Sunday, December 05, 2004

Jacks or Better

Yesterday afternoon, after I checked the schedues and listings
of the 4-Euro-Tuesday-Movies being presented at the Sony
Center Theatre in Potsdamer Platz, I decided, instead, to do
something that I had not done since coming to Berlin three
and one half years ago. I entered SpielBank, the gambling
casino adjacent to Marlene-Dietrich-Platz.

I looked around on the ground floor. The automatic machines
seemed all to be of the type that operated on rote chance to
win: slots, bingo, and the like. I took the elevator to the second
floor where there were only ‘live’ croupiers and card dealers
-- no machines. Too serious. On the lower floor there were
more machines, but the kind that one is able to play against;
that is, where one can make some choices ... mainly,
variations on the game of poker. I felt around in my pocket and
found that I had one coin that was useable in the machine: a
50-cent euro piece. I dropped it into the slot and suddenly
realized that, although, I knew the rules of poker; I had no idea
how these foreign machines worked. They seemed more
complicated than any I had previously played ... and that was
quite a while ago.

The German words on the selection buttons, gave me only a
general idea about how to begin: which cards I could choose
to ‘hold’ or on which I could demand a ‘hit’. I proceeded slowly.

Card images appeared on the screen, I ‘held’ on two fours and
requested three replacement cards. I pressed the ‘hit’ button.
Suddenly, two sixes joined my two fours. I pressed the ‘enter’,
and two 50-cent coins dropped into the winner tray. I had
doubled my bet.

Beginner’s luck!

The idea that this good fortune, primed by just those two coins
would continue and bank-roll what could become my lucky
day was, I thought, stretching the laws of chance; so,
pocketing those two coins, I went to the cashier cage and
changed a 5-euro note for ten 50-cent pieces, which I decided
would be my limit.

I approached another machine and dropped in a coin. Nothing
happened after I pressed the 'deal' button. I pressed the
'return' button. My coin dropped into the tray. I decided to
move to another machine, repeating the initial process.
Five cards appeared on the screen: two fours again, along
with a jack, a three and a six. I ‘held’ the fours and the jack
and pressed the ‘enter’ button.

Before I realized what my replacement cards were, the
machine started, noisily, to dispense a steady stream of coins
into the winner’s tray. This went on for about one full minute
... until the tray was full. About the time that the last coin
dropped onto the pile, a young man with a street-wise
demeanor quickly approached me and said, “That is my

I looked up at him and said, “Ya, right. I’m sitting here,
playing this machine in which I dropped one of my coins
and you come up and say that the money in the tray is your
money. I don’t think so!”

He coolly replied that he was playing on two machines (this
and the one next to it) and left to tell the cashier that he had
won 200 coins; but could not retrieve them because the
machines can only dispense less than 200 coins at a time.
As he said this, he pointed to a number on the video screen
that now indicated that 191 had been paid-out.

Did he actually think that I should believe that he just walked
away from two machines on which he was playing, leaving
them unattended—just like that—because he had won on
one of them, but could not retrieve his money?

As I didn’t seem to be convinced, he signaled to a roving
employee to come over. She asked what the matter was.
He explained to her what had occurred. She said to me,
“Yes, then, that is his money.”

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. If someone observed
me finding a 100-euro bill on the street and came over
and told me that it was his; was I supposed to believe him?"
She said, “That’s how we do it here, because the machines
will not discharge 200 coins without assistance from
a cashier.”

“He didn’t seem to have very much trouble calling you over
here just now,” I said to her, and turning to him, I continued,
“You could have asked her or someone else who works here
to either report your winnings to the cashier or to wait at
the machine until you came back.”

“You should have looked at the ‘credit’ notice in the window
before you dropped in your coin,” was the only explanation
I got from one of them ... I forgot which. “This would never
happen in Las Vegas,” I volunteered.

“Well, this is Berlin,” she shot back, stating that it was an
unwritten rule. My comment to that was, “Had it been noted
somewhere, I might have realized it was an unwritten rule.”
It was the only thing that I said that she seemed to mull for
a moment. Maybe it was too Zen of a concept—since she had
no immediate, pat retort.

I hate it when people, in their own chauvinistic conceit,
immediately counteract by alluding to The Ugly American
syndrome: about how, in the USA, it is always done better if
not bigger. I was only trying to point out what I thought
would be a universal truth: that gaming for money and the
honor system isn’t a combination one would ordinarily take
for granted as normal or even expected conduct; especially
in a gambling casino.

Other managerial personnel came over to find out what the
fuss was about ... and, they, too, all seemed to agree that this
was not my money. I was out-numbered.

To add insult to coïncidence; because I didn’t quite know
how the machines worked, I had, inadvertently and
automatically during that one and only play, bet and lost
ten of the 200 coins which were cached and being held in
the machine ... hence, the notice on the screen indicating 191
‘paid out‘ coins.

Therefore, as I turned to leave, I was asked by the
management to replace the 9 missing coins (all the
remaining coins in my hand from my changed 5-euro note,
as it happened) so that the official total of 200 coins could
be paid to the decided winner ... which he accepted without

The only thing worse than a poor loser is a winner with
no class.



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Anonymous achim said...

nice story and somewhat typical for you. karma?

anyways, i'll be back soon to celebrate the ten years without updates anniversary of this blog with you...


1:10 PM  

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