On opening night of the big, snazzy Maryland Live Casino, I took Forget-About It Money (money I was prepared to forget about) to something called the High Limit Room because I heard you could get a drink there without waiting long in line. A uniformed casino employee pointed me toward an attractive, middle-aged woman in a black dress. She was sitting in front of a $5 machine. The machine had just paid off $800. For someone who a moment earlier had won that kind of money after two bets, the woman seemed incredibly relaxed — or perhaps she was emotionally spent. I was self-conscious of invading her space, of having intruded into an intimate, apres moment, but I had to ask:
"Are you a plant?"
"What?" said the woman, who gave her name as Sharee.
"Do you work for David Cordish and the casino?"
"You're not here to seduce us into playing the $5 slots?"
"No," she said, and then went on to tell about her and her husband's business: heating, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing, water-sewage treatment plants. Their company, out of the Pittsburgh area, had done the mechanical work on the casino and, like other contractors who had built the place, they were in Arundel Mills on Wednesday night to celebrate Maryland Live's opening.
So, what happened? I sat down and played the $5 machine, of course. Keep in mind: I had limited Forget-About-It Money. I won't say how much. I'll just say this: I lasted about five minutes at the $5 machine.
I had no business in the High Limit Room with the woman from the HVAC industry. So I went out into the main casino, with the $1 and $2 machines. My Forget-About-It money lasted a little longer out there.
See, this is what happens: You take a bill, nothing smaller than a five, and you slip it into one of the hundreds of machines on the casino floor. The number "5" appears in red on the machine.
Then you push a button. Then you hear a little music jingle as brightly colored symbols or numbers zip by on a simulated reel on a video screen. If the symbols and numbers line up in a certain order, you win varying amounts of money, and the amount you win is instantly added to the amount you have to play. Your eye goes to the number in red. In my case, it jumped up to "39" for a few minutes, which means I had a little good-luck roll.
I could have quit while I was ahead.
But I didn't, of course.
Like a kid playing a video game with a touch screen, I kept pressing the button.
If you happen to be playing the right machine at the right moment, the number in red gets higher. If not, it dwindles and dwindles and your Forget-About-It money is soon forgotten. Which is what happened to me.
There's no skill involved. The whole thing is computerized, of course. I tried to put a little flair into my button-pushing. I stood up at one point, shot my cuffs and slapped the button with dandy relish. I cashed out a couple of times and tried a different machine. But it didn't seem to matter. Forget About It.
This is gambling for the digital age, for a new generation that prefers games on video screens. David Cordish, the developer of Maryland Live, is bullish on it.
Now there's serious talk about adding table games to Mr. Cordish's casino and the others authorized by the state. This would allow them — force them — to hire human dealers to handle cards and wheels and chips. That's a good, if nostalgic, idea because it will add excitement and, more than anything, build the kind of atmosphere you feel in Vegas or Atlantic City.
If gambling can be said to be fun, for me, it's at a craps table, where's there's real people and lots of chatter. It's human theater. You might even see guys with pinkie rings and hear them say stuff like, "Frankie needs a pair of shoes" as they roll the dice. You might also hear us grumble, "Forget about it," but at least the action is real and not generated by a computer.
Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR-FM, 88.1. His email is email@example.com.