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Column: Casinos and gambling and riff-raff ­— Oh my!

Things are heating up in our state Legislature now that the word “casino” has raised its contentious head again. Strict battle lines are being drawn between the “Yeas” and “Nays.” Some folks are dead certain that our state motto “Live free or die” will turn into “Live free or hold ‘em” if a New Hampshire casino gets voted in. As for riff-raff, I’ve never been quite sure what that means, or that I’ve earned the right to define it.

How you feel about having a casino in the Granite State, may depend on how close to your house they want to put the thing. The “not in my back yard” cries will be heard loud and clear. Come to think of it, since I live in very close proximity to both the Maine and Massachusetts borders, there’s a pretty good chance that the backyard they’ll be talking about will be mine.

I must confess that I am not a complete stranger to gambling. My parents were into horses ­— not that they owned or bred horses, but they sure did bet on them. Occasionally they went to the track, but preferred to play through their bookies, and they often bet on different horses in the same race. This led to some loud and spirited discussions at suppertime. I can still hear my father say, “Gawd, Hazel, how could you bet on that nag – she’s a ‘mudder’ and it hasn’t rained in two weeks!” And then my usually laid-back parents would be off and running in full argument mode. The gambling bug was alive and well in our household and it wasn’t always pretty.

To help them hone their betting skills, my parents read the Green Sheet almost daily. That publication was and is where gamblers go to check out the odds on upcoming races. Since none of my friends’ parents gambled, the only other place I ever saw a Green Sheet was in my high school geometry class. During our exams our teacher, Miss Coffey, would sit up in back of the room studying it for the next day’s race odds. It almost endeared that woman to me ­— I say “almost” because she was the teacher who assigned me to what she called “the dumb row” in her class. But that’s a story for another time.

As far as casinos are concerned, there was a time when a friend and I would frequent Foxwoods Casino with some regularity. I had no interest in gambling then, but he was a serious blackjack player who wanted me to stand behind his chair for luck while he played. He said it was like in the old films where Lauren Bacall would stand behind her man, looking elegant in her beaded evening gown and posing with one of those long cigarette holders held aloft between her beautifully tapered fingers.

Let’s face it. I wasn’t much of a femme fatale, standing around in my sweatshirt and jeans, but if it could help him win at blackjack, I figured it was the least I could do.

After a while, however, I tired of my Lauren Bacall role, and I wandered over to the slots. I put my whole stash (then $20) into the machine and watched the numbers go up and down, then actually ended up a few dollars ahead. That is all it takes, you know, for someone to get hooked. I decided it was fun, and on our next trip I doubled my stash. You can guess where this was headed – not only did I end up losing more than I played, but I discovered it was becoming addictive.

Eventually I was able to change my focus from gambling to people watching. As a writer, I knew there was a lot of fodder there for both prose and poetry. I became a regular Margaret Meade, trying to get into the psyches of these die-hard folks who might be putting more money into those machines than they had back home in their bank accounts. The line of people waiting their turn at the ATM machine ­— needing “just a few more dollars” — was often long.

Not all people who go to casinos are hard core gamblers. Many go there for a good time because gambling can be an endorphin builder. Take the Red Hat ladies for instance. I often saw bevies of these fun-loving women laughing and making their way through the casino. They enjoyed the restaurants, frequented the shops, tried out a few machines and then headed home. For them — and others — it was a great day out.

As for our state’s gambling dilemma, we don’t know yet just how it is going to play out. All I know is that if a casino does become a reality in New Hampshire, I just might be able to hang out my shingle: “Woman available to stand by some guy at the gaming tables to bring him good luck.” I’ll even dress up a little.

Joann Duncanson, former Peterborough resident now living in Greenland, is the author of “Who Gets the Yellow Bananas?,” co-author of “Breakfast in the Bathtub” and author of her latest book, “Eight Crayons - Poems and Stories by an Almost Sane Woman.” She can be reached via her website www.jsnowduncanson. com or email ourbooks@ worldpath.net.

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