Dirty Dancing With Lady Luck

I have a dirty little secret. I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana.

We moved to Dallas when I was 3 years old, so I don't remember much about living there except that it was boring and it smelled really, really bad. I went back to visit when I was about 14 or so, and all I could think was, "Thank God I don't live here anymore." You see, back then there was nothing in Shreveport but that rotten-egg reek of paper mills and the inexplicable feeling that everyone there wanted to beat the crap out of me.

Now there is actually a reason to go to Shreveport. That reason is gambling. There are now about a dozen fancy-pants casinos in Shreveport that inspire thousands of hopefuls every year to make the two-and-a-half-hour trip from our beautiful metroplex east on Interstate 20 to live out their avaricious dreams. In fact, the majority of gamblers in Shreveport are Texans.

The strange thing about the casinos in Shreveport is that by law they are all on riverboats. The original intent when no-limit-stakes gambling was allowed by the Louisiana legislature in 1991 was to have the boats take excursions up and down the Red River. A nod to history and all that. Everybody liked the idea—except the gamblers. So now, these riverboats go nowhere and are even craftily designed not to look like riverboats. Outside and in, they appear to be your average casino. A little more Atlantic City than Vegas, but for us Dallasites it's always been about three things: location, location, location. And just off the exit ramp works just fine.

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The casino atmosphere is scientifically designed to keep the visitor in a perpetual state of frenzied activity. There are no clocks. The bright lights and complimentary drinks and cheap hotel rooms make people want to stay and spend money and have a grand old time. Everyone from Grandpa Fred to your hipster types looking for a novelty road trip can be spotted shoveling coins into the slot machines or encircling the blackjack tables like hungry sharks at feeding time.

The Horseshoe Casino & Hotel in Bossier City (a "suburb" of Shreveport), part of the Harrah's gambling empire, is probably the fanciest in the area. The first thing you'll notice upon entering is the "wall of money" that runs the entire length of the room—a piece of Plexiglas protecting hundreds of thousands of dollar bills. I'll bet the guy who has the job of Windexing that thing has contemplated suicide more than a few times. And if you're really lucky, you may even catch one of the hot bands that plays in the casino's theater. A friend of mine saw a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band that she swears was even better than the original.

If you have an urge to dirty-dance with Lady Luck but the thought of driving to Shreveport doesn't ring your bells, there is another option. Oklahoma ranks fifth out of the 46 states that have casinos, with a total of 87 wagering facilities filled with about 33,000 slot machines and table games spread out in 63 cities. Southern Oklahoma is home to so many casinos and bingo parlors that they cover the state like a big multimillion-dollar rash. You can't drive more than a few miles across the border without seeing billboards for casinos of every size, shape and color. Most of these are run by Native American tribes. The Choctaw Nation operates a giant cluster of fun-filled casinos in and near Durant, Oklahoma, and to get there, all you have to do is head north for about 90 minutes on Highway 75 and look for one of those 3,000 billboards.

If you need a break from betting your second mortgage on black and are feeling a bit rustic, there are tons of events that run off and on all summer long—rodeos, Native American powwows, museums and more. So while Mom and Dad are saying, "Hit me," and shoveling coins obsessively into the one-armed bandits, Grandma and the kids can get a dose of real American history.

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