If you’re just reading this blog for the first time…my friend Angela and I do a new goal every month and blog about it every few days. This month, my goal was to learn how to play poker and play in a Vegas casino. This is how the events unfolded…
July 15: Vegas day! My mom drove to my house in Columbus and we caught a 5:15pm flight to Vegas. As a reminder (not sure if I mentioned it before), the real reason this Vegas trip was planned was to celebrate my mom’s 50th birthday. Since I knew this was on the calendar for this year I decided to make one of my goals around gambling, obviously! So my 2 main goals were celebrating my mom’s birthday and playing poker (my first real game ever). As soon as we landed we found her BFF who had taken another flight and we took a taxi to our hotel, The Venetian. We decided that with the time change and all that we would just eat dinner and gamble at our hotel for the evening. We were in the room by about 7:30pm Vegas time and I think we were heading down for dinner by 7:35pm. We ate dinner at the Grand Lux Cafe where I forced everyone to get a strawberry martini even though I don’t really drink. It just felt like the Vegas/mom’s birthday/vacation thing to do. They tasted like peroxide with strawberry flavoring, but we all took a few sips and even did a toast to vacation and winning lots of money. I then proceeded to pull out the “God of Fortune” that Chris had brought back for me from Hong Kong last year. It’s a little figurine that looks kind of like the characters on one of the slot machines. I made everyone rub it’s head for good luck. I put it back in my purse with my selfie stick and my cash and we were headed into the casino.
Since poker was the main thing on my mind, I started by finding the poker room and just checking out the scene. I hadn’t planned to play just yet but wanted to see a game in real life. I hear (based on YouTube videos) that The Venetian poker room draws a serious poker playing crowd but I thought I’d at least go watch and see if all my YouTube studying was going to pay off for me. The weird thing about poker is it’s always in it’s own room. It’s not like you can just walk up like you can for craps or blackjack. A drunk girl who was wearing a 2 foot tall margarita glass as a sash greeted me with “um, like, they like let you sit on these” when referring to a few of the video poker slots in the poker room. So I half leaned on a chair and watched a table for about 10 minutes. All the tables were mostly men, and several had men eating off a silver cart that had been delivered to them like room service so they wouldn’t have to stop playing the game. Men eating pancakes for dinner and playing poker….I couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated it. I decide that I understood the game enough for the moment and I head out to the slots for the rest of the night.
I put $100 bill in a slot machine and get up to about $135, play it back down to $101 and cash my ticket out and decide to find the machine that had characters that look like my “God of Fortune” figurine.
I find the machine! It’s called 88 fortunes and if you get certain squares then little coins will fly up to the bowl at the top. Once the bowl is overflowing it will spill and you’ll get a screen full of coins you can pick from. Once you match 3 of the same coins (mini jackpot, minor jackpot, major jackpot, grand jackpot) then you win that jackpot. 99.99999% of the time you’ll get the mini jackpot which is always around $10-$20.
I put my players card in the machine, put my $101 ticket in and I start playing. At this point, I’m only about 15 minutes into gambling total. I have all the cash I brought with me still in my wallet and I’m just getting started. I haven’t hit a point of desperation where you are praying for a bonus round or a big hit because you’re down to your last $100 with another full day to go. I’m still figuring out what time it is and if $200 is reasonable to gamble off of for the night.
After I had played about $40 worth in the machine, all the video coins fall out of the little video bowl and I get to choose for matching coins. Yay…bonus round. I decide I’ll change it up and choose from the bottom up because I always tend to pick things in the same order from the top down. I pick grand jackpot, mini jackpot, grand jackpot, and grand jackpot. I think ‘oh my gosh, I think I won the grand jackpot, that has to be like $2,500.’ I look in the upper right hand corner of the screen and it says “grand jackpot – $20,206.27 won.” I decide to look at the top of the machine where it lists the jackpot amounts just to confirm I was reading that right…only the screen had reset itself. Machines will do that when someone wins a jackpot. They accumulate over time and when someone wins they reset themselves at a lower amount. My screen had gone black and said “call attendant to pay jackpot win $20,206.27.” You guys…..I HIT A JACKPOT FOR REAL! What?! This doesn’t happen in real life and now it’s happening and the machine isn’t doing bells and whistles and no one is around me and I think I just won $20k! The light was blinking on the top which signals an attendant. I get my phone out and call my mom.
