A Wager War with Caesar

Losing your gambling virginity in the Garden State.

Chance, randomness, probability, ratio, luck … all the words you don’t think of when you’ve got $25 on the blackjack table and you’re holding at 16, internally screaming “Break, dealer! For the love of God, break! You must lose! LOSE!!!” And of course he gets a 17, which means you’ve lost that $25 you could’ve used to buy an armload of churros.

This was the mental struggle I went through during my time at Caesar’s Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

I got to Atlantic City (also known as “America’s Favorite Playground”) at about 3 p.m. There were several main casinos on the strip: the Tropicana, Atlantic City Hilton Casino, Bally’s Park Place, Sands Hotel & Casino, and the Claridge Casino.

But the two that stood out the most were Caesar’s and Trump’s Plaza Casino. So I gave the two a thorough analysis — Caesar’s or Trump’s? Roman orgies or stuffy business meetings? Kick-ass military leader or old CEO with bad hair? I went with Caesar’s.

Caesar’s Casino & Hotel at Atlantic City is quite a sight. It’s a modern hotel filled with marble tiles, phallic columns, and a giant replica of the Statue of David. And by the looks of things, it was a very cold room for David.

At a quick glance inside, you wouldn’t think that the place is a casino. But once you venture deeper into the beast, you will find a restless mob exchanging their hard-earned money for royal tokens, eager to lose it all in the name of Lady Luck.

So I thought I’d give it a try and exchanged $105 into twenty-one $5 chips. I quickly discovered that not only is gambling risky, but all-out expensive in general. Let’s look at blackjack, for example. A minimum bet can be from $10 to $25, depending on the time of day. I’m sure it cost even more at other tables, but I was too overwhelmed to verify that.

So anyway, I stood around the blackjack tables to get the feel of things. By 4 p.m., I was ready to gamble in a casino for the first time in my life.

Sitting down at a blackjack table is a very interesting feeling. When you sit down with a couple other strangers, you automatically become a part of a brotherhood. This is due to the fact that we all shared the same goal: To defeat the dealer’s hand.

We all watched out for each other. When someone else at your table got 21, you smiled and tipped your hat to them. Once I was at 15 and I was really thinking of hitting, but the guys next to me told me to stay. So I stood with my 15.

The dealer ended up getting a 20 and I lost. But it was cool having this crew helping me out. Even the dealers themselves were on my side. They give advice along the way for casino virgins, and they even root for you.

I got my first blackjack at around 4:40 p.m., and the dealer said, “Your first blackjack? Hey guys! It’s his first blackjack!” A floor manager walked over, congratulated me, and told me to write down the date and time. Of course, I didn’t, ’cause I only won $15 and I didn’t care about dates or times.

At the beginning of my wager war with Caesar, I fantasized about winning $50 or something and taking my girlfriend out to a nice dinner, or at least get a used video game. But that dream quickly faded away once my winnings occurred less and less … and less … and less and less.

It was no longer a quest to make a profit, but a struggle to break even. By 6:30 p.m., I was down to my last $15 worth of chips, which was the minimum bet you can make on a blackjack table at the time. And by 6:40 p.m., I lost.

In 2 hours and 40 minutes, I spent $105. And that is why it’s called gambling.

On the long drive up the Garden State Parkway back to my hotel, I had a soul-searching moment concerning issues of money, experiences, and cultural exploration. I definitely gambled away a lot of money. I can’t argue with that.

But the experience of it all, the sounds, the sights of a casino, the surge of adrenaline when you get that first 21, the constant “Do you have proper ID?” made it all worth it.

Now whenever I see Lady Luck, I can’t help but smile.

Donation to the casino gods for luck:
Homage to bathroom attendant: $1
Parking (all day): $2
Tip to the friendly blackjack dealer: $5
Gambling at Caesar’s Casino: $105
Noticing that your penis is
than the Statue of David’s:
Article © 2001 by Rob Roan