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After a steady track record of birthdays involving Thai Food > Escape Room > Gay Bar, I wanted to try something new for my 30th.

Because of scheduling conflicts, my friends and I only had the weekend, so we wanted to keep closeby: We rented a car and drove to Atlantic City.

I’d never been to Atlantic City; furthermore, I’d never even been to a casino before. I’ve played Texas Hold’em with Butch Cordora at Boxers Washington Heights, but that did not prepare me for the huge windowless rooms, flashing lights and smoking sections.

But first, hotel check-in: My friend Jack booked us at The Showboat, which seemed just as appropriate a place as any to celebrate me. The line for check-in was impossibly long: After looking at the people in line, I scanned the room and saw the posters—it was a UFC fighting convention. As we went to the elevators to our rooms, we saw them putting up the boxing ring. “Can we get a GO TEAM?!” a group of late-20-something boys shouted at us as we got off the elevator. Jack shrugged at them.

We left our bags in the rooms and prepared to lose all of our money. After dinner at Hard Rock Café, we hit the slots. (Don’t laugh, but it’s actually a favorite chain of mine. When I was 12 it was one of the first places I dined at when I first went to New York City, the same when I visited New Orleans at 14.)

I can say, with full certainty, that I do not understand slots. You pick one of thousands of machines (I picked the Munchkin one from The Wizard of Oz, then a Dolly Parton one that played her music while you played), put some money into it and press a button… and then you just keep pressing the button until all of your money is gone.

A few minutes and $20 later, I insisted we hit the tables. I played poker before (an event so traumatic that my friends still won’t play poker with me), but I wanted to try my hand at blackjack.

Turns out, I love blackjack: It’s just the right amount of chance and strategy. You don’t just push a button: You have to do basic math, and you have to make decisions. At one point I was up $100—which I lost after the dealer got 21 three times in a row. (We left the table after that.)

We gambled into the early hours of the morning. I broke even, while all of my friends left with less than they came with. I bought us all a birthday brunch the next day as a consolation prize (making a note to come back when it was warm outside and I could really enjoy the boardwalk), then made them sit at the Coach outlet for an hour while I bought everything in sight.

All in all, a very successful 30th—even if my favorite part was the Coach outlet.

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