There’s really only 2 reasons to call the people you’re with in a casino. 1. You won a call-worthy amount (must exceed $1,000). 2. You’re broke and you’re telling them where you’re going to pathetically hang your head while they finish playing. My mom answers with “what did you win? we just got here?” I say “mom…..I think I just won $20,000 on a slot machine.” She proceeds to say “no way….no way….where are you right now. Where are you?” All I could say was “outside the poker room, next to wheel of fortune” (as if there’s not 1,000 wheel of fortune games spread throughout the casino). She says “where the (insert explicit words) is the poker room?” I tell her I have to go because I see the attendant headed my way and to look for wheel of fortune.
The attendant greets me with “woah, you won the big one” and takes my players card out of the machine and asks for my license and social security number. If you’re not a gambler….any win over $1200 (or is it $1100?) requires a hand payout because you will have to claim it on your taxes. The only hand payout/tax situation I’d ever been a part of was 2 years prior when my mom, Grandma, and I were playing a machine together and won $1700. My mom gave them her info so I had never received a tax form myself for gambling (that sounds so horrible yet so great). The attendant then asks me if I want this in all cash? I say “Yes. Wait, I still am not sure I won that much and I don’t think I understand what the other options are?” He says “check” but does so in a nonchalant ‘I don’t really want to mess with getting you a check’ type of way so I say “cash is fine.”
My mom and Joy have found me at this point and are hugging me, squealing, doing small jumps into the air, and fielding questions from the couple behind me asking how much I won and how I won it. Because the machine wasn’t doing the typical song and spinning characters and coins and flashing and “hey look at me, I’m rich” type of thing, I was so calm that no passer-by would’ve suspected I had won anything. The only anxious-type of feeling I had was when I called my mom. I was almost afraid to say the words outloud “$20,000” because I had this fear that I was reading it wrong and it was really $2,000 or 2,000 coins or something. If you gamble….you understand. You could be a mathematician, but if you get in a casino and put money in a slot machine, you suddenly can’t figure out how many dollars 4 quarters is equal to.
I call Chris (at this point it’s midnight in Ohio) and after he says “hello” I say “well, I figured this one was worth waking you up over.” I tell him about the win and he is super excited of course. I was waiting on the attendant to come back so I couldn’t give him play-by-play…but once we hung up he called my mom to share in the excitement!
I call my dad but he’s already asleep. I text him the news and imagine his reaction when he sees it in the morning.
The attendant comes back with who I assume is his manager. It was a lady in a suit. They hand me 2 stacks of $100 bills wrapped with $10,000 papers, 2 loose $100 bills, 1 $5 bill, and 1 $1 bill. I hand the attendant the $200 as a tip (if you don’t gamble….it’s kind of the expectation when you get a hand payout that you’re supposed to tip them. I’m not clear on how much, but I saw my grandma tip a couple hundred bucks on a $5800 pay out once and given that $200 is what I had loose in my hand….that’s what he got).
The attendant reminds me I still have $60 in the machine based on what I put in. I cash that ticket out and give it to Joy. For 5 seconds, I was too good for $60.
I put the 2 stacks of cash in my purse and have my mom and Joy go up to the room with me so I can put it in the safe. They said there was only 1 person who seemed like a lurker when I got the payout, but for the most part, no one in the casino really knew it was happening. The attendant did say “we’re not going to count this out to you right here because of the amount, but we counted it at the cage.” Okay. Who am I to doubt their counting? I took the cash and ran.
I tested the safe by putting a $5 bill in it first for fear that I’d lock my own money up and never get it out again since setting the safe code is typically a Chris thing on our trips. I recovered the $5 successfully and replaced it with $20,000.
My mom and Joy headed back down to the casino and I hung back for about 15 minutes so I could email my coworkers to tell them that my destiny of hitting a jackpot really did come true! I thought of my whiteboard at work that says I’m in Vegas and will be returning next Tuesday.
I go back down and gamble a little more and then spend the $6 on some waters for the room at Walgreens. Party, I know!
I google the closest Chase bank and go to bed. I have zero desire to play poker anymore.
The “God of Fortune” figurine I had in my purse for good luck.
Me with the winning machine!
The top of the machine
If anyone cares about poker anymore, here’s what the Venetian poker room looks like
July 16: I’m up at 4:30am thanks to the time difference. My dad has text me back with all the excitement I thought he would. I called my dad and both Grandma’s to relive the moment.
