In the Beginning, I was a nine-year-old kid playing a Superior Jackpot Bell slot machine in the basement of my great grandparents house in Oakland, California. I used to visit for a while with my grandmother and my parents, then head outside to play - but the old, dirt-floor basement under the back of the house always pulled me from other thoughts.
There in the back, by some rolled-up rugs was a heavy, dusty-rusty one-armed bandit, and nothing kept me happier than opening the back and taking the dimes out and playing them through the machine, over and over.
As any young kid can tell you, there was an enormous temptation to take a few of those dimes with me when I left to buy candy or (sound of harps) baseball cards. I was a San Francisco Giants fan, and Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry - holy cow, they were all there, just a few minutes away at Candlestick Park - and a dime bought two packs of cards that offered a chance (slim, mind you) of getting one of their gum cards. So much temptation. But no, no, I wouldn't do it; not even for baseball cards.
I never took a dime, because that slot machine was the best thing in the world. It was sacred, even if nobody in the family remembered it was down there in the basement. And for a long time, all I wanted was a slot machine of my own.
The best I could manage for my own room at home was a 45-cent machine from a strange little store with lots of trinkets from Japan and around the Orient. My math skills were still developing, but my curiosity pushed me to count each stop on the wheels (20 total) and the Bar-Bar-Bar jackpot symbols only came up one time. In addition, a cherry and two cherries only came up once each, and there my friends, was the beginning of my understanding of the magical properties of gambling.
I let my friends play my little slot machine, for a penny a pull, and I paid them 10-cents for a jackpot, two-cents for a cherry, and three-cents for two cherries. They were happily playing a 75% payback machine, and the next week I bought two more machines (all in pennies to the cashier's dismay) and had my own casino.
A few days later my mother came into my bedroom casino and busted me. I was shut down -
out of business, but richer for the experience. I learned to figure some percentages with those little slot machines.
I also learned to calculate a baseball player's batting average (just divide their hits by at-bats) and a pitcher's ERA (earned run average) from the back of those old baseball cards. So, those early cards and slot machines taught me math, and sent me on a path that included playing poker with buddies through high school and college, playing sports through the same time frame, and finally spending my adulthood in casinos - on both sides of the tables.
The casinos have been a good gig for me, and the history of Nevada and how the early casinos were legalized and grew from their original spots in basements (like that old 1928 Caille slot) and second floors to become the lifeblood of Nevada's 20th Century economic base has been a lifelong learning for me.
How many of you have similar interests? How did you get into collecting casino memorabilia, learning about casino history, or into the casino industry? Don't be shy -
Thanks for reading - AL W. Moe.