This time last Friday, three friends and I sat on top of each other in the backseat of a 2009 Nissan Rogue that comfortably seats two, inching along the Lincoln Tunnel. It was the first time I’d been in a car that wasn’t a taxi in over a month, and unlike cabs—which work by magic and have never crashed in the history of transportation—we were almost rear-ended 78 times in the bumper-to-bumper chaos of 495. Like any self-respecting group of broke postgrads, we had decided to cram in our Long Island friend’s car instead of taking a bus, and now we were paying the price... one tap away from becoming a Pinto safety film.
But the risk was worth it. Matt, the most degenerate of gamblers in the group, had been comped a free room at the Borgata for various degenerate gambling-type things done in his last trip to Atlantic City, and we had 18 hours to “responsibly” drink, gamble, and eat Fatburger. For a few (including me), this represented the first time we had ever played blackjack and roulette with our own money.
What follows are the brief thoughts of what I learned over an 18-hour stretch in which I drank one too many Johnnie Walker Reds, almost lost my rent money, and saw the sleep-deprived brink of Atlantic City insanity—that moment when you lose all track of time, inhale way too much casino floor oxygen, and think the girl behind you who may be a prostitute is into you—and yet you still, somehow, come out on top.
5. Gamble low (at first)
Six of us made the trek to the Borgata from New York, while one friend who works in D.C. drove up four hours, solo, and met us there at 9:30 p.m. His first move? Sitting down at the $25/hand blackjack table and going down big. He spent the next 30 minutes trying to build it back up—but it just wasn’t in the cards. So while three of us stayed at the $10/hand table (where we had started the night), he moseyed over to the Hold ‘em poker table and busted out completely on his 5th hand.
Got that? After a four-hour trek, a few hundred dollars were gone in 35 minutes, and now he had nothing to do except drink, keep one eye on the Bulls overtime game, and talk trash over our shoulders for the rest of the night. Meanwhile, those of us who started small and gradually upped the bets over the course of the night may not have won a ton, but at least we were able to find entertainment for, like, 8 straight hours.
And if you blow it all early on big bets in a place like Vegas, where many times you’ll have dinner and club plans later? Whew. It’s a vacation-ruiner. Says J. Camm:
“I've fallen victim to the ‘I'm gonna have a gold-plated dick by the time I leave this casino’ mentality many, many times. It always starts as a early-in-the-day visit to the casino (in Vegas or AC) and it ends up with me maxing out my daily ATM withdrawal and calling my creditcard to give me another thousand dollars by 3 p.m. By 5 p.m. I'm down $1,500 and can't afford to go out at night let alone spend any more money for the next 2 nights. One time my bank thought my debit and credit cards were stolen because how badly I abused them, so they canceled each of them and I had no money for the rest of my trip. Sucks when that happens only 4 hours after you landed.”
4. Be a quality addition to your table
The blackjack table is always an interesting sociological cross-section. Mine featured a man of indeterminate Eastern European origin who, no joke, had a BEEPER on his belt and would frequently mumble at it then disappear for 15-minute stretches; my friend Alex to my left; Beeper Man’s wife, who, 40 years ago, memorized the Hit/Stay chart and never failed me when I needed help on one of those iffy 13 against a dealer’s 2 situations; a redneck guy who secretly had around 10 grand in chips in front of him (at the $10/minimum table); and an awful, awful woman who will now provide a tidy, nice example of six ways you can get a table to hate you.
- Awful Woman used her phone constantly. This is a big casino no-no, and it was the reason why 20% of her conversations with the dealer went, “BUT I’M JUST CHECKING THE TIME.”
- Awful Woman pointed out when you were doing well and if you had a couple of blackjacks in a row. “Hey, look at Mr. Chip Stack over here!” This inevitably would cause you to lose 15 hands in a row.
- Awful Woman was rude to the dealer, which brought everyone’s mood down at the table.
- Awful Woman questioned your decision to double-down on an 11.
- Awful Woman was noticeably drunk, and would take 10 seconds to make a decision. (Should have called her Tom Brady HEY-O.)
- Awful Woman made awful decisions on when to hit, which blew the shoe and caused everyone to lose at least twice when the dealer was originally showing a four.
Pit bosses: Leave the card counters alone. Have these people kneecapped.
3. Tip well
After swinging up, things got rough around 2 a.m. I had bought back in once, and my strategy—bet low, but don’t be afraid to start betting high after a bad stretch because the cards have to turn—wasn’t exactly working. Then with the encouragement of the Madeline the dealer, who was in the ethically complicated position of trying to help me while simultaneously trying to keep me playing for the Borgata’s benefit, guided me through an iffy 7-7 split against an 8 after I had made a big initial bet. Well, she actually didn't just give me advice. She took my drunken "Hit!" as a "I'm considering a split here."
Anyway, it totally paid off, and I was back in it. More tip for Madeline!
2. Have a back-up plan
At the beginning of the night, the seven of us signed our names down for a list to get into the Borgata’s club. Because we're all broke, we agreed that we would go there after we reached our limits rather than taking out more money. Two guys went through with this after they went over, and for the rest of us, it was beautiful: We were able to follow in real-time text messages the saga of how both forced their way onstage to dance with the club go-go girls, and how both were escorted out by large bouncers very shortly afterward.
1. Quit when you know it’s leaving time
At like 5 a.m., I was up a lot. I was also hungry, had almost missed my turn twice, couldn’t add numbers correctly anymore, and had started to bet way too aggressively. Somehow I had the presence of mind to cash out before the bets started to ruin me. Which was great, because Fatburger was open.
This is a lesson for anyone in Atlantic City and Vegas really. There's always, always Fatburger.
Post-Sad appears every Tuesday.