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It's five o'clock on a drab Friday afternoon in Bloomington,
Ind., when John, an Indiana University senior, casually suggests
to his friends A.J. and Bill, two juniors, that they take a road
trip. The destination: the Par-A-Dice Riverboat Casino in East
Peoria, Ill., where two weeks earlier John and a fraternity
brother, Adam, had gambled for seven hours and walked away with
winnings of $350 apiece. Buoyed by the images of his friends'
windfall, A.J., who characterizes himself as a perpetual loser
when it comes to money, agrees to the idea. For lack of a better
alternative, Bill, who usually doesn't gamble, decides to go

The three of them scramble for betting money before they can
change their minds. A.J. grabs $110 he had stashed in his desk
drawer. Pleading poverty, John hits up A.J. for a $200 loan, money
that A.J. had set aside to pay his $600 rent. Bill pulls a
crumpled $10 bill from his pocket and then calls his mom, who
gives him permission to withdraw $30 from a cash machine for
wagering purposes.

Energized by their spontaneity, the three guys bound into A.J.'s
44 and stop off to pick up Adam, who has scrounged up $200.
Harboring delusions of impending wealth, they race through the
darkness toward Peoria.

Adam, A.J. and John had been gambling hundreds of dollars weekly
on sporting events, but in recent months they have switched to
casino betting. ``Sports betting became too dangerous,'' says
Adam, 22, a senior who wants to go to law school. ``I could just
pick up the phone and bet. I didn't need the money up front, and I
never thought I'd lose. But at casinos I go in with the cash and
will only lose a certain amount.''

Moored on the east bank of the Illinois River, which is frozen on
this February night, the riverboat (above) operates gambling
``cruises'' every three hours from 9 a.m. to midnight daily. The
four Indiana students are racing to get to the casino before the
doors close at 9 p.m. because no one is permitted on or off the
boat again until boarding for the next cruise begins at 11:30.
These restrictions keep the boat from being classified as a
land-based casino, which is illegal in Illinois. But the guys miss
the boat, arriving at the Par-A-Dice casino's glass doors at 9:05.

According to Rick Mazer, the casino's vice president of marketing,
Par-A- Dice attracts 2.1 million customers a year and takes in $95
million in gross gaming revenue. He estimates that customers
between 21 and 25 years of age account for about 4.5% of that
revenue. Clad in baseball caps and an assortment of flannel shirts
and sweaters, the Indiana kids are easily the youngest bettors in
this evening's crowd, which appears to be mostly 35 and older. In
fact, at 20, A.J. and Bill are under the legal age (21) for
gambling in Illinois, but they easily pass through the riverboat's
neon- framed entrance when it opens again at 11:30. Just outside
those doors is an advertisement for Proctor Hospital in Peoria --
which contains the only comprehensive gambling treatment center in

Adam and John change $100 into chips and stand at opposite ends of
a craps table, shouting out bets. A.J. also gets $100 in chips and
heads for a $5 blackjack table. When Bill tries to withdraw $30
from a cash machine, he finds it spits out money only in $50
denominations, so he reluctantly accepts one crisp $50 bill and
then buys $20 in slot tokens.

Within 20 minutes Adam is up $30 and John is down $50 at craps,
A.J. is even at blackjack, and Bill has changed another $10 into
slot tokens. John picks up his remaining $50 in chips, moves to a
blackjack table and quickly wins $125. Feeling lucky, he puts $75
on one hand, is dealt 13, takes a hit and busts. Inexplicably, he
places the rest of his chips, $100, on a single hand and loses
again. He changes the rest of the $200 he borrowed from A.J. and
heads back to the craps table.

``Betting seems like such an easy way to make money,'' says John,
22, a pre-med major who works part-time in telemarketing. ``It
takes hours to work for what I can make in minutes.'' Sure enough,
he is soon pumping his fists jubilantly, up $375 after his third
consecutive winning roll. Already broke, A.J. slinks over and,
seeing John on a hot streak, dejectedly remarks,``Some people are
lucky, others are more like me.''

But John's luck makes another sudden about-face, and he winces as
his fortune dwindles to $100. Accepting defeat, he blows the rest
at a blackjack table. By then Bill is scraping together 50 cents
in nickels and dimes for two last slot tokens. Adam is still in
the same spot at the end of the craps table, bent over it as if
his stomach aches. At 2 a.m. he cashes in the $20 in chips he has
left. The others are penniless.

Counting the money they all had been ahead at one point, the
foursome let $846 run through their fingers, almost the cost of an
Indiana student's residence-hall meal pass for a semester. John
accurately sums up the group's feelings when he says, ``Well, I
guess it doesn't matter. I expected to lose the money anyway.''

During the 3-1/2-hour drive back to Bloomington, Bill wonders
where he'll get the quarters to do his laundry.

-- Chad Millman

B/W PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG [exterior view of Par-A-Dice Riverboat Casino]

While only four states -- Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and
Oregon -- allow some form of legalized sports gambling, casinos
are opening around the country faster than Starbucks Coffee
shops, moving far beyond their roots in Las Vegas and Atlantic
City. Since Congress passed the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act
in 1988, allowing Native American tribes to operate casinos on
their land, and Iowa became the first of several states to
legalize riverboat gambling a year later, more than 170 casinos
have opened their doors nationwide. In fact, they are now in 22
states, with Indiana set to join the crowd later this year and
Massachusetts and North Carolina to follow in 1996.

State Type of Casino Number

Arizona Native American 12
California Native American 17
Colorado State licensed 55
Native American 2
Connecticut Native American 1
Florida Native American 4
Illinois Riverboat 10
Iowa Riverboat 6
Native American 3
Louisiana Riverboat 11
Native American 2
Michigan Native American 8
Minnesota Native American 17
Mississippi Riverboat 31
Native American 1
Missouri Riverboat 5
Montana Native American 4
Nevada State licensed 255
Native American 1
New Jersey State licensed 12
New Mexico Native American 8
New York Native American 1
North Dakota Native American 6
Oregon Native American 1
South Dakota State licensed 43
Native American 7
Washington Native American 6
Wisconsin Native American 16

SOURCE: 1995 Casino/Resort Riverboat & Fun Book Guide