I was in the Vegas airport trying to choose a gift to bring back for my 8-year-old before I boarded my 6:40a flight on no sleep, no breakfast and functioning on nothing but Hennessy and Coke when I came across a cute little pink slot machine/piggy bank that dispensed real money when you hit jackpot. My dear, sweet, childless friend, who I just spent the weekend partying with for her bachelorette party saw me with the slot machine, gave me stank face and said, “Why would you encourage and promote gambling to your child?” My response, “Have you BEEN to Chuck E. Cheese’s? What do you think that is?” For the sake of not looking like a piece of sh— hung over (still tipsy) parent, who was already feeling guilty about pumping and dumping for last three days and devastated that the time away from my family was coming to an end— I settled on a non-dishwasher-safe $17 plastic cup that read, “Someone who loves me went to Las Vegas and bought me this cup.”
The very next weekend we had a Saturday afternoon birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Me: Yaaaaaaas! I didn’t get a chance to gamble last weekend in Vegas (because of bachelorette party festivities), so it’s about to go down! With my 11 month-old on my hip and my 8 year-old at my side, I added money to the pre-loaded birthday party play card because I planned on showing my whole ass in Chuck E. Cheese’s (there are cards now instead of tokens…just like at the casino), purchased a $4 beer and was ready to spend the next couple hours playing games of chance…with real money…with my children.
Unfortunately for momma, because I had to keep all eyes on my super active, power walking, 11 month-old — who was over-stimulated by all of the flashing lights and ringing bells — I couldn’t get my Vegas kicks off. So I enjoyed vicariously through my 8 year-old by following her around from game to game. And it was frightening.
She walked around intently like she was trying to find a loose slot machine, and once she spotted a game that had given another kid a big win, she’d stand near it until it was unattended and then dash over to play it again and again and again. Disappointed for not getting a big win, she would stake out the next “winning” machine. I’d encourage her to move to another game and try something new that looked “fun,” but she wasn’t interested in fun; she wanted to win. I checked her card balance after a while and noticed she was running low and told her to pace herself and try to have fun. But she would just go right back to the games she played previously that had given her a pretty good winning of tickets. She would impulsively “Tap to Play” on the same machines and become agitated if she didn’t win more than at least five tickets each play.
Since we were there for a friend’s birthday party, I told her it was time to break away from the games to sing, “Happy Birthday” and eat cake. She stood there looking defeated and determined, “Nooooo! Everyone keeps getting jackpot on this game! I can’t leave. If I leave, someone else will win!” I’m thinking, “What in the Uncle Charles is going on here??!” (Because everyone has an uncle in their family with a serious gambling addiction; Charles just seems fitting). “You don’t wanna eat cake?!”
It took some stern, tight-lipped words, neck-rolling and finger pointing to get her away from the games and eventually out of Chuck E. Cheese’s. I watched my child display some very disturbing, addictive behavior. All for what? Glow in the dark vampire teeth and Airheads. I came home and did some quick research because I seriously wondered if Chuck E. Cheese’s was turning my baby into someone’s Uncle Charles. I learned that a California mother of two actually filed a lawsuit against the pizza chain for $5 million, claiming it exposed her children to “gambling-style devices.” Part of Chuck E. Cheese’s defense was that the mother was a willing participant of the alleged gambling. The suit was eventually dismissed.
For this mother, some of my child’s behavior I recognize as an innate part of her personality, some of her behavior is learned. While many children go to Chuck E. Cheese’s for the pizza and to have fun playing the games, my daughter is not one of them; she goes to win. And I don’t want to take any chances of encouraging compulsive, addictive behavior that could spiral out of control into adulthood. So that $17 plastic cup instead of the slot machine I brought her back from Vegas was a real win.