By 5am we were headed down to gamble some more when my mom and Joy said my shirt was on backwards. We played a slot machine together where I was trying to use my room key as my players card. You win 1 jackpot and can’t function in the world anymore I guess.
By 8:45am we were catching a taxi to the closest Chase bank where I deposited $17,000. I watched a lady inappropriately cuss at her children and then I walked up to the bullet proof glass and slid my stacks of cash under it and answered questions about my employment to confirm my identity.
By 9:30am I was treating all of us to the buffet at the Flamingo where my meal ended up as a combo of breakfast/lunch with a danish, macaroni and cheese, and ice cream. I was still figuring out how to function in the world apparently.
I showered and headed to Christian Louboutin to buy these gangster red bottom shoes. I won a jackpot. I had to.
My new gangster shoes!
We had breakfast and hit the spa for a couple hours.
I knew I had to play poker today. Ugh. I just didn’t want to. Have you ever set a goal and publicly announced you were going to do it and then the fear or nervousness of it kind of turns into moodiness or irritation? I realize I’m in Vegas and already hit a jackpot and my goal is just poker, but I swear it doesn’t matter – you still have the same emotions when you’re about to do something you’re kind of scared of….even if it’s gambling. I was just nervous and didn’t even know what casino I was going to play in and I was just convinced I’d look stupid and forget everything I knew.
After the spa I didn’t even shower. I threw on my jeans that smelled like an ashtray from the casino, put on an athletic jacket because it’s freezing in the casinos and I knew I could zip it up to my chin if my neck broke out in nerves, put in a pony tail, and went without make up (by the way – I know I look a little young, but if you don’t wear make up and hang out in a casino you will get carded everywhere you go. I didn’t get carded over martinis or jackpots, but I did when I tried to buy water while playing a slot machine and when trying to sit in the bar area at the airport. Weird).
I headed out by myself. I told my mom and Joy I was heading down to Harrah’s because I thought their poker room looked non-threatening when we were there the other day.
It was almost 100 degrees outside and I was dressed for a fall football game.
I walk by a homeless person whose sign said “I’m looking at butts.”
I get to Harrah’s and realize I’ve never even laid eyes on that poker room. What?! But we were just there yesterday. Where am I? Where will I play?! Harrah’s only had 1 table going but a tournament that was supposed to kick off soon. I realize I’m not cut out for a tournament and wonder how long I’d be tied to the table during it and what if I had to pee in the middle of it? I leave and decide to go to the Flamingo.
The Flamingo is where I ended up playing my first poker game ever in my life.
When I walked in I realized it was there that I had looked at the poker room and it was there that I thought ‘ok, I could do this.’ I go to the poker room area and decide ‘I have to do this now or I’m never going to do this.’ Lucky for me….they had a table with 1 spot open. When you go to a poker room there’s a TV with the tables and their amounts/limits on them with a wait list. The Venetian wait list can be viewed from your hotel room via your TV and it’s always a long one. This was around 12pm at the Flamingo so there were 4 or 5 tables going, 1 table with an opening, and only 1 person on the wait list for another. The open spot was a 2/4 limit. I figured I had brought $500 to play poker so 2/4 seemed okay.
My stomach hurt. I went into the bathroom where I took money out of my money envelope and put $500 in the side pocket so I could pull it out flawlessly when I went back. I had learned via YouTube that even the way you get your money out can tell a lot about how you play. I was discounting the fact that I was “flawlessly” pulling money out of the side pocket of a Nike purse I’ve had since 2006, but whatever.
I text my mom and Joy where I was and not to come down and take pictures (the original plan) because I was too nervous and it definitely wouldn’t help my overall look that day. I was fully aware that I looked 12 years old that day and having my mom behind me taking pictures was just….well….no.
I asked the guy at the main desk area if the table with an open spot was the one I was pointing to (which coincidentally had 5 women playing at it….yes….finally!). He said yes and then I asked what the limit was. I completely forget his answer. I asked him how much people typically put in to play and he said “normally $100.” I thought since I’ve never played before I’d buy $200 worth of chips so I could play longer and that still leaves me with $300 poker reserve money. They check my ID while I’m at the table and deliver me $200 worth of $1 chips which is twice as many as what everyone has in front of them. Great. One person went as far as to say “wow, she must be serious” and someone else said “he just wants your phone number” when they checked my ID. I tried to be cool and say “oh that’s fine” and when they said “oooooohhhh….” I felt stupid and started shaking.
