Ante Up, Virgin Mary

A representative of GoldenPalace.com is currently en route to Dallas to announce the online casino will buy the infamous Virgin Mary Tree in Oak Cliff for $5,000. A press conference is scheduled at 7 tonight in front of the tree.

The GoldenPalace.com rep, Case Melton, is carrying with him a grilled cheese sandwich that also bears a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary. GoldenPalace.com paid $28,000 for the sandwich, which is now framed. Melton said he is bringing the sandwich with him because he "thought it would be nice for the two apparitions to be together." He'd be the first to admit that "a little bit of imagination is required in all these apparitions, but it's one of the better ones I've seen," referring to the sandwich.

The Antigua-based casino, which once paid a woman $10,000 to tattoo the company's name across her forehead, was the only bidder on the tree, Melton said. The auction started last week on eBay, had 10,000 visitors, and for a moment was the second-most watched item on the online auction site.

Melton said the family that owns the tree, the Penas, have agreed to keep it up for six more months in exchange for the $5,000. He said they decided to sell the tree because they got tired of the constant stream of believers who traveled through their small front yard to see it. "We just wanted to make sure it didn't get chopped down," Melton said.

The tree first made the news in November when its owner, Eva Alejandro Pena, called a news station to report that she had spotted a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary in the bark. Only later did she admit that her daughters had created the image by picking at the tree.

If all goes according to plan, a gaggle of TV reporters will show up tonight, giving GoldenPalace.com 30 seconds of free advertising and generating more traffic for its Web site, where one can play poker, blackjack, roulette and more than 60 other games of chance. The Virgin Mary wouldn't have it any other way. —Jesse Hyde

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