Saturday, February 4, 2023 Feb 4, 2023
36° F Dallas, TX

First Person: The Loosest Slots in Town

Yes, you can gamble in Dallas. If you don’t mind the smoke or being paid with $5 gift certificates to Target. (Just ask my mom.)
By Tim Rogers |

Yes, you can gamble in Dallas. If you can stand the smoke.
It might interest both you and  District Attorney Bill Hill to know that there still exist secret places in Dallas where a gambling man can Indian-wrestle a one-armed bandit for real money and that the most accurate intelligence about the location of these places seems to come from my mom.
(Sorry. I mean Native American-wrestle a differently abled bandit.)

Here’s the deal: slot machines—or video poker machines or eight-liners—are legal in Texas, provided the machines only pay out non-cash prizes worth $5 or less. For instance, my mom—or anyone’s mom—can put a buck into a slot machine and win a $5 stuffed unicorn. Or a $5 gift certificate to Target. State law, however, does not limit how many times someone can win at a slot machine. This complicates matters. Because Bill Hill does not want my mom putting $1 into a machine and winning a $5 gift certificate 40 times. That sounds a whole lot like gambling. And gambling is illegal.

So Dallas vice squads have been raiding video parlors and confiscating the machines therein, and Bill Hill has been prosecuting their owners with good success, even though the Texas Supreme Court is right now trying to decide where it stands on the matter. Because, again, technically, winning a $5 gift certificate on a slot machine is legal. Sort of.

The upshot of the whole huggermugger is that Mom guards her intelligence like a madwoman. “Don’t you go messing with my location,” she said after I’d smacked her around a little with a phonebook and she’d given me directions to what has to be one of the last gambling parlors in Dallas.

I rolled up to the joint at around 10 on a Thursday night. It was in a shabby little strip mall just inside the city line, and it bore no signage advertising its offerings. Its windows were entirely covered with black felt. Another guy got to the door just ahead of me. He rang a bell, a deadbolt clicked, and a 5-foot-tall Vietnamese woman in 6-inch platform shoes let us both in. She fixed me with a stare.

I strode past her like a French general, across a tiny foyer, through another door with a lock on it, and into the gambling parlor proper. It was dimly lit and about the size of a large living room. Maybe 20 video machines stood against the walls, with a dozen or so people sitting on stools in front of them, nearly all of them women and nearly all of them smoking with purpose. No one spoke. The only sounds were the clickety-clacks and bing-bongs of the video machines at work. Three hapless plastic ficus trees sat at the center of the room. A Vietnamese man who looked to be in charge sat at a desk in back, reading the Bút Viêt News under a desk lamp.

I took a stool at a Super Poker machine, fed it $20, and started playing $1 hands. And damn if I didn’t pull some great cards. My machine binged and bonged almost nonstop, and, inside an hour, I was up $100. If the cigarette smoke hadn’t made my eyes swell shut and turned my socks yellow, I would have stayed and busted the bank. Instead, I asked Platform Shoes if I could cash out. Here’s where I hit a snag.

Platform Shoes and Bossman went into an office together and shut the door. After about 10 minutes of what sounded like yelling but was probably just a normal conversation in Vietnamese, Bossman emerged.

“No gift certificates tonight,” he said. “Only playback.” Meaning credits on a machine.

We looked at each other for a full minute without speaking. “I don’t want to cause trouble,” I said. “But I think you don’t have certificates because you don’t know me.”

“Oh, that true,” he said. There followed another extended silence. I let him fill it. “Who told you to come here?”

“My mom,” I said and gave him her name.

Platform Shoes nodded in recognition of a regular’s name, but Bossman wasn’t so sure. By now, the other gamblers were all watching, trying to figure out if I just looked like a vice cop. Bossman at last decided he was going to play this one conservatively. He said again that all he had for me was playback, and he handed me $120 worth of red coupons.

Platform Shoes walked me to the front door and unlocked it. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s not my decision to say.”

“No worries,” I told her. “Next time, I’ll bring my mom.”