The first thing you notice about Albert is a small canister of compressed oxygen—fastened to a miniature dolly with black electrical tape—nipping at the 78-year-old’s heels as he shuffles through the din of the Cities of Gold Casino.
Albert is the calm in the middle of this storm. He navigates steadily through a choppy current of shifting fortunes, convulsing lights and chattering slot machines with his oxygen tank providing ballast. He is tethered by plastic tubing winding up his torso, around his ears and into his nostrils, held in place with an elastic strip across the bridge of his nose. It's clearly not his lucky charm.
"I'm having a horrible night." Albert chuckles softly. "I haven't won in ages."
He is resigned to the ebb and flow of providence. This isn't his first dry spell and it won't be his last. He has dozens of white whale stories. The times when he gave up on a slot only to watch the person who took his seat nail a jackpot three nickels later. He has a dozen more tales about people who amass small fortunes in a single reel only to hemorrhage it all by the end of the night.
His big payday came last year during a promotional "anniversary" drawing at Camel Rock Casino that offered $100 for every year a couple had been married. Albert and his wife had logged 54 years when fortune found them.
Tonight they are not so lucky. Albert is stinging from $60 evaporated in nickel slots…
"I'm not a high-roller by any means," he says. "Playing responsibly is the only way to do it. If you're playing with $50, the best thing you can possibly do is take some of it home with you at the end of the night.
Albert should know. His father operated mechanical slots for workers toiling on the railroads and in the mines during the depression. But the retired machinist, stone merchant and silversmith culls most of his anecdotes from spending 350 days a year in the bustling tribal casinos of Northern New Mexico.
He was there when the Pueblo of Pojoaque first opened the doors of Cities of Gold in 1995. "When they first opened it up you could take $20 and play all day," Albert says. "Of course, you'd eventually lose it all but you at least had fun. Now you can lose it in a second."
This year marks SFR’s 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. Pojaque Pueblo opened its Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino in August 2008 and is now at odds with the state over its gambling compact.