Have you ever won a jackpot on a slot machine? I mean the kind where the siren goes off, the bell rings, the light on top of the machine starts flashing, and everyone around you stops what they are doing to come see how much you have won.
I spent three years supporting myself and my family on gambling. I mostly played the slot machines. We won more than a few jackpots during those three years. I only quit gambling when everyone started moving out of the house and I lost $3000 in one week and realized I didn't want to swing low before swinging high again. I had money in the bank and it was time to move on.
But winning those jackpots was certainly a lot like living in a movie, especially the first one. To be honest, after you win 5 or 6 jackpots the surreal feelings begin to fade. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me explain what happened when I won my first jackpot.
Believe it or not, those stories where someone walks into a casino and wins a jackpot on almost their first spin feel totally true to me. My first couple of times in a casino were disasters. I lost all my money and walked out completely fed up with gambling. I did not go back for two years.
Then one night I went down to the casino to find one of my relatives. She had gone straight to the casino after getting off work and I needed to talk to her about something. I found her playing the slot machines in one section where they were networked for a progressive jackpot. She told me to sit down and start playing the machine next to her.
I was a bit angry at not being able to discuss the business I wanted to talk about but what can you do when it's your family? You play the slot machine. After 30 minutes I heard this bell going off right in front of me. I looked up and saw the flashing light. Suddenly people started converging on me to see how much I won.
It was over $8000.00, which seems like a lot of money for a $3 bet but to be honest if that were all I could win in a year, it would not be enough to live on.
Everyone comes by to congratulate you, almost like a bunch of hippies from the 1960s telling you how great it is that you're sticking it to the Man. In reality you just won all the money they lost but they are glad that someone is getting their money other than the casino.
You never feel the intensity of that love-hate relationship with a casino the way you do when you win a jackpot. You see the envy in some people's eyes, the pained expressions that reveal just how much of that jackpot was their money. And then you see the joy in some people's faces. They just love a winner, even if it's a complete stranger!
But after a few minutes everyone wanders off to what they were doing and you are left sitting there with the light flashing and the bell ringing and you're thinking, "Can I get up? What happens if I need to use the restroom? How long does this take? What if they never come?"
Eventually someone from the casino comes over and turns off the bell. For jackpots they have to bring in 2 or 3 people to verify the win and authenticate you. They take your identification and ask you to sign paperwork and there is some coming and going. By the time they come back with the money it's been another 30 minutes. One time it took nearly an hour to handle a jackpot because the casino staff was emptying out their slot machines and they had to complete that task first.
I've read stories where big jackpot winners had to wait almost an entire day for someone to sign off on their wins.
So there you are sitting in a casino with thousands of dollars in your pocket and everyone knows you have it on you. And your car is parked five rows out from the side entrance. You do wonder if there isn't some evil redneck hillbilly waiting to jump you in the parking lot because he just bet his rent money on the wrong game.
And now you don't want to be the center of attention. Fortunately, after you have been paid you are yesterday's news. Everyone is wrapped up in their own dreams of being big winners.
For me the best thing to do was to wander over to the other side of the casino and blow $100 on some game so that I felt just a little poorer, a little less like a target. Besides, unless you're an idiot it should take a while to lose $100 on a slot game or at the blackjack tables.
I tipped the staff generously. You always tip the person who pays you. And you act as polite and non-threatening as you can because you don't know who is plotting to take your winnings from you.
After an hour or so I started to feel safe again. Usually I would ask one of the guards to walk me to my car. But one night I had the worst of luck. About an hour after I won a $4,000 jackpot and my nerves were calming down I won another $3,000. Honestly, it felt like I was never going to get out of that casino. Winning money is great, but it's nerve-wracking having to wait until you can deposit it all in the bank, especially if you have to wait until the next day.
I swear, there were nights when I seriously considered putting it all back into the games just so I wouldn't have the headaches. And then I remembered, this was how I lived. I really was betting the rent money. So I took a deep breath, said good-night to the guards, and walked out to my car. And no one had any idea who I was or what I was carrying on me. They were there to beat the casino, not me.