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300-plus trips to Atlantic City pay a jackpot of memories

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 9:05 p.m.
Jack Povlick of Butler Township says he's seen 'the very rich, the very poor and the very strange' in more than 300 trips to Atlantic City. Here he poses with a Boardwalk display of an oversize apple and worms. Submitted photo

With more than 300 trips to Atlantic City under his belt, Jack Povlick has thousands of memories — not all of them from gambling.

He remembers tearing up as Celestine Tate Harrington, a quadriplegic street musician and familiar Boardwalk performer before her accidental death in 1998, played “Amazing Grace” by using her tongue on a keyboard.

He wanted to shout “No! No! No!” while standing among the throng watching the implosion of the Sands in 2007.

During the Blizzard of 1996, he rode a bus that he says was the only thing moving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Despite more than a foot of snow in Atlantic City, the casinos were open. Many of the employees couldn't get home.

Of course, he played.

“We've gambled at all of them” over the years, says Povlick, 74, of Butler Township, ticking off sites such as the Sands, Playboy Club, Atlantis and Resorts International, which opened in May 1978 as the first legal casino in Atlantic City. He relishes the memories of seeing “the very rich, the very poor and the very strange.”

Povlick, a worker for 40 years at Armco Steel, says he never had the money for gambling before he retired in 1996 and started helping a close friend, the late Jimmy Doutt, provide bus trips for Butler-area residents wanting to hit the gaming tables. Happy Time Tours of Slippery Rock would fill a 56-passenger bus for a three-day, two-night trip.

His experiences illustrate how much fun — and, in many cases, how inexpensive — a casino vacation can be.

In addition to his Atlantic City trips — 400 miles from his driveway to the Taj Mahal entrance, he says — Povlick has made pilgrimages to Las Vegas, driving 14 to 16 hours a day because he doesn't like to fly. And he visits Rivers, The Meadows and Presque Isle since Pennsylvania legalized casino gambling.

“We were grinders,” he says of his frugal gambling style. By that, he means playing the minimum at blackjack and craps, where the house advantage is among the lowest in the casino. He also dabbles in slots.

“You never overwhelm the betting,” says Povlick, who started playing at $1 and $2 minimum tables. His wife, Bertie, plays mostly slots, which racks up players club points faster than table games. They share a player's club account, and Povlick says they consistently get comped meals and hotel rooms.

With no food or lodging costs, the only major expenses are the travel and gambling. If you can break even on the gambling, a trip's cost is minimal. If the gambling doesn't go so well, then your cost is more like that of a typical vacation. He says he and his wife might win as much as $1,000 on one trip, then lose on the next.

Povlick says he's never bothered to figure up how much his trips have cost.

“I never thought of it that way,” he says, “because I think of it as entertainment.”

He enjoys the people-watching opportunities that abound wherever lots of folks and lots of money are part of the mix.

Walking past a craps game at Caesar's Las Vegas one year, he saw a player decked out in a white hat and white suit who qualified in two ways as a high roller. Not only was he making large bets, but the dice kept bouncing off the table. Povlick says he overheard one floor supervisor tell another, “When he loses that $50,000, give him credit for another $50,000.”

Povlick favors low-limit blackjack, although he likes to spread to two or three hands at a time, especially if he can continue to bet the table minimum on each. He figures that playing two hands at $10 each is a slightly lower risk than betting $20 on one hand.

Povlick offers this advice for those just getting into gambling: “If you don't feel comfortable, no matter what you're doing, move on. It's an omen to get out of there.

“And quit while you're ahead.”

golden nugget case unsettled

The battle between the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City and several mini-baccarat players is still in litigation.

A judge recently ruled the casino does not have to immediately pay the players their winnings from a disputed mini-baccarat game last year, The Press of Atlantic City reports. The casino claims the players won $1.5 million unfairly because the casino dealt from an unshuffled pack of cards. The players claim the casino defrauded them by refusing to pay off the chips they won.

Money trail

Slot players lost $39.2 million at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos during the week ending Jan. 27, the Gaming Control Board reports. That's down from $45.97 million in the comparable week last year, which was before Valley Forge resort casino opened.

The state gets 55 percent of that gross slot revenue, or what's left of players' wagers after jackpots are paid.

Statewide, the slot payout rate is 89.95 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.95. Highest payout rate: 90.63 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest: 89.37 percent at Harrah's Philadelphia.

Figures for Western Pennsylvania casinos:

89.96%

Rivers; weekly slot revenue of $4.67 million, down from $5.34 million last year

89.82%

Meadows; weekly slot revenue of $3.56 million, down from $4.71 million last year

90.01%

Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of $1.79 million, down from $2.77 million last year

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