Sunday, October 23, 2005

River Rock Casino

My husband and I have talked about taking a trip to an Indian casino in lieu of spending the money to go to Reno or Las Vegas off an on throughout the years. But there were always questions that couldn't be answered based on web sites, and the only person I know who goes to them regularly is my Grandmother, and I wasn't about to ask her if they give you free booze.

This past weekend we took a trip to the wine country -- just to get away, rest and rejuvenate ourselves to get through another couple of months of busyness. And, we just so happened to stay in Geyersville, which is home to River Rock Casino! I didn't even realize this until the day we were to leave. I knew it was close by to where we were staying, but I didn't know it was 7 minutes away. Woohoo! Let's pull out money that we really shouldn't in hopes of winning millions! It's the American way!

Now, if you visit their web site, you can tell they're trying to hide something. They really don't give you much information. And that picture on the homepage? Well, they must have borrowed someone's lawn in a vineyard because there is no lawn in sight near the casino. In fact, it's more like a giant cement eyesore in the foothills above Alexander Valley. When driving to our inn at night, when it was dark, and we both saw it before we realized what it was. At night, when everyone else is being quiet and peaceful, with minimum lights blaring (which makes it hard to drive if you don't know the area), River Rock Casino proudly announces itself to everyone within a 30-miles radius. I figured the casino wasn't very big (I got this impression from their minimal web site), so when we were on 101, I wasn't sure that what I was looking at was the casino. My husband thought it was an institution or something.

Turns out that's the parking garages. All three of them with 5 floors each.

Since the roads were so dark with hardly any street lights, we decided going to the casino during night time was not the best idea. So instead of pulling the one-arm bandit's one arm over and over until I ran out of money, we went to a nearby restaurant and had dinner.

The next morning I suggested that we go and find the casino so if we decided to go at night, we'd know where it was. My husband agreed. We turned onto 128 and drove through the country and looked at lovely wineries, and it was all twisty-turny with no obvious lighting. So I suggested we just get the Indian casino portion of our weekend trip over with. Nothing like hitting the slot machines at 11am in the morning! My husband agreed again.

We ended up missing the right turn to the casino, so we had to turn around and go back. My first impression of the casino and this whole Indian casino experience is that we were going to some military encampment. It turns out the casino is up on a hill (and no, I still didn't get the connection that the blaring eyesore was the casino at this point -- I am that dense), and the tourist busses that cart around senior citizens take top priority when going up and down the hill. We had to wait until two came down and one went up before we could go up.

We drove up the road, which was curtained on both sides by lovely country scenery. Then we got to the top, and BAM! all you can see was cement. Cement parking garages, cement parking lot for the "VIPs," and the building itself, which wasn't cement, but wasn't pretty either. Security was everywhere. It all seemed so top secret. Like we were really doing something wrong.

We parked, went downstairs to the ground level, and then began our quest to gamble.

The first question I always had about Indian casinos was whether you can smoke or not. By California law, you can't smoke indoors. There's just something about the thought of entering a casino that doesn't have that layer of cigarette or cigar smoke right at eye level that seems, well, wrong. It just doesn't seem right. Although that would save my husband from having vampire eyes, as I call them, since smoke really bothers his eyes and they turn bright red. So when we walked in, I sniffed but didn't immediately smell anything. Then I spotted this old Asian lady, who was probably about 4 feet tall and all wrinkles, puffing away at cigarette. I started tapping my husband on his side, and I pointed to her. So you can smoke in an Indian casino. That takes care of question number one.

And everyone was smoking, it seemed like. And everyone smoking seemed to be tiny, old, wrinkly Asian people with missing teeth and no regard for others who are trying to walk around.
Oh, but I digress.

We walked around a bit, looking for some interesting 5 cent machines. It's very surreal to be in a casino in California, only 7 minutes away from our inn, where people can freely smoke in the building and the majority of the population were old folks. We played Wheel of Fortune until our 20 dollars ran out, and then my husband wanted to tackle the black jack tables. Since the casino is smaller than the average Reno or Vegas casino (at least it seemed like it to me), there were limited tables. Most of them were full already except one 10 dollar black jack table. I sent my husband off with 40 bucks so he could win us a million, and I wandered around trying to find that one slot machine that was calling my name.

