By John Grochowski

What would make you write off a casino? How bad would the experience have to be for you to vow never to set foot in the door again?

My casino choices revolve around gaming options. Give me a decent set of blackjack rules and some video poker pay tables that allow me to make a fair run for the money, and I’m happy. I can put up with mediocre restaurants and indifferent service as long as I feel I have a shot to win.

Some of my friends have far different priorities, and I expect many of you do, too. On a night of television and conversation recently, the talk turned to casinos, and several of us had stories about problems that had us headed to the door, never to return:

Tom: “I’m a smoker myself, and I’m not all that pleased with the new Illinois law that prohibits smoking in casinos. But I can’t stand other smokers who won’t at least use an ash tray,

“This was just a couple of years after the riverboats first opened. I was playing dollar video poker, and had a pretty good run. I think it was Bonus Poker — it’s so long ago now I’m not exactly sure. I think I drew four Aces, which is 400 credits on Bonus Poker.

“Anyway, I had several hundred dollars on the machine, and I hit the button to cash out. Those tokens came pouring into the tray — this was before ticket printers — and I reached in to start putting the tokens in a bucket. Along with the tokens, I was getting ashes and cigarette butts. It was awful. My hands were filthy. I had to wash before I went to the bathroom.

“I complained to a change girl and she said, ‘Isn’t it awful? People are such pigs.’ But I didn’t see her or anyone else cleaning out the trays. That was it. I never went back.”

Alan: “I guess I threaten never to go back every time I lose. I probably even really mean it at the time. If the craps table is cold, and my wife tells me the slots are paying nothing, we start talking about whether they’ve changed the games so you can’t win.

“But give us a month, and we’re back. We know we’ll win sometimes, and losing is part of the game.”

George: “My wife and I do the same stuff every time the slots are cold. We say we’re never going to go back and then we do.

“The only time a casino ever made us mad enough to REALLY stay away was a customer service thing. It wasn’t just one thing, either.

“I was playing blackjack, and ordered a drink. It was 45 minutes before the cocktail waitress got back. I’m ashamed to tell you, I lost $50 more than I’d set as a limit because I was waiting for my stupid free beer.

“We went to the coffee shop for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. There was no one in front of us in line, but we stood for 20 minutes because there wasn’t enough staff. They told us one station wasn’t open because there was no waitress, and they couldn’t seat us in the open part because there was no one to clean a table. No apology, just, ‘We’ll get to it.’

“My wife hit a pretty decent slot jackpot, and they gave her those plastic racks to rack up dollar coins. She had about eight of them — $800 worth. You know how those things are. Heavy as heck. She asked a change girl if she could redeem them, and she was told to go to the cage. So she asked if she could put them on the cart and wheel them to the cage. She planned to tip, but she was told, ‘I have work to do.’ A supervisor finally stopped and helped.

“That was 10 years ago, and we haven’t been back since.”

I understood where George was coming from. Even though I’ll overlook sloppy service for a good game, there’s one Las Vegas joint my wife has refused to enter for 20 years. She and I had complimentary show tickets, and wanted a room service meal while cleaning up.

Problem: No menu in the room. We called the front desk, and they promised to send one up. Fifteen minutes later, we called again. After another 15 minutes, we phoned housekeeping, and someone else promised to bring one right over. Yet another 15 minutes later, we made one last try.

We wound up having to choose between going to the show or eating. We ate in a different casino’s restaurant and did the rest of our gambling elsewhere. The casino has changed owners twice since then, the bad memories linger.

George sympathized. “I’d never go back,” he said.

My wife agrees. You win some, you lose some, but if the service is poor, there’s always somewhere else to spend your money.

John Grochowski writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column on gambling,
and is author of  the “Casino Answer Book” series from Bonus Books.