Big Otto's Casino
by David Lubar
"Thanks, Mrs. Zambini," I said as my last customer of the day paid me. Phew. I'd
been mowing lawns all week and I was beat. But now for the good part --
spending the money.
I stopped at my friend Mike's house on the way into town. It's even more fun
spending money when you bring someone along. We headed for Video Kingdom.
They had a great selection of games, and the prices were pretty good.
"Watcha gonna get?" Mike asked as we walked into the store.
"I think Destructo III," I said. "I heard it has twice as much blood splatter as
And that's what I picked from the shelves when we got to the store. It looked
Check this out," Mike said, grabbing a box from the bottom shelf. "Big Otto's
Casino. And it's only five bucks."
I shook my head. "At that price, it has to stink."
"I don't know," Mike said. "Remember Space Masher? That was only eight
"Yeah, and it was pretty good." I held my hand out for the box. "Let me see."
Mike passed the box to me. I checked the screen shots on the back. The graphics
actually looked pretty good. And I had enough money for both games. "Sure," I
said. "Why not."
So I bought both games and took them home. We played Destructo III until Mike
got tired of me ripping his arms off -- I was a lot better at it than he was.
Then I put in Big Otto's Casino. The title screen came up with a picture of Otto.
He was a fat, ugly guy with a cigar clamped in his mouth. "Welcome," he said in a
raspy voice. "Nice ta meetcha. C'mon in."
The game started. I led my guy into the casino and played a slot machine. Before
I knew it, I'd lost the hundred dollars I started with. But a screen popped up:
Press START to borrow money
Press X to quit
I pressed START and got another hundred dollars. It didn't last much longer than
the first. I tried blackjack, which I sort of understood. And craps, which is what
they call dice. I got a kick out of the name, but I had no idea what I was doing.
"Let me try," Mike said as the money screen came up again.
"In a minute." I wasn't ready to give up. I knew I could win. My luck had to
change sooner or later. This time, I lost my money playing roulette and the poker
"Man," Mike said, shaking his head, "what's the point?"
"I don't know." Maybe he was right. This did seem kind of pointless.
"Game over." Mike reached for the power switch.
"Hold it," I said, grabbing his arm. "I want to try just one more time." I got
another hundred dollars. I did a bit better this time. I still lost, but the money
"This is getting boring," Mike said. "Come on, let's go outside."
I shook my head. I'd been outside all week mowing lawns. Summer was half
over, and that was about all I'd done. I was ready to take a break for the next
month and just enjoy myself. I had enough games to keep me happy for a while.
"I'm going to stick with it until I win," I said.
"Give it up," Mike said.
I shook my head. "Not yet. I can beat this thing. I know I can. I just need to
figure out the right strategy."
I kept playing. Sometime that evening, I guess Mike left. I really can't remember
when. But I was getting better. Really. I lasted a lot longer before I had to borrow
more money. One time, I even won a couple hundred from a slot machine. But
then I blew it all again, trying to make up for everything I'd lost earlier.
I fell asleep for a while in front of the game. When I woke up, I played some
more. I was really getting good. Even so, I was down to my last five dollars. I bet
it at roulette and lost.
No big deal. I could borrow more and play again.
But the usual screen didn't come up. Instead, I saw another message in flashing
red letters. It just said: CREDIT LIMIT REACHED.
That couldn't be the end. I hit the X button. The screen didn't change. I hit
START. I didn't mind starting over. Nothing happened. I tried all the buttons.
Nothing. I guess the game froze.
As I reached to unplug the machine, the doorbell rang.
I got up, and nearly fell flat on my face before I could take a step. My legs were
stiff from sitting so long. The bell rang again.
I staggered down the stairs and opened the door.
It was Big Otto.
"You owe us money," he said, speaking through the cigar he had clamped in his
jaw. It really stunk. He pulled out a notebook. "Here we go. Ethan Spangler --
two thousand dollars."
I took a step back and shook my head. "I don't owe you anything. It was just a
Otto laughed. "Don't try to back out now. We can make it very unpleasant for
people who refuse to pay their debts." He grabbed the doorknob. With a flick of
his wrist, he snapped it off. He took a bite out of it and spat the metal onto the
porch. Then he grinned.
"Look -- I'm just a kid," I told him. "I don't have any money."
Otto kept grinning. "That's okay, kid. You can work off your debt by mowing my
"No way." I'd already mowed enough lawns for one summer. "I'm not going to
"I'll bet you will."
I started to say something, but I realized this would be a good time to take a break
from betting. Besides, one more lawn wouldn't kill me.
"Might as well get started," Otto said as he dragged me from the house. "I've got a
big lawn. A real big lawn. It takes about a month to get the whole thing cut."