The Casino Morongo Experience

90 miles. It’s not a short drive to the closest Indian casino around Los Angeles, but the lure of low-stakes gambling was too much. The only other game in town was Commerce Casino, and well… I’ll have more to say on that. The point is that the drive seemed a small price to pay for the opportunity of a lifetime. An Indian lifetime. And if you found that line as funny as I did, you have serious problems. Well, it seemed worth the drive until my friend Yukio and I hit traffic about 50 miles in. Digression, first of many. See, the thing about this traffic is that it is completely inexplicable. There was one accident in that stretch of open road, but all that did was block off maybe 300 feet in the slow lane of a five-lane freeway. It somehow backed everyone up sporadically for about ten miles, even without an actual point of impact: no interchanges, new traffic, lane merges, nothing. Just idiots slowing down, and more idiots like me doing the same because we have no choice. End digression. What the slowdown did do was give us time to think about what this Indian casino held in store.

Remember the Family Guy episode where the Griffins stop off at an Indian casino? The whole thing was completely exaggerated, with the giant teepee, the desert look, and the names of employees ranging from Change for a buck to Deals with his wrist. Take that and go even further, and that was what we had in mind. All the guys would wear giant headdresses and carry tomahawks. If someone called for security, they would take their hands to their mouths and start doing chants. The war paint would come out at a moment’s notice. The cards would be made of cowhide, and there’d be beads and arrowheads instead of chips. There wouldn’t be any lights anywhere, just a bunch of fires here and there. The bathroom would contain a stream where you would do your business, and a second one to run your hands through. Get a good hand at the table? “Thanks, Sitting Bull!” Or Rolling Thunder or something. And if you lose, well, consider it reparation for the whole ‘stealing their land and pillaging their women’ thing. Good times. Or not. Anyway, traffic finally let up.

A note to prospective visitors: never, EVER visit on Saturday afternoons. After some maneuvering inside, I settled in front of a video poker machine – Jokers Wild. Within three minutes, I lost ten dollars. See, what happens is when you win, you can double up by choosing a card against the computer. It’s war, sudden death. I won maybe four times, and tried doubling up twice… and both times the computer picked aces. Goodbye, ten dollars. From there it was onto an electronic slot machine. There were five rows going down, and seven different betting lines. None of it made sense – instead of standard stuff like cherries, bars, and 7s, my machine had rhinos, flowers, 10s, and all this other shit. Still, I inserted two dollars, and promptly lost about all of that in a minute. With one credit left, I had a final go. Pressing spin, I looked to the middle line – my lone betting line – and I got a 10… and four flowers. FOUR fucking flowers. What did I win? Nothing. The original plan was to have a stash of winnings from the machines and head over to the tables with confidence. With that blown to hell, it was to the tables anyway.

The good news was that the blackjack tables at Morongo were nice and normal. See, I had gone to the Commerce Casino just a week or so earlier with my friends Maany and Todd for my birthday. Not only was it the most ghetto place ever, with an atmosphere reminiscent of a dim sum restaurant, but the tables were complete bullshit. Ten dollar minimums, an extra dollar per bet, weird no bust rules, 1x instead of 1.5x payout for blackjacks, and out of order dealing (the house’s second card coming after everyone else finished their hands). I won maybe one hand, tied another, and lost 60 dollars in under 10 minutes. The lesson? Commerce is poison. Where was I again? The bad news was that the Morongo tables were packed. After about an hour of fruitless waiting, we headed over to A&W for a food break. Best decision of our lives. See, both Yukio and I decided to get the same chili dog combo meal. When I got my order, they told me that the chef had accidentally made a third chili dog… so they just gave it to us. Three chili dogs for the price of two. At that moment, I declared, “This is the turning point of the night.” I swear. And we traversed back into Indian nation to test our luck once more.

About fifteen minutes later, I was sitting down at a five dollar blackjack table. My first hand? Blackjack. This guy across the way said, “Welcome to the table.” Welcome indeed. That’s when I looked at the dealer’s hand… blackjack. Damn. Despite that ominous proceeding, however, I had myself a nice run early, getting settled with the extra bank. A little while later, however, the guy next to me asked for an ashtray. And when I reminisce about my life one day, I’ll pinpoint it as the exact moment that I contracted lung cancer, because the guy ended up literally blowing smoke in my face for the next hour. Still, it was a small price to pay for the precious spot at the table. I remained a little up, never in danger of losing overall, and content with my meager winnings. After some more time at the table, I had a run where I busted about three consecutive times. Taking it as a sign from the Indian gods, I gave up my seat. Up thirty dollars, the night was over. It was a long ride home, but sweet nonetheless – a small victory over the sovereign nation presided by Chief Morongo, casino mogul.

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