The one-armed bandit and a gumball machine

Published 3:59 pm Monday, February 5, 2024

Super Bowl LV111 (58) is next Sunday, and my family members who are Philadelphia Eagles fans, are probably not only bemoaning that their beloved Eagles didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, they are probably also bemoaning the team I bragged on that would make the Super Bowl. (Well not exactly because my absolute favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys did not make the Super Bowl, but my other favorite team, the Kansas City Chiefs did! Lots of folks will be betting on this football game.

So, to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas Nevada thousands will go to see the San Francisco 49ers battle the Chiefs. I’ll be watching from home. I have been to Las Vegas, and I love it! My trip there was more of a history digging adventure and tourism event.

While there I stayed in the beautiful Bellagio Hotel with its magnificent 1,000 fountains in front that seem to dance and sway to music and lights, and that was a big attraction for me. So was the hotel’s nonstop casino action where visitors can play over 2,000 slot machine type games or one arm bandits as they are often called, but they were no attraction for me. I wasn’t even tempted.

My experience with one arm bandits began when I was six at Mr. Clarks candy store at the corner of Bridge and Fourth Streets.
I had saved 15 pennies, and I was going to do business with the speckled bubble gum ball machine. The site of action was a gumball machine where when you put a penny in, you were rewarded with a tasty gumball. But the real payoff was getting a speckled gum ball to fall from the slot. If you got one of those, you gave Mr. Clark the gumball and you could get a candy bar worth a nickel, (I know some of you won’t understand this, but some of you will.) So, your penny investment got you a nice sized Baby Ruth candy bar, a Mars bar, a Hersey bar, or any candy you wanted that cost a nickel.

With a handful of pennies and after 15 tries, I never got a speckled gumball. The one arm bandit became a force to deal with, so I went back to the home determined I would get a prize-winning gumball. I got home, dumped the rest of my savings out, all 21 cents, and went back to the store to win a speckled gumball. I got nothing except a handful of gumballs in pretty colors.

At that point I promised myself, I would not fall for the false glamour of the speckled gumball machines. And besides that, I squandered my savings that I was going to use to buy a goldfish from McLellan’s Store.

I kept that promise as I watched scores of people play the slot machines and the Bellagio and next weekend, I won’t be betting on the Super Bowl games either. Go Chiefs!!!

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.