asked my editor was whether I’d have an expense account? And how did SN&R know I was a high roller in the first place?

I consider this because I’m riding home from Reno on the Greyhound casino bus ($28 round trip), and my wallet’s feeling a lot lighter than when I stuffed it my back pocket this morning. Frankly, I don’t understand. At Cache Creek, Jackson Rancheria and T-Valley, I’m a champion. So, what made me forfeit my proven strategies—walk away ahead, don’t bet out of desperation, don’t get plastered at the tables—and lay it all on the line in Reno, no-limit style?

Maybe it’s because the Biggest Little City in the World can seduce and bewilder even the most seasoned gambler. It’s like a degenerate’s Disneyland. Take, for example, the basic layout, and the language, of Reno’s downtown. Parking garages are “palaces.” Walkways are “skyways.” Casinos are “gaming establishments.” Exits are “entrances.” Losers are “winners.” What’s more, neon is everywhere. It felt like Tron but without speeder bikes, virtual reality or Jeff Bridges. Hell, maybe Bridges was there. I don’t know.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Casino billboards only encourage unlimited appetites: a buffet chef sharpening his knives (hungry), young beauties laughing (horny), and gamblers raking in their chips (greedy). You may lose your life savings here, but oh how you won’t be able to get enough of it.

The first thing I did in Reno was head over to Harrah’s to bet on a few baseball games. The sports-booking lounge at Harrah’s is like a movie theater for jocks: rows of cushioned seats; TVs instead of a single screen; cocktail waitresses in place of ushers; and, rather than an audience, a bunch of chain-smoking bookies in faux-Tommy Bahama on cell phones. I bet on Oakland and San Francisco, but I wasn’t in the mood to sweat out the games live, so I took my stubs and left.

Cal-Neva has one- and two-deck blackjack with $5 minimums. I typically bet $10 hands and double my ante after consecutive wins. It’s a proven strategy. Joel, the dealer, admitted he was nursing a wicked hangover, which accounted for his overly methodical shuffling and sluggish deal. It doesn’t explain, however, why he broke about as often as Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart and beat my ass down. Blackjack is my bread and butter, and I hadn’t anticipated this. Two-hundred bucks later, I resigned myself to the idea that my bread must be stale, my butter of the “I can’t believe it’s not” variety.

So, I went to Fitzgeralds and promptly sat my ass in front of a slot machine.

A local told me that Fitzgeralds had the loosest slots, but even after I’d laid down $85 in coin, the box didn’t put out once. Damn slots. The ultimate bastardization of the American dream, if you ask me. What’s more crooked and sinister than a room full of retirees pumping their stipends quarter by quarter into an army of machines? Me doing it too, that’s what. You start to forget who you are and where you’re from. You just get stuck, and, usually, you just get fucked.

With only enough cash left to watch TV and put away a few drinks, I made for the sports lounge at the Siena, which, incidentally, has very little semblance to a medieval Tuscan stronghold. I spent a good part of my afternoon here, chain-smoking and sulking in front of four TVs: those two MLB games, a Lakers game and some MTV reality show. And it was here that I learned another lesson, à la Pete Rose: Don’t bet on baseball. This is not to say that sports waging is a bad thing—it’s good times! Maybe just don’t bet on pitcher Esteban Loaiza. Ever. Oakland pretty much gave up the ghost in the fifth inning. San Francisco went to extra innings but ended up losing as well. Fortunately, by this point, the liquor had me numb to the fact that I’d just dumped $400 on a couple of hack Bay Area ballclubs.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not accustomed to losing at the casino. What could I do but hit up the EZ-Cash Super Pawn on the way back to the bus station? It took a bit of persuading, but I managed to get 75 bones for my iPod—hey, that sucker’s got five gigs, man. Anyway, I was broke, and somebody’s got to bring home the bacon.

It looked to me like Reno’s Greyhound station is a good place to hook up some post-gaming action, if that’s your thing. Just wait out in front of the station until prospected and then follow some huge burly dude to the motel across the street. Proven strategy. Sure, the motel could be a front for underground gin-rummy tournaments, but I have my doubts.

Well, I’m glad to be on my way back to Sac. Downtown Reno definitely has its charms, but it can be a bit of a downer if you dump. So, either don’t make a habit of losing, or, when the fun stops, call Gamblers Anonymous of Sacramento at (916) 447-5588. You know, just in case.

—Boogie Elmar

Here’s where to drop it like it’s hot

Harrah’s Reno
219 North Center Street
(775) 786-3232
If you want to get beat, get beat in style at Harrah’s Reno. Best sports lounge on the downtown Reno strip.

Club Cal Neva
Second and Virginia Streets
(877) 777-7303
Five-dollar single-deck and double-deck blackjack. Bring luck and Benjamins.

Fitzgeralds Casino & Hotel
255 North Virginia Street
(800) 535-LUCK
Sources say Fitzgeralds has the loosest slots in town. Just don’t go in with a tight wallet, and it should all work out.

Siena Hotel Spa Casino
One South Lake Street
(877) 743-6233
Little Italy in Downtown Reno, sort of, with spa and riverside dining.

Ez-Cash Super Pawn
350 North Virginia Street
(775) 322-4373
Sell your soul—then your watch.