Reeling in Players

Pat Lamendola is a button pusher.

Oh, she says she likes video poker, playing at Aliante Station a few days each week. But when she talks about Quick Hit machines, she gets a glint in her eye and you can tell, slots are really her game.

On a recent snowy Monday, Lamendola stands in line to play in a slot tournament at Aliante Station. Fresh off a $160 win at a Quick Hit slot machine, Lamendola admits this isn’t her first time in a slot tourney, although it is her first in Las Vegas; she doesn’t like them but the entry is free. She can’t resist.

More than 500 people feel the same way, a good turnout for a cold, wet Monday. From 2 to 8 p.m., would-be tournament players file past the velvet ropes surrounding a bank of slot machines in the north end of the casino. They are young, old, middle-age. Most of them, however, are retired and live in Sun City Aliante just down the street.

Some admit slot tournaments seem a little odd and mysterious, at least to the uninitiated.

“We can’t wait to see how this works,” says Deronta Thomas, waiting in line with his wife, Dana. “This is our first time playing in one. I’ve always wondered what this is about.”

Slot tournaments are offered by several casinos; the rules and payouts vary. However, they all have the same basic concepts: Players buy in, sit at an assigned slot machine and then slap the heck out of the spin reel button for a short period of time, about five minutes. Winners are usually based on highest point totals.

“We offer slot tournaments because we have guests who would like to participate in a race to the finish,” says Aliante Station spokesman Joe Hasson. “It gives them a chance to compete against other people rather than a device.”

“It was exciting, a lot of fun,” Dana Thomas says after she finishes playing. Her husband, on the other hand, is a little upset.

“Number 13 went down on me,” he says. His chosen slot machine stopped working in the middle of the competition because he committed the worst of slot tournament faux pas: He pulled the handle.

“You’re not supposed to pull the lever. I didn’t know that,” Deronta Thomas says.

It was a slot tournament at the Westward Ho that got Janet Coco to visit Las Vegas for the first time more than 15 years ago. It interested her because it seemed like a sure thing and she wanted to win. She’s never won.

Even though playing seems mindless, everyone has his or her own technique, says Coco, now a Sun City resident. Everyone but her, that is.

“I have no technique. I wish I did. They all call me the loser,” she says, and, as if to prove her point, she adds, “I’m missing a husband,” then leaves to find him.

In the midst of the competition, players “can feel the adrenaline pumping,” Hasson says.

Lamendola doesn’t seem to have that adrenaline rush as she sits at her machine, No. 19, and taps the spin reel button repeatedly. It takes four taps — three for the max bet and one for the reels to spin — for each turn, but players tend to keep up a continuous motion. Instead, she seems like a seasoned slot veteran, comfortable enough in her skills to check out the competition.

Some focus on their machines while others nonchalantly carry on conversations with their neighbors.

Earlier, Lamendola explained that slot players are a curious sort with a certain personality. They carry good luck charms and engage in little rituals that make no sense to others. Sort of like bingo players, only a bit misunderstood.

“Some people rub the machines,” Lamendola says, not clarifying that “some people” includes her.

“I like to pick my machine,” she says, adding that’s the main reason she dislikes tournaments, because the machines are assigned.

Under normal circumstances, Lamendola walks along until she gets the feeling that tells her this is the machine she needs to pump her money into. Though she can’t do that in this tournament, she remains upbeat: The entry is free, she notes, several times.

After the attendant escorts her to the competition area, Lamendola rubs the sides of her slot machine and caresses the screen before playing.

“I have a four-leaf clover,” she offers.

A fat lot of good it does her, as she finishes the five minutes with 2,643 points. Her earlier winnings gave Lamendola enough points for an additional free buy-in so she asks if she can switch machines. Like a human metal detector, her head swivels between the open machines until Lamendola is drawn to No. 3.

“You need those diamonds,” she coaxes the reels that aren’t giving her much of anything.

“No good,” Lamendola says at the end of her allotted time.

She waits on her husband, Tony, who played at a neighboring machine. He isn’t doing so well, either.

“I’m getting tired,” Tony says to her.

“Change hands, then. Maybe the diamonds will come with the left hand,” Pat Lamendola urges him and, almost as though the machine hears her, he gets diamonds.

“There you go!”

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.

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