Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sea Monkeys and Casinos: The Shocking Link...


Yes, we've got them. Sitting on the windowsill above our kitchen sink, happily swimming around their little Sea Monkey tank, while a mere six inches away on the other side of that window it's seven degrees outside. I don't think the briny little bastards know how lucky they've got it...

So what's the link between Sea Monkeys and casinos? Well, several years ago our state magazine assigned me to write a feature story on the meteoric rise of high-stakes Indian gaming in the state of Oklahoma. And as part of that story they told me to visit a number of casinos across the state and write about what I observed.

So without further ado, enter the Sea Monkeys... (From the May/June 2006 Oklahoma Today)

Although the card games are popular, it’s obvious the machines are what draw the most people. There are a dizzying variety of them. There are games that take the standard slot machine motif with names like Liberty 7s, Royal Reels, Press-it-Up-Poker, Mount Cashmore, Jacks or Better, Mr. Money Bags, and then there are the games with themes so seemingly incongruous with gambling it frankly makes you wonder what their designers were smoking.



I sit down at one such game based on - I’m not kidding - the movie Alien. Now, I love HR Giger’s big-headed palooka as much as the next guy, but intergalactic terror is not exactly an image that makes me want to part with my money. Give me a dancing leprechaun or something. There must be some deep industrial psychology at work, however, because I slip in a dollar anyway. And lose it immediately.


I walk on and find myself along a row of machines that anyone over the age of 30 who ever picked up a comic book would recognize. Sea Monkeys. Someone actually designed a slot machine based on the cruelest hoax ever foisted upon the youth of America.


Now this was a game behind which I could understand the logic. The Sea Monkey ad seduced us, promised us amazing and wondrous things. I bought into it. Didn’t we all? Hoarding our paper-route or allowance money. Sending it off. The anxious waiting, the anticipation and the certainty that soon you will have the coolest thing known to man. When the prize finally arrives you rush to your room, tear open the package and discover you’ve just paid $1.95 plus shipping and handling for a cheap plastic aquarium and a packet of brine shrimp eggs.


You could argue that Sea Monkeys were, for many of us, the first game of chance we ever played. And lost. And now some brilliant designer had gone and made a game out of it. This more than made up for the Alien. I can’t wait to play.


Two hours later, I still can’t wait to play. The Sea Monkeys are easily the most popular games in the casino. No one ever gets up from them, and on the rare occasion someone does, there is a mad rush to grab their seat. I almost make it once, but get shoved aside by a frail-looking elderly man clutching a portable oxygen bottle. He looks a little old to have been screwed by the Sea Monkeys and I briefly consider knocking him aside. I have a good hundred pounds on him and I badly want those Sea Monkeys, but filiopiety wins out in the end and I grudgingly give way.


Discouraged, I go back to my room, set my alarm for 4 a.m. and immediately fall asleep. Gambling’s hard work, especially when you don’t know how. When I awake and stumble back down, bleary-eyed, to the casino a little after four a.m., it’s still surprisingly busy and I recognize many of the same people I had seen the night before, still going strong. I can hear the soft plastic clink of poker chips hitting the tables, velvet surface worm smooth and shiny, the soft technicolored symphony of the machines.


I make my way back to the Sea Monkeys, but there’s a body in front of every machine and none of them act like they’re going anywhere anytime soon. Whatever the motivation; nostalgia, revenge or optimism, it’s obvious these people are here to stay. Too groggy to wait it out, I give up for good this time. I shuffle back to my room and fall asleep dreaming of cheerful underwater kingdoms.

So there you go. Sea Monkeys: Harmless coming-of-age rip-off or insidious gateway to a life of gambling addiction? You be the judge... 

8 comments:

  1. Cute.

    On a related note, you must be worried about posting about your dogs...

    Sorry - couldn't resist.

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  2. When I first read your "Sea Monkeys and Casinos" title, I assumed it was your annual rant against booth babes at the SHOT Show. I guess that'll have to wait until next week. :)

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  3. Josh, I've been remiss on the dog posts lately, but I have several in the pipeline. BTW, did you see my note about the wood duck feathers?

    Scampwalker, are you kidding? I'm an important and influential industry guy now, you know. Can't criticize anything about SHOT, especially the booth babes...

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  4. I'm just pokin' fun, considering your new gig. I did not get the note about the wood duck feathers... is everything alright?

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  5. Hilarious! Think about the new "first game of chance" for a newer generations of children though. The gaming industry has become more brazen in recent years. No longer do they tickle around the issue by coaxing young people along with subtle suggestions of machines designed around our pop culture. Instead, they've moved on to a full blown frontal assault acknowledging that they are INDEED going to suck our children into a life that promises big payoff in exchange for participation in games of chance. Case in point, ticket games at Chuck E. Cheese or Dave and Buster's.

    Yeah, this strikes a small chord.

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  6. How i wanted Seam Monkeys as a boy: two things stopped me. Shipping and MoB (mother of bushwacker) she took one look at the advertising and was as convinced as I was that they were a real 'companion species' and pronounced it cruel to send them through the post. Years later i showed the sea monkeys my own boy was raising (well i was doing it on his behalf) and she admitted that the ad had been "somewhat misleading".

    Which brings us to Booth 'Babes' last year I came down on the side of the grown ups this year I'm for mockery THEY AINT ALL THAT every street in london has better looking girls just-a-goin'-about their business and in certain parts of town the chicks know more about guns too!

    SBW

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  7. Hey Josh, no worries, but I was going to wait until the end of the season to send your feathers just in case I got anything else interesting.

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  8. a pet rock slot machine is in the works.

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