With the legislation proposed to eliminate Internet cafes and senior arcades, I thought I'd spend the weekend getting to know these places better. I visited about 10, and when time permitted, I tossed a little bit of coin in.
My first senior arcade experience was at Play It Again in Davie, about a mile west of the Hard Rock on Stirling Road. Six American flags decorate the walls, oldies music is at just the right volume and the carpet's design is a pattern of slot machines. The folks were nice and I gave them $10 to start playing. The very friendly staffer walked me to a machine, showed me how to activate my player's card and pointed out the free coffee and beverages. When I got confused over which button to push, he patiently walked me through it, including the part where I manually stop each column of icons from spinning. The minimum bet for most games is 8 points (cents) per spin, and my total of 1,000 points invested generally stayed around that number. Some women joke about playing slower to make their money last. When I head up to get a free soft drink, they remind me to pull down the "reserved" sign so no other patron will come and hijack my game -- and my credits. After one pass-through of the $10.00, I'm at 584 points (down $4.16). The key here is that I need to get to 5,000, to get a Visa gift card. And while the next 15 or so spins vaults me past 1,000, I'm stuck with not winning but not losing. Finally, just to get it over with, I raise my stakes to 100 points per spin -- "a buck a push" in slot talk -- and I'm able to burn off all my credits.
I head to Palm Beach County, seeking Internet cafes. I hop in two senior arcades just to make conversation before finding the Lucky Duck on Military Trail in Lake Worth. It's a converted restaurant next to a gas station and a taco stand and at noon on Sunday, I'm the first one there. A staffer is more than patient as I get a play card for my $20, adds $5 in bonus play (industry standard in Palm Beach and parts of Broward) and figure out what to do. I play "Score 'n' Cash," with icons of football helmets, referees and pennants; then "Ice Cream Mania," with cones, sno-cones, ice cream sandwiches and sundaes; and "Bustin' Vegas," with poker cards ace through 10. When I click on the Internet option instead of the sweepstakes side, the screen takes me to MSN. Back on the machine side, I'm spending about 25 points (cents) per push, and after my first run-through I'm at 3,247 points! I'm up $12.47, and yep, there's nothing like that feeling of winning. But again, I get tired of it, and starting risking 100 or more points per push. I leave with $16.50, still not bad for my $20. Plus a free diet root beer and a nice talk with two senior women who come in as I'm leaving. The better explain the progressive feature: each machine pulls 2 points per spin and feeds a larger jackpot, which one of them shared once, netting about $600.
Apparently the only Internet cafe in Broward is The Lucky Spot, at the intersection of Powerline Road and Sunrise Boulevard, not an area with the typical senior retirees from the Northeast. The clerk greets me with the perfect lingo:
"You want to play the sweepstakes?" he asks. That's because Internet cafes are actually sweepstakes chances that are awarded when a person purchases Internet time. The TV video screen behind him blares either rap or hip-hop, as the musician (?!) runs through a litany of mentions of female body parts and MFs. That said, the games are crisper and faster than at senior arcades, although it's the same generic type titles, such as "baby bucks" (with icons such as a bottle and a pacifier) and "big bucks" (hunting related icons). But one guy actually is on the Internet and not playing the machines, which number about 22. I don't get any free play for my $20, but I go through one cycle at 25 points per push and end up exactly on my same 2,000 points. I take my $20 in cash and bolt.
Kabooms, along State Road 84 in Davie, is mostly a game room for kids, with roller skating, pizza, skee ball and video games that pay off the best players/shooters with tickets, redeemable for everything from a piece of candy to a bicycle. It's likely not at risk because of the current bill, but the claw game, for example, even awards an Xbox 360 and a 17-inch LCD TV. I buy $5 in tokens and bounce around the 15 slot machines, which are made by noted casino game manufacturer Bally. The titles (pictured here, with that stop button that makes it a "game of skill") are casino-familiar: Blazing 7s, American Pride, etc. My 20 spins (25 cents x $5) yield 10 tickets, which I'm told are worth 25 points each. Peppermints are 50 points each, so I have enough for five; the counter attendant, as they often do, generously over-rewards, tossing in a sixth.