Wandering around took longer than I expected because I kept getting stuck behind tiny old people who walk very very slowly. I ended up in "high limit" slots area, as I usually do at all casinos. No, I don't think I'm a high limit gambler. No, I don't even take those kinds of chances. What it is is this -- I see $5 and I somehow always turn this into 5 cents. Without fail. I have even put my money into a few machines, played once and then realized what I did. It's very disarming when you look at your credits and then they just disappear in two seconds. When I was wandering around River Rock's high limit area (which only goes up to 5 bucks, by the way -- I guess the old folks don't like living large), I kept thinking to myself, wow! What luck -- no one wants to play the fun slots in this area! It took me a few minutes to realize where I was, but I acted cool about it, and I just wandered off to the dollar slots.

I figured I was going to gamble my money anyway, so I may as well do it quickly so we could get out of the place. I put my money into a simple dollar slot machine, lost a couple of bucks, won a couple back, and then cashed out. I wasn't feeling the machine.

I moved to another dollar slot machine that was really calling my name. I put my money in and went up and down for awhile. At one point I was 20 bucks ahead, and I sat there and stared at the machine. I figured if the machine was nice enough to give me 20 bucks, it may be nice enough to give me 60 or even 80 bucks, so I pushed the maximum bid button again. A few minutes later, I had no money. Always cash out! Always cash out!!

I walked over to check up on my husband, and he seemed to be winning, so I went to use the bathroom. I got stuck because of more old folks, so it took a long time to walk 20 feet. I realized on the way to the bathroom that the darn Indian casino had more slot rooms tucked in the back. So it was larger than I thought. If you're allowing that many people to park at there, then I guess you've got to make the room for them.

And then I saw waitresses with trays full of plastic cupped drinks with lids and straws. Aha! This answered question number two! They do serve free drinks (I think)! Of course they aren't going to advertise this on their web site, but I'll tell you, if they did, we would have gone a long time ago. Since I was never asked if I wanted a drink or witnesses a drink transaction, I still don't know if they give you the drinks or not. I'm thinking they do. They don't want the old folks getting crabby.

I did my business and then went back to the black jack table to see how rich we were. My husband was gone. I looked around. No husband in sight. I sat down and was going to call his cell phone to ask where he was, when he popped up out of nowhere. I told him about the hidden slot rooms while he told me how he lost all his money. I told him I watched him before I went to the bathroom and he was winning. He said it was when the tiny Asian men sat down -- they ruined everything. Who knew tiny Asian men caused bad luck. And they were everywhere.

We went to the hidden slot room and played 20 dollars each on the nickel slots. We both lost. My husband suggested going to sit at the bar for a bit.

We headed off to the bar to have a refreshing drink (aka something with alcohol in it). No one was in the bar area. We sat down and looked at the bar's offerings.

"They don't serve alcohol! Let's get out of here!" my husband declared. All along the back of the bar, where your typical fare of hard liquor would be stored, was a lovely selection of water, juice and milk.

Scratch my answer to question number two -- there were no free "drinks" going on here. Only sodas, juices, water and milk. Who drinks milk at a casino?

So we left. I was crushed. My first Indian casino trip was a wash. If I wanted to hang out with a bunch of old, wrinkly Asian folks, I could have gone to Chinatown in SF or to any bus stop in downtown SF. And that darn casino had 160 of my money! I just paid the casino for nothing.

When we walked outside, a bus was just being loaded up with some old folks to take them away. I told my husband that we were going to be those people some day. With name tags and everything.

When we left and got on 101 to head to some wineries for free drinks (also known as "tasting" and I didn't even have to give the wineries money for it), I looked to my left where the casino is located. That's when I finally got that the blaringly lit institution was really the parking garages of the casino. Ack, what an eyesore, I thought.

I'm glad we didn't go there during the night, because if the casino is filled with wrinkly folks during the day, then what's lurking there at night? My husband did see one guy there that we saw at the restaurant the night before. How did he know it was him? Because he was wearing the same shirt. And my husband said I was mean for making fun of the local yokels.

So what did I learn from this excursion? 1. You can smoke in Indian casinos, yet 2. you can't drink alcohol while on the casino floor. And old people get bussed in and out on a regular basis.

And the pictures on River Rock's web site of relatively young people enjoying casino fun is all a ploy to lure us youngsters in and to give away our money for nothing. And to think, if I was an old person who had internet access and liked to look up Indian casinos, I would be a bit put off by all the young folks in the pictures. Really, they should just advertise to those that really go there.

And make sure you read the fine print:

"Will offer regional and local wine selections at the Wine Creek Bar." (A quote from their web site, and no, this is not the bar in the casino - it's separated by doors.)

When? When will you be offering these fine wines? The year 2050?

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