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Tilting at Slot Machines

Call it a fool's mission, but Jeff Greenfield, the CNN political analyst, headed off to Atlantic City with a pocketful of cash destined for the slots
Jeff Greenfield
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

(continued from page 1)

Six $10 spins bring me nothing. Then, magically, the "Spin" wheel appears, and the machine chants: "Wheel!—Of!—Fortune!" It looks as if this wheel pays off generously; I see no wedge smaller than $100. Round goes the wheel—and stops at $750. With what's left, I cash out at $790.

Aha! It was just a matter of time. As I swagger over to the $25 machines, I see what's coming clearly: the ringing of bells, the wail of sirens as I hit the Big One, the long wait for the casino employee to rush over with a tax form; will I take the tens of thousands in cash or a check? (Check, certainly; otherwise some crook will call ahead to his compatriots, and Dena and I will be hijacked before we ever hit the Garden State Parkway). Which charities will receive the half of this booty—and did I really promise half?

It takes less than two minutes for these thoughts to flash through my head—which is longer than it takes to lose $300 at $25 a shot.

Still, between that one big hit, and a $200 spin at a dollar "Wheel of Fortune," we wrap up our adventure with $1,720 left of our original $2,500 stash. If the fantasy of sudden, unearned cash did not come true, neither did the possibility of working for an hourly wage that would have sent Caesar Chavez rushing to sign me up. And with experience comes an important Life Lesson, one that all of us, particularly those who came of age at a certain time in America, would do well to remember: we are not exempt.

We may have been part of a Youth Revolution, but our hairlines are receding and our waistlines are expanding, just like everyone else's. Our music seems just as dumb and creaky to your kids as Bing Crosby's croonings did to us. If we eat cheeseburgers and fries and chocolate doughnuts, we will get just as fat as everyone else.

And if we gamble at machines that are computer-programmed to relieve us of our money over time, then we will lose money. It matters not how much more vivid the memory of a long-ago win is than the slow, steady losses.

We have paid our tax on stupidity. And we're outta here. (But you know, on that last $25 spin, I was so close...)

Jeff Greenfield is the senior political correspondent for CNN.


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