Mancuso was intrigued. The Tropicana has 37,000 games on its casino floor, mostly slot and video poker machines. But this was a new concept. The Carnival cruise line has used Pedal n' Play slots on its ships. But Mancuso says he wanted the Trop to be the first "land-based" casino to have it.
So on Nov. 3, with much fanfare, Pedal n' Play made its debut here. The Atlantic City and Philadelphia newspapers and TV stations played it up big. But Mancuso realizes Pedal n' Play is still a novelty.
He's jazzed about its potential. But gamblers can be fickle, so he's taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach as to whether it'll actually take off with his customers.
"This is just one more form of entertainment here," he says. "We'll see how it goes. If it takes off, we can always expand it."
Over the next two hours, the Pedal n' Play slots get steady play, drawing the curious and adventurous from all over the casino.
Dolores Hancock, the New Jersey senior, quits after a few minutes without hitting a winner. After Mancuso splits, I sidle up to her to get her unvarnished impressions of the Trop's new toy. "So," I say, "your first time. How'd it go?"
"My last time," she says emphatically. "I wasn't happy about it. I was looking forward to burning a few calories. But there's no place to put your pocketbook."
That's it? You're ripping it for a lack of pocketbook storage space?
"Yeah," she says. "That's important to me."
But Mark Reynolds, a tall, distinguished-looking man from Hackensack, N.J., who says he's an usher at Giants Stadium, has a different take on the machines. He has put 20 bucks in the machine and been pedaling steadily for five minutes when I stick a notebook in his face, which is now the color of a cherry tomato.
"I love it! It's good exercise," says the 59-year-old.
This is followed by 10 seconds of the kind of raspy, labored breathing that used to land people in an iron lung.
"But it's tiring," he gasps finally. "I'm sweating, man!"
After another five minutes and a couple of winners - the lights flash and coins come cascading down when you hit, just like any other slot - Reynolds gets up from the machine and announces he needs a smoke. This simple act underscores one of the obvious problems with Pedal n' Play: You might need an iron lung if you exercise regularly in this environment.
In much of the rest of the country, smoking is considered passe, even lowbrow. But in the casinos of Atlantic City, everyone seems to smoke. It's almost as you've been transported back to the '50s and '60s, to an era when the health risks of smoking weren't widely known. You get the feeling if you brought up the subject here, a lot of these gamblers would say: "Wait a minute - the surgeon general says these are bad for you?"
While the Pedal n' Play machines have tiny no-smoking signs on them, smoking is allowed just about everywhere else in the casino. The result is that a thin gray haze of cigarette smoke hangs permanently in the air. So pedaling an exercise bike and filling your lungs with this second-hand smoke might be worse for you than getting no exercise at all.
Plus your typical casino habitue - at least, the one who smokes and drinks when he gambles - is probably not coming to the Trop to work out, anyway.
Another obvious problem with Pedal n' Play is illustrated a few minutes later by a 22-year-old phys ed teacher named Jennifer Sammons from Pitman, N.J.
Sammons is on a Pedal n' Play slot called Triple Diamond, and right now she's really going at it, pedaling like Lance Armstrong on the last leg of the Tour de France.
The Lifecycle readout says she's burned 270 calories going into her seventh minute on the "fat-burn" program. Befitting her occupation, Sammons, a pretty blonde, is trim and healthy-looking.
But right now, she's starting to sweat. And this does not sit well with her since:
a) There is no place to shower nearby.
b) She did not bring a change of clothing.
c) Like most people, she is not comfortable gambling while sweating like Tony Siragusa in the fourth quarter against the Steelers.
"I just wanted to try it," Sammons says, quitting after burning through 300 calories and 20 bucks. "It's actually pretty fun. But I don't want to be sweating."
But, who knows? Maybe to some people, getting a workout on a Lifecycle in the middle of a crowded, smoky casino makes perfect sense. The people who run the Trop are about to find out.
Soon, Mancuso and his people say, they may even pipe in upbeat "exercise-y" music to motivate the Pedal n' Play crowd. And the slots attendants might even dress in snazzy workout outfits and hand out headbands and water bottles to their customers.
For me, it's all too much to contemplate. And as Mark Reynolds fires up another Marlboro Light and Jennifer Sammons heads off with her parents to drop some cash in another part of the casino, I head for the exit, past the sign that never fails to amuse me, the one that says: "Bet with your head - not over it. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER."
Oh, my. How could you not love this town?