Sunday, April 23, 2006

Tinian

I saved my trip to Tinian to visit the Tinian Dynasty resort and casino to Sunday, since the weather looked to be perfect on Saturday and there was talk of rain on Sunday. So gorgeous-weather Saturday became Beach Day, and possibly-rainy-and-cloudy Sunday became Casino day.

We found that there were only two ferries between Saipan and Tinian daily. If I took the ferry both ways, I would either have about 3 hours or 23 hours at the casino before the return ferry. So instead I sprung the extra $40 or so for the return airplane flight, which returned in the early evening.

C was initially interested in coming, but decided to pass in favor of going to a spa for most of the day. It sounded pretty good, actually - sauna, jacuzzi, massage, etc, but I had my gambling quest.

The ferry took about an hour. The windows on the lower passenger deck had not been washed in several weeks and were so coated in detriment from dried seawater that I could barely see out. So I listened to my ipod, watched the vague blueness and greenness through the greyed windows, and dozed.

Tinian looked much like Saipan, but fewer buildings. It looked like a couple dozen people lived on the island... somewhere. Aside from the casino, standing out starkly from the surrounding greenery. Our tour guide showed us quickly around the hotel and shops area, pointing out the pool and buffet and giving us $10 in matchplay coupons. The lobby was airy and spacious, circled in relaxing chairs and sofas... many taken by Chinese-looking tourists who had kicked off their shoes, dumped their bags by the side and dozed off for a couple hours while waiting for their tour bus to arrive.

The casino wasn't huge, but was big enough. There were several rows of slot machines, ranging from nickels to dollars, most of them off to one side of the large room. A bar sat in the center, next to a railed-off area for three or so poker tables, and three or so tables for some card game I had never seen but that the Chinese tourists seemed happy with. But the poker tables... were empty! No players, no dealers!

I found a poster up that read something like, "Texas Holdem! It's that game you've seen on tv, the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker! Come try it out on Friday and Saturday nights in our new poker tournaments!"

Okay, so Sunday was apparently not the best day for the casino trip after all. But I'm not a good tournament player anyhow and was hoping for a cash game, so it wasn't a crushing disappointment.

There were a few blackjack tables, a roulette table, and a few more table games like "Pacific Poker" (whatever that is) and baccarat. There was also a large raised area with one of the large-screen horse racing games you often find in Japanese game centers. A big screen tv displays the (computer generated) horses and you can sit at one of the terminals and wager. The computer horses race, and you collect your winnings.

I started with some slots, and was struck by how quiet the place was. There were very, very few customers, and I was the only one on a slot machine, so there was no din of beeping music, slot machines, and ching-ching-ching-ching of coins cashing out. It was a little unnerving, and I felt like I was doing something I should not be, and making a racket with it in the process.

I lost $20 and decided to get some lunch at the buffet. Which was... meh. It reminded me a lot of a $6.99 chinese lunch buffet someplace in Palo Alto, California. Unremarkable generic asian food, salad, breads, and desserts parked out on steam trays and unmanned. No prime rib here. I had no idea where the next closest place to eat was - probably a 20 minute cab ride to wherever "downtown" was, which might not be any better.

I returned to the casino and sat down to give blackjack a try. My first surprise was that the dealer was only dealt one card face-up, no hole card. The hole card was only dealt at the end after all players had finished. If the dealer had an ace showing, you could still place insurance but you had to wait until all play was over to find out if the dealer hit a ten. But if the dealer hit a blackjack, she would take only your original bet and return any double-down bets to you. I don't remember if I saw someone split with an dealer ace showing, so don't know how that was handled. Gameplay was the same as I was used to, otherwise.

Second surprise was ordering a Corona, then the waitress saying, "That will be $5, sir."

Third surprise was tossing in a red-chip tip for the dealer at the end of her deal, and seeing her eyes widen and the corners of her mouth turn up, as if to say, "wow, really?" She then pulled up the plastic blocker for the drop box slot and sharply rapped "shave and a haircut" against it with the chip before dropping it and thanking me. The sound was loud and carried through the quiet casino, and several folks looked up. I took inventory of the room and guessed that half were Japanese, half Chinese, and none of them very familiar with the custom of tipping. I kept up the occasional dollar tipping now and then and they kept rapping it out to the whole joint. Cheapest way to feel like a big spender I have found.

I played BJ for an hour or two, and was about even when I reckoned I had an hour of play left. Coming all the way out here to find this casino and then break even seemed pretty pointless, so I started upping my bets so that I would either bust out or show a worthy profit. Cards fell my way and I finished ahead about $200, paying for my trip out here and most of C's time at the spa.

The bus rode a dozen of us Japanese tourists out to the airport, where we rode in six-person Pipers back to Saipan. It was about a ten minute flight, making the hour on the ferry seem pretty pointless. As soon as we got to a reasonable altitude, we looked ahead and Saipan was right there. A stone's throw away. Just over the pond.

As I got off the bus from the airport at my hotel, the bus driver said, "Happy Easter."

Easter... I had forgotten. I had just spent most of my Easter Sunday in a casino, gambling at slots and blackjack. I hope that God is as forgiving as they say.

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