May 2004 Archives


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I meant to post this some six-eight weeks ago, when I was actually staying at a casino/hotel. So, for the world to enjoy, I present you with:

Chris Higgins's Guide to Gambling

I come to you from the Lounge at [let's not mention the place's name] in central Oregon. The web site would have you believe it's a resort, but it's more like a small hotel in the middle of a very desolate "high desert" (the desert being on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and the whole thing is at significant altitude). With a small computerized casino tacked on. It's neat. There's almost nobody here. My cell phone doesn't work, there is no internet access, and apparently this is the off-off-off season. I'm amazed that they still manage to get a good supply of booze out here. It's 30 miles off the nearest tiny state highway, which itself goes through a national forest for a good while before arriving at anything. How do they even get the mail here?

Since it's a reservation there are a variety of tribal laws, including a bunch of provisions against removing anything from the land (including picking flowers or picking up a rock). There are also a lot of signs saying not to smoke or drink. These are situated in unusual places, like in the parking lot.

I don't gamble, so the casino thing is pretty funny. I was expecting a glitzy Vegas experience, but so far this isn't quite it. They have "free drinks" in the casino, but the free drinks are just a soda fountain and a coffee pot. Also, you're not allowed to bring in drinks or smokes to the casino (the casino being just this little room upstairs from the Lounge), but you are allowed to buy smokes from the vending machines and then smoke them. I don't get it. Apparently you're not allowed to get a drink (meaning an alcoholic drink) and walk upstairs with it to be in the casino. Somehow I had assumed the whole point of casinos was to get people drunk so they'd spend more? Apparently not here. I assume that drinking-drinking isn't allowed in the casino due to some regulation or bargain with the state. Anyway, I've scored a couple of free Diet Cokes from the fountain without even gambling.

I went up there yesterday and walked around to look at all the weird games. They're all computerized. Some are computer slot machines with a physical 'arm' thing but a computer screen and all kinds of flashing lights stuck on them. The rest are these like multi-purpose computer terminals with an assortment of unbelievably confusing games. Every machine has a bid amount (like a penny, five cents, twenty five cents, and I think there are some that do dollar amounts), and that's cleverly hidden somewhere in the insane graphic design on the stickers covering the machine.

I figured what the hell and put a dollar (MY FIRST AND ONLY CASINO DOLLAR) into a 1 cent/5 cent machine. It was one of the multi-purpose things. Before I put my dollar in (it has a dollar feeder like soda machines) I tried to read the rules. See, it's a touch screen thing and there are like 5 games with several variations on each; there are a couple of different lines of machines which have different games. Most games come in 1c and 5c versions, which I guess are the same except you lose more money with the 5c versions. Each game has instructions -- sort of -- which you can read through before actually playing. The machine I sat at had a pirate/high seas theme, and played a continuous beeping reel. I looked at the game names, in order to select one on which to lose my money. The choices were:

* Crazy Cash Parrots
* Pirate's Gold
* Shark Attack
* Sunshine Slots
* Blackjack Pete

Of these, the one with the stupidest icon was Crazy Cash Parrots. It was a green parrot with an eye patch clutching a knife and some bills in its claws. In addition to this (which is a lot for a tiny little icon) it had a red bandana on, and an earring. Let me point out that parrots don't have obvious ears, so the earring just kind of stuck out the side of its head.

So I tried the 1c Crazy Parrots. I clicked on (well, touched) the HELP page. It might as well have been in French. INTERJECTION: I have just presented with a vodka sour containing no vodka. I am seriously pretty sure this contains no alcohol, though it does have two cherries and is very fizzy. I may have to switch to bottled beverages shortly. Recall that I am coming to you from the Lounge. END INTERJECTION. So the HELP page basically documented a bunch of special features of the game, witness:

PARROT RACE - When the parrot race mode is activated, pick your parrot(s) and bet each line once or EVEN TWICE. If offered INSURANCE, you may take it or refuse for an EXTRA BID on a BALD HAND.

SKULLS ARE WILD - Skulls are always wild (except during SILLY CASH mode), and match up with CRAZY SEVENS to make a SUPER ELEVEN. When a SUPER ELEVEN happens, you can choose to TRIPLE your bit or SPLIT your bet (no INSURANCE on the LEFT HAND) if you previously elected to bet FOUR LINES or fewer. If you bet more than four lines, you can STAND or BET NINE LINES at a 2/3 dealer's reverse pay-out.

PARROTS GO CRAZY - At random intervals THE PARROTS GO CRAZY. When this happens, they are wild (and so are SKULLS!) but be careful, the parrots can steal ONE LINE EACH! If they steal a line you can re-bid the shoot or double the triple, leading to a chance at SILLY CASH!

SILLY CASH - This special game offers you a chance at 14% additional pay-outs with no penalties! Rules are the same as normal, except all lines are reversed through the back door, and all wilds are doubled. This mode follows Texas Drunk Rules, as specified in the Oregon State Lottery provisional pamphlet 487c(11).

