I don’t spend much time on social media nowadays. Not because I don’t want to see what my friends are up to, or see whose birthday it is. I actually quite like that stuff. Shameful truth be told, I still enjoy using social media for Zuckerberg’s original reason – a bit of casual lechery.
My favourite thing though, is seeing my shenanig-anniversaries. I’ve been lucky enough in my adulthood that I’ve done something noteworthily stupid on pretty much every day of the year.
The reason I have scaled back on social media, is how brazenly the companies abuse the reward circuits in our brains. They have hijacked our attention spans by getting us hooked on the little dopamine hits that result from a social success. It’s the same mechanism gambling companies use to foster addiction, just using popularity instead of cash.
And it’s there that the two clumsy threads of this meandering introduction collide. Facebook informed me this week that it is twelve years since the above picture was taken. It’s the day I won £24,372 on a slot machine.
In reality, I only got to keep half of that. At the time I had been going halves with my legendary PokerStars colleague ScottY (the man most responsible for their once exceptional VIP program). We had both been eliminated from a staff poker tournament/meeting and were cheerily sulking by gambling elsewhere.
We were both comfortably in the red and decided to combine our loss-chasing by putting £20 each into the same machine and upping the stakes. We soon triggered the progressive jackpot game and braced ourselves for the usual anticlimactic £8.73 win.
I was so used to hitting the lowest tier of prize money that I was blindly hammering on the start button to move things along – the whole while chatting to two other PokerStars heroes, Penthouse Dave and the Big Bad Bulk. I never saw the big win happen.
What followed was a kind of triangular triple-take. First the screen, then up to the jackpot display, then to ScottY and the spectators to see if their reactions tallied with what I thought I was seeing. I repeated that twice more until I managed to say anything.
A good half an hour of bedlam ensued in which I whooped, hollered, hugged and jigged. I rang my parents, then my hospitalised slot-friend, and accepted any and all congratulations offered. Finally, I realised I hadn’t yet celebrated the win with my then girlfriend who was only about ten feet away. Twelve years on I still cringe at the oversight.
Next came the admin. The poker tournament was taking place on a Friday morning, which is well outside the Isle of Man casino’s usual trading hours. That gave the casino duty manager the opportunity for a risky wheeze, when he dead-pannedly informed me that they couldn’t honour the win because the casino wasn’t officially open.
I think I half-believed him for about half-a-second, before he mercifully broke and also offered congratulations. He asked me not to press the cashout button, because then they’d have to re-fill the machine with pound coins. They would write a cheque, but they needed to get the General Manager out of bed to do it.
She arrived impressively quickly, altbeit bleary-eyed, and wrote out a cheque for the full amount. She promptly left again, but had to return an hour later when I realised she had made it out to Richard and not Robert. Yes, my winnings were made out to Dick Dix.
Unusually for a big winner at the casino, I agreed to do the publicity. The above picture is taken from the resulting promotional leaflet. Coincidentally, I only binned the red and white 3/4-sleeve baseball t-shirt earlier this month. One of my all-time favourite items of clothing, universally reviled by all the girlfriends it outlasted.
Nowadays, I hope it’s clear that I would not do anything to endorse or encourage slot play. Despite this gushing recount of an amazing day, I still strongly discourage anyone from ever playing slots.
The reason I opted in wasn’t really about promoting the casino or gambling, although at the time I would have had no moral issue with that. I legitimately did it so that every time my friends went to the casino, they would have to see my smiling face behind a wad of twenties. That, and a bit of self-aggrandisement, probably a 70-30 split.
The rest of the day is a bit of a drunken blur. I never made it back to work that day and nor did many of my colleagues. I bought drinks for just about everyone all day and had several bar tabs started in my name without my knowledge or consent.
I think I spent about a grand, which remains an alcohol PB to this day. In hindsight though, it is probably no more than former-CEO Michael Hazel’s bar tab would have been on any given boozy Friday night during the golden days of PokerStars.
The hangover the next day was legendary. The week after I transferred Scotty’s 50% £12K share over to him (I often wondered if he ever doubted he would get it). In the months and years following I did my best to lose it all back to the casino.
To this day, I think I’m probably still slightly ahead on slots (although comfortably down in the casino as a whole). I mostly bet well within my limits and never felt the urge to play that comes with problem gambling. Thankfully, despite this colossal high, I never felt addicted to the games because they never felt enjoyable to play.
I did have a couple of bad losing sessions during that time though (~£500, both in Las Vegas), and they were some of the formative experiences that put me on the path to being an advocate for responsible gambling. I’m incredibly fortunate to have learned those lessons without doing myself serious financial harm.
Anyway, that’s the story of my big slot win, and the reason why I probably missed your birthday last year. In its current form, social media sucks, and so do slots. Play with either at your peril.