Some might think it strange that Mary Lucchesi would spend the sixth anniversary of her husband's death inserting silver dollars into slot machines at the casino, but - as she puts it - "I have been a widow for six years and a slot machine widow for 39".
When Mary and Joseph Lucchesi were married in 1939, they visited the native country of their Italian parents via Monte Carlo - and Mary Lucchesi says it was very long via.
God bless my dead husband," she says, crossing herself in the manner of many Italian widows from Flushing, "but we spent seven days at the casinos on our honeymoon and then had to take an overnight train to Calabria so we could see our relatives for one day. I should have known what was to come, but I didn't realize it then."
What was to come was a visit to Las Vegas virtually every year of their marriage. Mary Lucchesi recalls Joseph Lucchesi humped over a blackjack or craps table for seemingly endless hours, averting his eyes from the game before him only long enough to spin around to his patient wife and say, "Here, babbina take this" - invariably a roll of quarters that would be gobbled up by the machine in an hour.
"I know if Joey was around he would have been here," she says of her husband, "so I said to two girlfriends, "Let's go down to the shore when they open the casino." We took the bus from the Port Authority and we'll go back by bus on Monday."
All the while as she is talking, Lucchesi is sipping silver dollars into the machine: coin with the right hand, cross-arm left to pull the lever.
"You could get a cramp if you do it with the right all the time," she says. "All I guess it's a wive's tale, but I have a friend of mine who swears that you could do better crosshand. I got another friend who blesses herself before she pulls the handle, but I don't like that . But I always put the first 10 dollars I make away to put in the poor box at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I used to have to do it on the side because my husband didn't like me to give an Irish church."
Just as the word church is spoken, the slot machine becomes animated and one of Lucchesi's two friends screams like a 13-year -old at a Beatles concert. And she is shouting, "Oh my God, Mary, oh my God, Mary" and Lucchessi is acting rather cool in the wake of having three bars show up in the window - three bars that mean she has just won $300.
"In four hours it'll be gone," Lucchesi says coolly, picking the silver dollars out of the hopper and dumping them into empty coffee cups that are lying about for just such a purpose. The jangle of the machine continues for several minutes, and a crowd quickly forms around the fleeting winner.
"My Joey used to say to me, 'Mary, there are things you do for money and there are things you do for fun.' His idea of fun was gambling. He told me that I should never expect to make money on the slot machines. And you know what? He was right. I never made any money."
In fact, the slot machines here are adjusted by state regulation to pay out not less than 86 percent of the money that goes in. According to a casino official, the slots pay out between 87 and 89 percent. Still, after the first day of operation, the casino's 897 machines took in $250,000 for the house.
"You could go broke doing this," Lucchesi says. "But you know, it's more fun than watching television and you could talk to people while you do it just once for my Joey. Every time I pull lever I can see him like it was yesterday."