The Oxford Casino looks not entirely unlike a giant Outback Steakhouse.
Apparently, I missed the news item stating that the planned “destination resort with a casino, hotel, restaurants, conference space and a spa” had been downgraded to just a casino for “phase one” (with no real indication of when “phase 2″ might be ready to errupt). Even though it looks like a giant parking garage, at least Hollywood Slots in Bangor has the city going for it (AND a big illuminated sign). This bloated mall restaurant floating in a sea of parking lot seemed a little sad and not particularly enticing.
You might think that it would be in the best interest of a person who writes a blog called Broke207 to avoid gambling all together. And theoretically, you would be right. Casinos are profitable for a reason, and the “house always wins” isn’t mythology, it’s fact. That said, I love casino culture. 24 hours a day with no windows, the simulated coin jangles of cashed out slot machines, the aging cocktail waitresses in polyester miniskirts… I love trashy, garishly lit casinos with their loud carpets and ever-present buffet restaurants, and I’m not willing to give that up just because I’m probably (definitely) going to lose some money.
The key is to have a plan.
1. Set a Budget (and stick to it)- Evidence shows that experiences make people happier than possessions, and that’s exactly how I approach gambling my adventures. To me, a visit to a casino is like a visit to Disneyland with less scary people in mascot suits and no barfy g-force feeling. But in exchange for that experience, I have to accept going in that whatever money I set aside for the event is going to disappear. And, the only way to be ok with that loss is to feel like I received an equal amount of fun in return for my payment.
Somewhere in my brain, there’s a vague mathematical formula that weighs the amount of time that I have at the casino destination vs. the amount of disposable money that I have in my bank account on that day, and then divides it all by the amount of money I am willing to lose in pursuit of the gambling experience without being sad or regretful. The outcome is usually pretty low. I might reserve $250 for a trip to Atlantic City or $75 for a day trip to Foxwoods… Oxford got a $40 budget, which was downgraded swiftly to $20 when I saw the building. It’s also always wisest to take out your cash beforehand (the Oxford Casino had a $5 ATM fee!) and leave your cards in the car just in case you get the fever.
2. Carpool- This is both a great gas money saving measure (Oxford is about an hour drive northish from Portland), but also so that you’ll have someone to witness it when the security guard cards your 35-year-old ass and tells you that you look 19 (seriously, it happened).
But harkening back to my prior point about experience, doing things with friends is both more fun and lasts longer. In between one-armed-bandit pulls, we stumbled around together trying to locate the most hilarious slot machine concepts and guestimating the average age of the 10am-on-a-Sunday casino crowd (a not at all surprising 75+/-). He was there to laugh at my “baby… baby… LEMON” Simpsons joke, and to dare me to try out the complimentary beverage station (that might have possibly just been an unattended wait-station). My $20 lasted 40 minutes instead of 5 because I had good company.
3. Plan an After Party- I actually ended up winning $70 (which I promptly gambled down to $30), but after 40 minutes of wandering, gaping, and rotating lemons, I was ready to take my winnings and make an exit while I was still ahead. We could have stretched it out if we had hit the buffet, or been ballsy enough to play some table games, but the reality is that the Oxford Casino is small and a little boring. In order to make it more than a momentary pit stop, they’re going to need to add some shopping, or an IMAX, or a wave pool… or something. Free Sierra Mist just isn’t enough of a draw.
Because gambling for the broke is such a transient activity, it would have been a pretty lame trip if we had driven an hour (and an hour back) for a mere 40 minutes of fun. The good news is that Oxford is actually kind of a cool little town. In the summer, you get the Speedway (I do love a demolition derby), in the winter you can go snow tubing, and all year round there are a couple of really excellent indoor flea markets.
Before grabbing lunch at the local Subway (not a lot of exotic restaurant options in Oxford) and heading home, we hit the Undercover Flea Market & Pa’s Tradin’ Company (both mysteriously without websites, but both conveniently located just over a mile apart on Main St.). Both of these indoor flea markets are deceptively huge and packed to the ceilings with weird and wonderful second hand goods at small town Maine prices. I oogled some crumbling victorian portraiture, a yellow Bulova bubble alarm clock, and some $3 DVDs before I decided to parlay a bit of my winnings into a couple of $2.50 vintage Nancy Drews for my collection.
The Oxford Casino may have a bit of a way to go before it’s a real destination worth the hour drive (how about adding a haunted house? skeet shooting?), but the town of Oxford has proved itself is a more than worthy day trip escape from the city.