I had so many stupid chips that I didn’t have anywhere to peek at my cards so I split them down the middle. The dealer asked me if 2 people were playing because of the 2 stacks. I smushed them back together and scooted them to the side. I was doing this. I was shaking. I folded my first hand.
I decided to play my second hand, or at least there were several hands where I threw in a couple chips but more hands where I folded. I kept forgetting what cards I had halfway through and I knew I was better off just lying or folding than looking again.
I totally understood what was happening with the dealer button and the small blind and big blind situation and felt pretty proud of myself that my YouTube self-study was paying off.
The lady next to me kept talking to me but I didn’t really acknowledge her much.
I noticed people were giving the dealer $1 chips when they would win the pot.
I was dealt a king and an ace (I think), I played, I raised, I raised again, I raised to the limit, I won the pot. I gave the dealer a $1 chip. I felt like a baller. I had more chips than I started with but not a clue how many. I let them lay in a loose pile because I read online this gives the illusion I’m an aggressive player or comfortable or something. I was just shaking too bad to stack them and was still not convinced I was allowed to have my hands on the table during the game.
I wanted to stop but didn’t know how. Do I just announce that I’m done? A couple people left to go to the bathroom (guess that answers the pee question) and were so trusting they left their chips and their purse! Most of the players knew each other or the dealer and some asked me if I had ever played with so-and-so. I wanted to crack and say I’d never played ever. Not even at a poker party. I wanted them to lift me over their heads and carry me out like a football player that just scored the winning touchdown because I was at a grown up poker table all by myself in Vegas and doing what I said I would do with approximately 207 $1 chips scattered in front of me.
One guy walked away from the table and got the glass chip carrier and came back and organized his chips and left. I did the same 2 minutes later.
As I stacked my last few chips I say to everyone “thanks for playing with me, I flew here all the way from Columbus, OH and this was my first poker game of my life.” A couple women said nothing, 1 woman said “you did a great job” and the man next to me said “now you have a story for back home.” The dealer and I bonded over the fact that he was from Youngstown, OH.
I cash out my chips and get $173 back. I tell the cashier it was my first time playing poker ever (insert too much confidence/gloating/bragging/searching for new friends). She says “looks like you did great”….because most buy in for $100 not $200 so she was probably thinking I made $73 when I really lost $27 but I didn’t have the heart to tell her.
I felt really proud of myself and continued to occasionally say “you guys, I did it, I played poker” for the rest of the day.
I may have won a jackpot, but I’ll still stand in line for 15 minutes to use a free coffee coupon!
The Flamingo poker room sits behind these 3 machines. I was trying to be subtle when taking the pic so this was the best that I got.
Behind those machines, in the center, is where the little poker booth guy is that you can ask questions to or sign up to wait on a table.
July 18: My mom’s 50th birthday! We headed to Fremont St (Old Las Vegas) for most of the day and met up with a couple of my mom’s friends who were also in town. Joy was conned into buying bracelets on the street from a lady who was crying, my mom got a steak dinner for her birthday, and I played some of my favorite old slot machines that didn’t work right and wouldn’t let you max bet.
My grandma texts me that night that she went to the casino in Dayton and won over $7,000 on a slot machine.
My mom turned $100 into $600 that night back at The Venetian.
My mom having some luck on the “Lucky Tree” machine
Just got to Fremont St.
Mom’s birthday dinner!
I bought this shirt to wear to work under a suit jacket when I get back. What’s a good Vegas story without an I heart Vegas shirt?
July 19: We flew home.
Bonus Info on the Jackpot:
After I let the cat out of the bag on the jackpot, here are some of the common questions I am getting:
Where did you win? The Venetian
What machine was it? 88 Fortunes
What denomination was the machine? Penny slot. My bet was for $1.76
Could you have won more with the max bet? No, this was the grand jackpot at the top so it doesn’t pay out any higher than that, thank goodness! The worst is winning a lot and knowing you could’ve won more if you would’ve bet higher. Fortunately, I’m freed from that guilt!
Did they take out taxes? No. They gave me a form though that I have to use to claim it on my taxes.
What are you going to do with the money? As of right now it’s sitting in the bank with no big plans yet. Some of it will cover the cost of the Vegas hotel, my new red bottom shoes, and an upcoming vacation Chris and I are taking, plus we always like to help some people out here or there. And taxes of course. So no life changing plans, but if we get crazy and decide to buy something over the top….you’ll be the first to know!