A smiling Donnie Cuppini, an owner of Slots of Fun, greets me, a newcomer, as soon as I enter the video gaming venue: “We’ve got three machines open. How about a cup of coffee?”
It was about 9:45 a.m. on Thursday when I checked out the No. 1 video gaming venue in Rockford: $44.1 million has been played at Slots of Fun since it opened in 2012 — when video gaming became legal in the state, according to the latest Illinois Gaming Board figures through August.
Don Carter Lanes is the second highest at $42.1 million. There are 87 such establishments in the city.
Why is Slots of Fun the top dog here, I wondered.
My interest in video gambling was heightened after my boyfriend and I stayed overnight Sept. 10 at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana. We’d dropped off a van to have carpet cleaning equipment installed a half-hour away.
I lost about $85 at a blackjack table and video gaming machine during 2.5 hours of play. A year ago — the last time I gambled — I’d won about $65 on the blackjack machine in 45 minutes on a similar trip to the casino.
The opportunity arose for me to try to make up that $20 Indiana loss after the Register Star published an editorial on Sept. 13 about the latest figures in a wagering report from the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
The opinion piece said Rockfordians like to gamble, and the city is the second municipality in the state in the number of gaming terminals. Rockford has 451; Springfield, 635. A maximum of five machines is allowed per venue.
The main attractions at Slots of Fun, I discovered, are that it’s a clean and friendly place in a strip mall at 2233 Charles St. with ample parking and lots of elbow room between each of its five state-of-the-art gaming machines:
“It’s the cleanest place in town,” said Mike Juliano, 73, of Rockford, a regular at Slots of Fun, where he recently won $500 playing on the Riches Ahoy machine.
I witnessed as much: Cuppini sprayed rubbing alcohol on a gaming machine and wiped it down after a customer finished playing on it. He cleaned the chair the player had been sitting in, as well. It’s a routine practice.
• The venue also keys in on appropriate decorum: “Please no profanity,” reads one sign. Pants are to be worn at the waist, instructs another.
• And Cuppini, a retired gas company inspector, is good-natured. He has been known to cook a pizza for customers once in awhile to accompany their sodas that are free whenever they’re playing. Beer and wine are available for purchase.
• An added bonus: Players who visit the place five times get their name entered in a monthly drawing for a big-screen TV.
Of course, the more the machines are played, Cuppini said, “the better the payouts.” In July, players won nearly $1.2 million at Slots of Fun, according to a poster. Losses were not noted.
How did I do?
Well, I put a $20 bill in the Riches Ahoy machine, and played slot-machine-type games I didn’t quite understand. I pushed buttons, and within three minutes, I was ahead by $12.19.
I cashed out there and went to play poker, a game I understand, on another machine. I had to get a pair of jacks or better to win. I won one hand, but not others, and ended up losing $8 after three minutes.
All told, I was up $4.19 for my play at Slots of Fun. And though I was on company time, it was my dime.
Speaking of dimes, I ended up 30 cents ahead the last time I played in a Rockford video gaming venue — in 2013 at Souse’s Lounge in Loves Park for a column I wrote.
Hope that good luck will follow me the next time I venture into a local video gaming venue. But I’m not betting on it.