On a few occasions, the figures would connect in a way that mystified me but made sense to the slot machine, which threw pennies my way. Yet no unicorn dared to swoop down and save me from my downward spiral. I cashed out with 43 cents.
“Did you do well?” I asked my comrade.
“Not tonight,” he said. “Good luck to you, sweetie.”
After the loss, I took a break (remember, the walk-away tenet) at Munch, where I regained my strength and solicited some advice.
A friendly security guard stepped up first. He steered me toward his lucky slot machines — Napoleon and Josephine, and Kronos — and encouraged me like a coach to get back in the game. (I later lost $8 on N&J and decided to quit that team.) Later, a dealer at the craps table shared some solid blackjack tips (his mother plays a lot, he said), such as when to hit (16), when to hold (17), when to split and double down (cards 3 through 6) and when to surrender and buy insurance (never and never). Best of all, a player named Kevin, who recently moved from the area to North Bethesda, adopted me as his gamblin’ sidekick.
During my first foray — and Kevin’s nth — at the blackjack table, the dealer without a name tag rooted for our group of players, which included a young couple from Northern Virginia and a middle-aged pair from Altoona, Pa. (“You are going to get so many people from Altoona coming down here,” said the male of the twosome.) The dealer shrugged apologetically when his cards toppled ours and grinned when we beat his hand. When he left to go on break, we all moaned.
I stuck by Kevin through two more dealers, but the Mello Yello was wearing off. I left at 2 a.m.; he stayed till daybreak, departing with several Benjamins in his pocket.
I resisted the casino for most of the next day, indulging in the nature-y side of the resort. But it knew my number, and I eventually answered.
I sought out the no-name dealer from the night before and stumbled into Kevin. I knew I was becoming a better player, because I was growing superstitious.
At the blackjack table, I lost the first round, paused to lick my wounds, then tossed down a chip. I asked for a hit and another. My cards added up to twenty-oh-my-stars-one.
I won. But, more importantly, I ended a losing streak that stretched from Atlantic City to Vegas but couldn’t survive in Rocky Gap.