Tuesday, April 17, 2012

This Week: Biloxi, Mississippi

Bad (and good) Decisions in Biloxi

New Year’s Eve on the Gulf Coast. I am in the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. I have $100 in my pocket and my plan is to play Black Jack until it’s gone.

My brother Chad, my mom and I arrived in Biloxi a few hours earlier hoping to take an afternoon stroll on Biloxi Beach. Funny thing was after driving in glorious sunshine from Alabama to Mississippi, once we passed over the Biloxi Bay Bridge, a fog rolled in and covered everything in a gray wet blanket. We attempted to walk on the beach, but couldn’t see more than half a football field away. We needed to find an indoor activity.

After dinner we found ourselves in the Beau Rivage lobby. It was like being in the midst of a Sex in the City episode. Women, young and old, wore short shiny dresses that they bought just for this occasion and would never wear again. Some wore shoes with heels so high they had to hang on to their husbands’ or boyfriends’ arms for dear life. In some ways it was cool:  New Year’s Eve was the one night they could dress up like Carrie or Samantha. The one night where blue collar guys could wear silk suits and ties and pretend that they had more money than they really did. But I could not concern myself with them. I had cards to play.

My mom, the penny-slot queen, went off on her own in search of one-armed bandits. Black Jack was too high roller for her taste. My brother said he didn’t want to gamble. He preferred poker with his buddies over the stacked odds in a casino that would undoubtedly take all my money. I can understand that. However, he agreed to help me with my math at the tables, which I desperately needed. If there isn’t a face card involved, I’m not fast enough and get embarrassed when the dealer has to wait for me to figure out what I’m doing. Numbers were Chad’s thing and I planned to take advantage.

It took us a while to find a table. Minimum bet was $15, a lot higher than the $5 I was used to in Colorado. The minimum tables were all full. My table choices were $25, $50 and $100. Yikes! I may be foolish, but not stupid. So the two of us took a few laps around the gaming tables searching the faces of the gamblers for signs of defeat as they would soon be vacating their seats. After many minutes, a couple left a minimum bet table just as we passed. I took the end seat and offered the other to my brother, in case he changed his mind, but he said no. I put my $100 on the table and was ready to rock and roll.   

It started off well as our dealer was short, sweet and chatty. She had a bust here and a push there. At one point I was up $45. I even split a pair of sevens and the dealer went bust. Things were flowing. Then a new dealer showed up.

“We need to move,” I told Chad.

“After all that time it took to find this table? No, we’re staying,” he said. He had a point. Our new dealer, Mike, was stoic. Not as chatty as our first dealer. Much to my surprise, things didn’t tank right away. Then on one hand I drew an ace and a two. That was either 13 or a 3. I had no choice but to hit. I drew another 2. So now I had either 15 or 5. The dealer was showing a face card; my 15 wasn’t going to cut it. I hit again.

“You sure you wanna do that?” Chad asked behind me. Although surprised at the question (was I making a mistake????) I said yes.

The dealer drew me a five. I now had twenty and held. An older gentleman at the other end of the table said, “Wow.” Mike flipped his second card and it was a five. The dealer had 15.

“You took his five!” The gentleman at the other end of the table said and the whole table laughed. In Black Jack, dealers have to hit until they reach at least 17. Mike took one more hit and drew an 8. BUSTED! The gentleman at the other end applauded. I heard Chad chuckle behind me. I was up $75.

Sadly all good things must end. Our original dealer returned to relieve Mike. Even thought it wasn’t technically a new dealer, a dealer change was always a bad omen. My winnings quickly dwindled. After the dealer hit 21 for the third time in a row, my chip pile dipped below my original $100. It was time to go.

Once again Chad and I circled the gaming tables. While doing so we ran into Mom. Her $20 was gone. However, it was only 10 p.m. Mom wanted to go to the Hard Rock Casino next door and off we went. Although it was the building next to the Beau, it was still a three block walk out in the cold mist. I was freezing when we got there.

After taking the escalator up to the casino, we entered a sea of humanity. A sparkly, shiny, polished and primped sea of humanity. I felt immediately old. I wanted to go back to the Beau. Mom wanted to look around, so she and Chad took off. I headed for the casino floor.

At the Hard Rock, Black Jack tables had a minimum of $20. Really? As I walked around I saw some roulette wheels and their minimum bet was $15. I had always wanted to play roulette, which they didn’t have in Colorado casinos. As I approached a table, two smartly dressed young men left and I took a seat. I put what was left of my stash on the table. To my left was another sharply dressed young man sitting next to his shiny girlfriend.

He gave me the once over with his eyes and said, “How yoo doin’?” I said “good” with the sexiest smile I could muster. The dealer then yelled “Place your bets!”

I quickly glanced at the board. Apparently red had been hitting. All the well-dressed young people at the table began setting their chips on Red until the box was overflowing with towering stacks of chips. I put $15 in chips on Black. My chips looked awfully lonely on the square all by themselves. Red hit again to applause from the group. I was now down to $45. I put another $15 on black, $15 on odd and put the rest in my pocket. At least I wouldn’t go home empty handed.

“Place your bets!” The dealer put the marble on the wheel. The wheel spun and spun while the marble bounced and bounced an agonizingly long time. I was too far away to see where it landed, so I looked up at the board. The board blinked 29. I had just doubled my money! I took my chips as soon as the dealer set them down and left as fast as I could.

I began walking around the penny slots at the Hard Rock searching for my family. I couldn’t see them anywhere. I then searched the gift shop. Not there either. I called Chad on my cell phone.

“Where are you?”

“We’re back at the Beau. We thought you came back here.”

“What?!? No! Fine. Meet me in the lobby. I’ll be right there.” It was another cold walk back to the Beau. I stormed into the Beau’s elaborate lobby where my family stood in the center of the space.

“You left me!” I cried.

“We thought you wanted to come back here,” they said.

“What time is it?” I sighed. Chad said 11 o’clock.

“Well let’s get back in there. I’m not leaving until midnight.”

“That’s the spirit,” laughed Chad. Mom just shook her head. We headed back into the casino and while Chad and Mom chatted I scoped out another minimum Black Jack table. The wait wasn’t as long this time. I found a seat next to a young couple that could barely keep their eyes open, obviously drunk. This time our dealer was a gal named Cami and she wasn’t taking guff from anyone. When it came time for the sleepy/drunk couple to hit or stay, she would tap her index finger on the velvet table top with her right hand while holding her left hand over the card stack. Then she would loudly shout their hand when they took too long to respond. The girl would raise her head and say “hit” until she went bust every hand. Although Cami’s cards were strong, I managed to push a few hands. I even landed one Black Jack. My chip stack rose as midnight approached. Soon the casino waitresses were walking around with trays of cheap plastic champagne glasses filled with equally cheap bubbly. Mom and Chad each took one. I took two.

“Five, Four, Three, Two, One, HAPPPY NEW YEAR!” everyone in the casino shouted. I clinked my plastic glass with both Chad and Mom. Even though it was midnight, Cami wasn’t wasting any time as she continued drawing cards. The drunk couple left. All that remained was myself and an elderly lady sucking on a cigarette. It took a few more hands, but I soon had $100 in chips. Even, I cashed out and the three of us left into the misty cold night.