Not long after dockside gambling began in Louisiana I took my parents to experience what all the commotion was about. As gamblers my father could hold his own playing poker with the guys on a kitchen table or in the back of my grandfather’s store, and my mother was always anxious to yell “bingo” when playing with the gals, but neither were casino level wagers and both seemed a little taken aback by all the clinging, beeping and other casino noises. Yet they wanted the experience. The place was crowded so the two available slot machines were several yards apart, and I hovered behind them as they pulled the levers. At one point my father signaled me and asked if I could get some change. When I returned I noticed my mother had moved to a different machine; my father was still in the same place. It did not take long for fate to come crashing in for both. After about a half hour they were ready to surrender.

Later than night I was talking to my mom on the phone recalling the field trip. Toward the end of the conversation she raised a question. “I want to ask you something,” she said. “When I was playing the slot machine all of a sudden these lights started to blink and bells were ringing. I looked around for you,” she added, “but you had gone to get change. I didn’t know what to do, so I just moved to another machine.” I sat there holding the phone in stunned silence. Perhaps the guy playing the machine next to her went home a lot richer that night.

Several years later the casino business dealt me a better hand. Most of our post- Katrina exile was spent in Avoyelles Parish, the land of my ancestry. In Marksville the marquee destination is the tribal-owned Paragon Casino. During a period when the future itself seemed to be a gamble I did not spend time at the games. But the facility itself was full of welcomed diversions including a variety of restaurants, live music and Wi-Fi, which was not universal back then but  was available in the Paragon’s hotel lobby. Sunday evening on the laptop in the lobby became a a ritual for several weeks. Occasionally we would spot someone from home with whom survival stories could be shared.

New Orleans at the time was barely operational. Many street lights were down; what businesses that were operating also closed early. The neighborhoods were empty. By comparison the Paragon seemed like Times Square on New Years Eve.

Among the features in this issue we look, as we have done for the last several years, at casino amenities, this time with a particular focus on spas. Another amenity that comes to mind is live theater.

Land-based casinos have space to build theaters through which acts make the circuit. (Once during my time in Marksville I saw championship women’s wrestling). Many of the acts are rock and rollers or country crooners, but one time I was stunned when I was driving into Marksville and the big sign outside the casino announced the soon to be appearance of Wayne Newton. Imagine, Mr. Las Vegas playing Avoyelles Parish. The wheel spins and sometimes unpredictable things happen.