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A Day at the Races

The Isle of Casino Racing, located in Pompano Park, is like Disney World for degenerate adults, myself included. Seriously, you lose entertainment- and booze-filled hours in a casino and walk out to find it's already dark (or light, whichever the case may be). So when my buddy Beard was having a bitch of a bad day, I told him that I had the perfect remedy: casino time. When he wasn't so sure that gambling and drinking were appropriate ways to deal with bad feelings and general depression, I innocuously told him about the $1-drink happy hour.

We were Pompano-bound in minutes.

Fling: After a small struggle with the woman guarding the entrance to the gambling floor (she didn't seem to believe my I.D. was real), Beard and I traipsed across the Technicolor casino carpet to Fling, Isle Casino's center-stage bar. It had a distinct hotel-bar feel and, despite being in the middle of the casino, was shielded from the commotion by way of expert interior decorating.  Sure, we could still hear the whirring and ding-ding-dinging of slot machines, but we also could make out "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac playing softly in the background, not to mention the subdued conversation between one geriatric gambling addict and the next.

The leather furniture was classy, and the carpet (designed to look like giant pond-ripples) was downright distracting. The long, sleek black bar boasted a handful of video poker machines, each carefully positioned directly in front of a barstool. Behind the bar was nothing except a handsome, black-clad bartender and an assload of glistening liquor bottles, all catching the bizarre colors and lights that exist only within the casino habitat.

"So, what's this happy hour consist of?" I asked the bartender.

"One-dollar domestics, drafts, wells, and wines," he said.

We sandwiched between two stooped, gray-haired men who were methodically feeding dollar bills into their respective video poker machines and ordered Bourbon and Cokes. Beard began fumbling in his wallet.

"So, is this cheap drink deal a sign of the economic times?" I asked.

"Not really," the bartender said. "I think they're going to take the deal away some time next year anyway. And there's a bunch of restrictions too."

"Like what?" I arched an eyebrow.

"Well, you can only have two drinks per hour, for starters."

Beard looked up. "That's barely enough to get a buzz!"  

"People try to get around it by ordering drinks from girls on the floor and then coming back here," the bartender said.

By now, Beard had shoved $2 into his video poker machine. The little video screen on mine was displaying the words "Play me — just one play could change your life." Yeah, by making me broker.

"This is five-card draw," Beard explained. "Deuces are wild, and I have a two — see? So I'm going to hold these two eights."

The screen flashed. "Four of a kind!" Beard said, jabbing a finger at the screen. "I won a dollar! Suckers!"

 About 45 seconds later, the machine had taken many of Beard's dollars and I was about ready to check out the next bar. As we stood, a large man in an orange Hawaiian shirt stopped us.

"Are you going to play bingo tonight?" he asked hopefully.

"No," I said. "We're planning on going up to the track bar."

"Oh," he said. "There's harness racing going on right now; you'll like that."

"Will I?" I blanched slightly. I'm not big on the racing industry. This might be because I live with a retired racing greyhound.

"Um... you might," he said. "It's when the horses sit in carts and people pull them. The horses whip the people if they don't go fast enough."

"Wow!" I said.

"That's not what that is," Beard admonished. "Don't get her hopes up. We'll probably pop in the steak house first."

"Oh," said Hawaiian Shirt. "Yeah, that's a good place — it's a little, um, classier, though..." He trailed off and glanced conspicuously at Beard's untrimmed facial hair and mop of curly hair smashed beneath a Yankees cap.

"Noted," I said, grabbing Beard's arm.

We bade farewell to the bartender, who was giving dating advice to an 80-year-old man.

Farraddays' Steakhouse: We walked to the escalator, past the "Wow" fountain — a sculpted monolith consisting of water and light pouring over stanchions of stacked, twisting glass — and up the escalator, arriving at the closed glass doors of Farraddays'.

"I'm not going in there," announced Beard. We glanced in at the classy bar inside Farraddays' and quickly discovered that we were painfully underdressed. The lounge area was classy, with orange, cylindrical lights hanging over the bar, plenty of liquor bottles stacked behind the bar, and plush armchairs just waiting to be lounged in.

"Are you debating eating there?" asked a dark-haired woman with a Northern accent. "Because the early bird is a great deal."

"What's the early bird?" I asked.

"You get three courses for $25," she said. "Usually each entrée can be that much by itself. I went for my birthday, and my husband and I went for our anniversary."

Beard visibly salivated in response.

"Of course, the wine and liquor is extra, but still," she said. "I highly recommend it. You know, for special occasions. Great desserts too, included with the $25. My husband loved the chocolate cake."

Alas, we were not ready to try it out tonight. Escaping Farraddays', we hesitated a little in the poker room — watching a high-stakes table and its ever-shifting crowd and listening to the constant clacking of poker chips.

A smug old man with an obnoxious tone tossed $130 into the pot for one hand.

"I'm all in," he said loudly. "You hear me? I said I'm all in!" 

Sports Bar: Past the poker room was the betting room — featuring a degenerate sight of mostly middle-aged men clutching pieces of paper and tiny pencils and staring at screens, all of which were projecting a different horse race, dog race, or some other bettable activity. We wandered out of the glass doors to the deck above the racetrack and watched as harnessed horses — which actually are cart-pulling horses, each attempting to outtrot the next — whipped around the track. The audience included businessmen clutching betting cards and massage girls out for a cigarette break.

More booze was necessary.

We made our way to the large, rectangular bar and settled down in a booth just beyond it, next to a 12-by-12-foot TV showing four different races. We sipped bourbon.

A tall, blue-eyed man who wore a tank top and a blue "Duncan Racing" cap was standing nearby, looking as though he knew what he was doing.

"How often do you have to play to win big?" I asked him.

"Horseracing?" he asked.

"Whatever can make me some good money, quickly," I said, my expression ultraserious.

"I was born into betting on horseracing," he said. "You gotta get this." He waved a piece of paper under my nose.

"Tells about the horse, its last six races—you can use this to figure out which is gonna win."

"Ooh." I said. "It's all about the literature, eh?"

"Yup," he said. "And make a lot of small bets, but don't be disappointed if you lose. It won't be long before you win big."

"Do you win big?" I asked.

"Sometimes," he said. "The best part is, the house has no advantage in horseracing. It's all about the horses doin' their thing."

 Back to Beard.

"Well, I wanted to win you some money to make your day better," I said. "But looks like it's too much trouble to try."

Beard appreciated the sentiment. "But this bourbon's making my day better plenty."

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Tara Nieuwesteeg

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