Once upon a time, Andy headed off to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. When he came back, I asked how many strip clubs they’d hit.
He said, “None.”
I said, “Liar.”
He said, “No, really,” and handed me some expensive chocolates.
I said, “Exhibit A! Chocolates wrapped in guilt!”
He laughed and said, “You don’t want them?”
“What? Of course I want them. Guilt chocolate tastes the same as regular chocolate.”
Andy handed me another gift — golden earrings. I gasped and said, “What, were there full on hookers?”
He laughed some more. “It wasn’t that kind of party. There was only one white guy.”
“I’m scared to ask what the hell kind of party it WAS! How come you’re giving me all these presents, if not out of guilt?”
Andy shrugged. “I won a lot at the craps table.”
“What? You mean you guys went to Vegas and all you did was GAMBLE? I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“You haven’t been hanging out with enough Chinese people, then.”
I did a little research on gambling while Chinese. Not because I was suspicious, of course, but because I’d never heard about the Chinese gambling issue.
Apparently, I live under a rock. Chinese gambling is huge – and a huge problem. Psychologists theorize that cultural emphasis on numerology, superstition, and luck make gambling especially popular. Games such as Mahjong are an attractive social activity…and possibly gambling’s gateway to casino action.
In Chinese-American immigrants, gambling is even more prevalent. Dr. Timothy Fong, co-director of UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program, explains, “Folks who come here to take a chance and come to America are more likely to gamble because immigrating to America from your homeland is a huge gamble in and of itself.”
Las Vegas recently opened a huge new casino – the Lucky Dragon – to cater to the Chinese gambler. The Lucky Dragon has no high-end bars or nightclubs. There are no shows. The swimming pool is tiny. This casino is all about the gaming, and their Mandarin-speaking staff aim to get their guests to the table with as few distractions as possible.
Within months of opening, the Lucky Dragon turned one of its few restaurants into a VIP gaming room. None of their guests cared about something as trivial as food – they wanted tables for baccarat instead. And they got them.
When my in-laws originally announced their visit, they planned to visit Vegas. I crossed my fingers, hoping they wouldn’t lose their retirement savings and have to move in with us some day.
I figured they’d realized the house always wins and wanted to save money.
I was half wrong. Sunny and Jay saved money by avoiding hotel and airfare to Vegas. But that was only because they had another plan.
My in-laws had discovered, through the wonders of the internet, California Tribal Gaming. Because American Indian Tribes are technically sovereign, they aren’t subject to state laws regulating gambling. Some of their casinos are within driving distance of LA.
They wanted me to drive them there and back again.
I refused. I have no interest in gambling. I loathe casinos, where the desperation is as tangible as the cigarette smoke. I would have no part in the bankrupting of my in-laws and – more importantly — no part of the I-10 Freeway during rush hour.
I told them this in no uncertain terms, of course: “Sorry Jay, Sorry, Sunny, there’s just…no way I can leave the dogs that long.”
Dogs are almost as good at providing excuses as they are at farting.
Sunny and Jay never take no for an answer, of course. They told me the dogs could hold their pee, or be left in the yard.
I countered with stories of Woofie’s bottomless holes.
Sunny told me to get a pet-sitter. I told her how expensive pet-sitters are.
She told me she would win more than enough money to pay the sitter.
“You can’t,” I argued. “It’s simple math. Even craps offers the house a .8% edge.”
“That’s why I play the slot machines.”
“What?! Sunny, that’s so much worse! The house has something like a 17% edge!”
“Not for me. I am lucky!”
I don’t know about lucky, but my mother-in-law was determined. By the end of the evening, she and Jay had convinced Andy to take them gambling. On the Friday before the family barbeque. This meant I’d have to do most of the prep work. But since was my only chance to be alone in weeks, I sent them on their way with a cheerful wave.
Then I spent all day baking desserts and cleaning.
Well, not all day. At 5:30 PM I got a blissful half-hour on our backyard swing in the sunshine. I even allowed Woofie on the swing with me. We smelled the orange blossoms, enjoyed the singing birds, and thought life was good.
Until I heard the doors of our brand new, less-than-a-month-old car slam. Sunny yelled, “Did Andy tell you?! It’s not good!”
“No! What? Is everything okay?” I asked. “Did he re-injure his knee? Is he okay?!”
Sunny’s next words do nothing to alleviate my concerns.
“Not good, not good!”
Not helpful, not helpful! I was running for the car when Andy appeared. He looks miserable.
“What’s wrong, are you okay?!”
Andy shook his head. “A rock hit the windshield on the interstate.”
“Oh, crap. How bad?”
“Not good!” Sunny interrupted. “I see the rock coming, I tell him swerve, but he doesn’t! The rock hit the glass. Not good!” She shook her head. Obviously, this could all have been avoided if her son had only listened to her.
Andy’s jaw clenched, but he said nothing. He knew it was useless to tell Sunny that if he had swerved on the freeway at over 75 mph, none of them would be standing there. His parents didn’t grow up driving cars. They have never driven a car over 45 mph, in fact. (This is possible in Hawaii, where the only highway has a speed limit of 50 mph.)
I led Andy to the swing, put my arms around him, and told him to smell the orange tree.
Sunny wandered around the yard, telling the dogs and the birds that it is, “Not good! Not good! Very bad.”
I’d had enough. “So, Sunny, how much money did you win?”
“Oh, well, you know, that casino is no good.”
“Really? Sunny, did you lose money? But you said you were so lucky, you would win money!”
Sunny edged away. “I’m lucky. Just a bad casino. But only lost a little money.”
In my white world, you never ask about money. But my in-laws had such scruples and I was on a mission of vengeance. So I did the unthinkable. “How much money did you lose, Sunny?”
“Just a little,” Sunny mumbled, then fled into the house.
We sat in silence and orange fragrance for a few minutes. Then my husband told me how much money his parents lost.
“Gah!” I sputtered. “There’s no ‘little’ about THAT. And there’s no ‘lucky,’ either!”
But later, looking at the sider-webbing crack in our new windshield, I realized that a minor incident could have been much worse.
The rock could have been much bigger.
Andy could have listened to his mother.
The rock might have been tossed at another car. That driver might have panicked, swerved, hit the brakes, and caused a massive accident.
Maybe Sunny was pretty lucky after all.