At the end of the page there was a series of diagrams labeled LINES which were geometric shapes. I later figured out that the LINES had something to do with how you bet on the game, and determined how much you lost (and how fast). However, nowhere was there documentation to introduce the concept of LINES -- just a bunch of bizarre trig-style diagrams. I gather you're supposed to understand this stuff implicitly, because if you're sitting there spending money on Crazy Cash Parrots, you've probably been around.

The game itself was sort of like a slot machine -- several rows of images rotate furiously then slowly come to a stop (complete with motion blur to make it more confusing) -- after you push a button. Before "pulling the lever" (setting the images in motion by pushing the button) you can highlight various lines through the matrix of images (lines go from left to right, or the reverse, or diagonally, and...well forget it, anyway, you basically click on some stuff and it gets really confusing). The touch screen thing doesn't work very well, and a lot of times it wouldn't light up stuff I wanted to light up. Other times I had to touch a little above or below what I was trying to touch, or use a different finger (my thumb did not work AT ALL -- isn't that weird?). It's possible I just didn't understand what I was doing. But you know, I do have a significant amount of computer experience. Okay anyway, whatever:

The game boils down to pressing the button to "pull the lever" (or whatever the hell) and watching a bunch of images flash by. Then they stop (or if you're advanced you can press something to make them stop, or press each one to make it stop, but the whole thing takes 2 seconds so I don't see how that's even within the scope of human ability). Then the computer says "NO PARROT," plays a little Parrot Laughing at You animation, and subtracts some number of pennies from your 'credits' (I put in a dollar so I started with 100 credits). The number of pennies removed is clearly intended to be related to how many lines you'd selected and whether you'd activated the WACKY FOURTY-SEVEN feature, but there were multiple types of math going on in there that I couldn't begin to follow.

So then you figure, "Shit! I just lost 8 cents," and click on some different stuff, then press the button again. You do this several times, losing some pennies each time. You consider changing your lines, but since you can't begin to comprehend what's going on, you figure that's a bad idea. Maybe the lines you have are winners. Then you notice a little animated pirate with a large hat wander onto the edge of the screen -- what's he there for? Is he clickable? Apparently not. Click again on the "pull the lever" thing.

At some point in this losing process you hit the button, it shuffles, then says: "ORANGE STEVEN SKULL PANTY-LINER!!" while beeping loudly, and you win 40 credits. At this point you're suddenly back up to 100 credits, where you started. How did this happen? There are flashing skulls and parrots flying around on the screen. The pirate is swilling something from a bottle marked XXX. You immediately change all your lines and double your bet and click the button and lose 27 credits. Then you hit the button again and lose 27 credits again. You un-double the bet and de-select a line and hit it again. You lose 12 credits. You consult the HELP page again. It is no help at all. It doesn't seem to specify how you would ever get to any of the special features (and you're glad because you'd be pretty screwed if you had to figure them out anyway). You now notice that the HELP page urges you to consult to Cash Table page, in compliance with some important gambling law. You click on the Cash Table thing, and it contains a large matrix of numbers with X and Y axes that are labeled "theoretical line selection maximum (normalized)" and "pay-out percentage (Utah Rules)" and don't even begin to start making sense. You start to wish they allowed drinking in this place. You go back to the main game and proceed to lose all the rest of your credits, betting less and less until you are broke. Then you click on the Blackjack Pete game, thinking that at least you understand blackjack. However in consulting the rules you learn that this game involves four decks, one and a half face-up cards, and a "rotating shared dealer pot." You get up and pretend to consider playing other games.

It took me a good 15 minutes to spend my dollar (mainly due to trying to read the HELP so much). I don't think I'll go back.

Pixies in Eugene, Oregon

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Here's a picture of the Pixies concert on April 28, 2004 in Eugene, Oregon. It was indoors. I took this picture with my new T610 camera-phone. It's a nice phone, but I have to say the images are sort of small. Sorry, you can't click on this one -- this is as big as it gets.

And yes, the concert was awesome. I suspect that the Pixies will come out with a new album in the next year or so, and spawn a Nirvana-style shift in popular music. And yes, I'm aware of the irony in that statement.

Contacting Chris Higgins

I'm a writer based in Portland, Oregon. I mostly write for Mental Floss magazine (and their website), though I recently had a story on This American Life, and had a cover story last year in The Portland Mercury.

You can follow me on Twitter for occasional jokes, or find me on Facebook for updates on writing and utterly shameless self-promotion.

I'm also a mobile website and smartphone app developer. I work for Cloud Four. In years past, I worked with Night & Day Studios; I helped create Peekaboo Barn, Peekaboo Wild, Big Fat Lies, Life in Short, Cocktail Compass, Nick Jr.'s A-Z With Moose and Zee, Quibble, Savage Love, and a bunch of other apps.

Need to email me? Click the following link, follow the instructions, and you'll have my email address: get Chris's email address.

Copyright Notice: All material on this website is copyright © 2012 Chris Higgins. All rights reserved. If you want to use a photo or other content, please contact me -- my rates are reasonable.

Note: I'm not the (apparently famous) hockey player with the same name! You'll have to find his homepage in order to contact him.