“Blackjack!” called the dealer as she pushed a few more chips into the ever-growing pile in front of me.
The scruffy, middle-aged Irishmen sitting at the blackjack table next to me shifted in their seats, shooting annoyed glances my way. I could practically hear their thoughts, partially because they were my own. “Who was this girl, this American girl, no less? This is unbelievable!”
No less than an hour ago I had walked into the Sporting Emporium Casino with just €10 (all that I had left), and now…well now I had way more than €10 worth of chips in front of me. I didn’t even want to count it—I just wanted to stare at it.
The night had started off casually enough. It was my friend Josh’s* birthday, and our last night in Ireland before our school trip took us to Wales for the final leg of our journey. The next morning we would be on a ferry to Wales and exchanging our euros for pounds. Since this was 2012, when Greece’s financial crisis was plaguing the EU economy, the euro to pound ratio wasn't the best, and we knew we’d be losing money on our transaction.
That’s when someone had the idea to go to a casino for Josh’s birthday. We were going to lose money anyway in the morning…why not lose it ALL tonight? In a few minutes, Josh, Marty, Jason, Mae (our awesome trip coordinator), and I were standing at the bus stop, waiting for the 49 to take us into the city.
The first casino we found a few blocks (or maybe a lot of blocks) from our stop was manned by giant, intimidating, bald Russian man, who was very suspicious of our presence.
“What you want here?” he demanded of us, a group of slightly skittish looking American law students, “You know how to play?”
Josh managed to talk us through the door to look around and check out what the casino was like and decide if we wanted to stay. As we walked through the small casino with its slightly shabby interior, I got an eerie feeling. The casino was mostly devoid of anyone who didn’t look like a minion in a Godfather movie and there was a rather large forbidding door that I assumed led to some backroom/high-stakes game.
The Russian stared at us imperiously as we made our way around. Josh, I, and the others exchanged looks that seemed to say “Some sh*t is about to go down here tonight…Is this where we want to die?”
Josh very kindly thanked the Russian man, and simply stated we had decided to go somewhere else, preferably before we wound up at the bottom of a river with concrete tied to our feet. Now, I could be totally wrong and that first casino was a completely safe and reputable place. However, when traveling anywhere, it’s always best to trust your gut, and our collective gut (guts?) told us to get the hell out of there.
So, after we were safely out on the street and away from the giant Russian, Marty, or MapQuest Marty, as we called him, set about finding a new casino. Within a few minutes, he’d found a very upscale one in a nondescript building a few streets off of Grafton Street called the Sporting Emporium.
Marty, Josh and Jason went to go finagle our entry, because it looked like a pretty “members only” place. Don’t ask me how, but somehow we all ended up with (what I believe to be) lifetime memberships to the casino and free drinks for the night—it never hurts to travel with highly persuasive people!
Inside, the casino was cozy and fun. Unlike the casinos in the States with vaulted ceilings and bright fluorescent lights and machines shouting “Wheel! Of! FORTUNE!” this casino felt like some secret, up-scale, “invites only” club. With a bar and flat-screens along one wall and tables ringing the others, I was pleasantly surprised. With the most recent casino fresh in my mind, I’d been apprehensive to visit another one, but this one gave off a safe and welcoming vibe.
Now, I’m more of a slots girl, and I wasn't very knowledgeable of the finer points of table games at the time (my first time at roulette was more of a guessing game). So, upon not finding any slots, I went to go find Josh at the blackjack table.
As I approached him, I could tell he was doing well, he already had a little pile of chips in front of him. “You wanna play?” he asked me as I approached, motioning to the empty seat beside him.
I shrugged, “I don’t know how,” I admitted.
“It’s easy,” said Josh. He then proceeded to explain to me how to play, and gave me a few tips. Before I knew it, I was sitting at the table and had plunked down my last €10. After a few rounds, Josh cashed out and went to get a drink and watch the NBA playoffs that were taking place at that time.
“Come find me when you've lost all your money,” he told me as he got up to leave.
Using Josh’s words of wisdom (which I won’t repeat here, I want to keep some things secret!), I was collecting a nice little pile of chips. I kept my bet at €10 at a time, not wanting to push my luck too far.
Pretty soon the table started to fill up with older, 40-something Irishmen, in dark business suits and sweaters, accessorizing with their glasses of Jameson. This was in stark contrast to me, in a bright green top, skinny jeans and my newly purchased six-inch blue suede platform heels, drinking one gin and tonic after the other (did I mention we got free drinks for the whole night?).
It was then that my luck really started to pick up.
Every time the dealer dealt my cards, my pile of chips grew. Before I knew what had happened, I was staring at stacks and stacks of chips.
“I won’t count it, I won’t count it” I said over and over again. I was afraid that if I did, and I knew how much I was risking, I’d get freaked out and lose my focus.
After about an hour, I saw Josh making his way back to the table—he must have gotten tired waiting for me to lose all my money. As he approached the table and saw my ever-expanding pile of chips, a look of total amazement, disbelief, and incredulity spread across his face.
“What did you do?!” he asked me as if I’d come to him with a mask, a gun, and two burlap bags marked with dollar signs.
I shrugged, “I just did what you told me to do!”
“Blackjack!” Another chip was added to my pile.
Before long, the others in the group made their way over to my side. They too, were in disbelief.
My streak actually ran for a good long time. But, finally, my luck started to recede. The very first time in forever that I lost a round, Jason put his hands on my chips, “Okay, you’re done,” he said. “You’re not losing all this!” And then he and Josh practically dragged me away from the table.
Gathering up my chips (I gave the house a chip worth a euro for gratitude) and proceeded to cash out. At the end of the night I walked out of the Sporting Emporium with €70—seven times the amount I laid down on the table.
“That’s a statistical anomaly!” exclaimed Jason. “Who does that?”
I did, apparently. I never exchanged that money to pounds, or to the dollar once I got back, for that matter. It was my own promise to myself. There was no need to exchange it, because I’d be back one day. I knew it. I didn't know when, or how, or what the road would be like that would lead me back to the Emerald Isle, but I had that simple promise. Even if I only had that promise and that €70, I knew I’d be back someday.
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*names have been changed