Man of mystery

The siren sounded atop the high stakes machine, and hundreds of silver dollars started spilling into the metal tray. A woman sporting a wedding veil and a matching gray sweat suit (only in Vegas, baby) answered with the chicken dance as her honeymoon kicked off in fine form.

The slots at the Hard Rock Casino were clearly getting hot, and I was there, front and center, on that chance visit more than a decade ago. Itching for a little honeymoon of my own, I dug deep, felt for a quarter and plugged it into a neighboring machine. “C’mon baby,” I called out to the great gambling goddess in the sky.

Unlike the newlywed, my thrills lasted the three seconds it took a single bar, a cherry and what looked like sour grapes to line up in front of me. Just as I reached for another quarter, a familiar hand tapped me on the shoulder. The whole crew – my lowly pack of college chums – was there.

“Word to the wise,” a Deadhead turned investment banker laughed. “Slots are for suckers.” He then pointed me to straight to a vacant seat at the blackjack table, and the bachelor party officially began.

I suavely nodded at Lin, our Filipina dealer, and doing my debonair best plucked a crisp twenty from my pocket (fairly big meat for this mountain town journalist). Lin answered with a chuckle and then tapped the $25 minimum bet sign. I promptly flushed the same red as Ginger Spice’s jumpsuit (which happened to be on display just beyond the table) and forked over all four twenties in my wallet. In exchange, I received three aqua colored $25 chips sporting Hendrix’s mug and a fiver (a tipping chip or so my friends informed me).

Once again, my thrills were brief and costly. After a few quick hands, I’d officially busted; Lin held my precious Jimis; and I eagerly swapped my fiver for the comfort of a double Jameson’s. Looking back, I should have just set fire to those four bills. The experience might have lasted longer.

So it was that I swore off of Las Vegas and entered the world of gambling abstinence. So potent was my Hard Rock dejection that I easily dodged the slots at a Nevada border truck stop; happily looked the other way during a recent stop at a casino in Grand Cayman; and politely declined when my daughter suggested we up the stakes during a heated match of “Go Fish” in mid-May.

But the one-armed bandit was never far off, and my losing ways worked back into my life just three weeks ago during a return stay at the Sky Ute Lodge & Casino. And I did say “return stay,” but it’s not what you think.

The truth is I first spent the night at the Sky Ute Lodge more than three decades ago. My Dad had come up more than a little short on a road trip to Santa Fe, and the exhausted man parked the family in Ignacio for the weekend. Let’s just say that was way back before the “odds on fun were second to none.”

The roles were reversed for the “return stay,” however. Now I was “Dad” and

escorting my soon-to-be 8 year old daughter and five of her best-friends-forever for a night of birthday revelry inside the reconstructed, reapportioned and reopened Sky Ute Lodge and Casino. Skyler had requested an overnight pool party for the big occasion, and all roads seemed to lead to Ignacio.

As it turned out, a night at the Sky Ute offered up all of the glamour, glitz and faux Vegas charm any pre-teen could possibly want. And nearly all the pieces magically came together for the girls during that sugarcoated trip to the big time.

First stop on the one-night whirlwind was the pool, where the young-and-the-restless basked in warm waters, took in the splash of fountains and happily discovered the button for the “bubble chair.” All swum-out, the ladies freshened up, splashed a little glitter on their third and fourth grade cheeks and then made like they were going to hit the tables.

“OK Dad, we’re ready to hit the casino,” Skyler announced in far-too-mature tones. “Let’s get this party started!” Fortunately, the tables, slots and bingo parlors were all off limits for this far-from-legal crew, and though the little ladies kept trying to cross the carpeted line and step into the glitterati, it would be the bowling alley and the miniature golf course on this Las Ignacio trip. A couple laps at the all-you-can-eat Italian buffet rounded out the evening, and by then the celebrants were officially Sky Uted. The girls settled in for a PG movie (as taboo as this tour would get), and Mom and Dad cashed in our proverbial chips and crashed out.

The following morning we made for the car and the 29.5 mile return to Durango. But the casino still beckoned with its familiar ring-a-ding, and the girls all looked wistfully into the flashing lights and a far off future. “Well, this just sucks,” whispered a normally subdued 9-year-old member of the brat pack. “Only one night at the casino and no gaming.”

I also tasted some of my own remorse as I walked the girls outside. But unlike the 9-year-old, I took matters into my own hands “Oops, I think I forgot something,” I said aloud. “I need to run back in. I’ll just be a second.”

At that moment, Daddy went to the dark side, stepping back through the swinging front doors and saddling up at a slot machine. I produced a shiny 25 cent piece, plugged it into the slot and pushed the large flashing button on the “Aristocrat.”

Hoping for a little luck and some paydirt to cover the birthday bash, I gave the machine a tender rub as the wheels spun round and round. “C’mon baby,” I called out to the great gambling goddess in the sky. But alas, she must have been out on a smoke break, and that same single bar, cherry and what looked like sour grapes clicked into place.

“Well, that sucks,” I told myself. “I guess some of us just aren’t cut out to be high rollers.”

– Will Sands



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January 26, 2024
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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows