First, I’m not a gambler. I have a bit of a compulsive personality, so I know that dropping money in a slot machine or playing black jack just wouldn’t be a good fit for me. So this isn’t about me winning enough to retire or even buy a cheeseburger


We were in Des Moines Sunday night, staying overnight at the Prairie Meadows Hotel so we didn’t have to be on the road at 4:00 AM that Monday morning. Monday was the Iowa Council of Social Studies annual conference, and we decided to go. It was an okay conference, nothing that just blew me out of the water because the conference was billed “Soaring with Social Studies”. We were looking for relationship building ideas with social studies, Leader in Me ideas, and while we came back with some really good stuff, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. We may go back next year, but that’s 364 days off!

We got there 8:00ish PM on Sunday night, and I watched part of the Cowboys game in my room. Then, the thought was, “Shoot, I’m in a hotel with a big casino attached to it! I’ll be I can find the game on and find some Cowboys fans too!” So I took my room key and started wandering. The hotel bar was closed (what??) so I went to the casino to check things out. I should have just stayed in my room.


As I walked in, I’m overwhelmed with the lights and sounds of slot machine central! The bigger the slot, the bigger the prize you could win. And at these slots, older middle aged or elderly people, most with a cigarette in their mouths, eye glazed over, hitting buttons repeatedly. As I worked my way in, the smell of smoke caught me off guard because it’s so foreign anymore. My college years were spent washing clothes after going out on a Saturday night because of the bar smoke. As we’ve figured out smoking is a terrible thing, bars today have a funky smell, but not of smoke, not anymore. This was such a flash back to those days.


What struck me the most, the zombie eyes. Those eyes that were so trained on the flashing screen and lights, without a spark or a life of their own. I found a small bar, but it was covered with smokers, hashing over Trump’s impeachment dangers rather than the Cowboys game. So I went deeper. I actually found the “no smoking” section of the casino, but guess what, just like the airplanes we used to ride when we were little, where the smokers were in the front and the non-smokers in the back, it smell of cigarettes.

The only place in the entire place where I felt people were actively engaged was at the poker/black jack/craps tables. There, guys were high fiving each other, others moaning in  disappointment at the wrong color or card. But more importantly, all eyes had life to them. There was joy and heartbreak and a little bit of anger all mixed in. Not the dull, lifeless eyes of those playing slots.

So, the moral of this story: find a tribe, find a buddy, find someone to go to the casino with you and don’t play the slots (unless you are really lucky!). We were in Vegas a long time ago, and I lost $20 in about 5 minutes playing the dollar slots. My wife, she played the nickel slots, and played for almost 20 minutes.

Either way, go somewhere that you can keep the life in your world going strong because there’s nothing sadder that someone sitting alone on a Sunday night, mindless pushing a button.

And not winning.