Ho-Chunk Gaming feels more like Disney World than a den of sin.
When I think of greed, I think of King Midas and his fatal touch, Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vat of gold coins. No one wants to be thought of as greedy, but all it takes is a family game of Monopoly to reveal our inner Ebenezer.
Ho-Chunk Gaming (4002 Evan Acres Rd.) is Madison's own little corner of Vegas. It is cavernous and dark. Vacant faces are lit by pale blue light. There are rows upon rows of happy machines with brightly blinking lights, cheerful bloops and bleeps lilting through the room like a lullaby. It feels more like Disney World than a den of sin.
Star of Phoenix, Bourbon Street Bucks, Rich Little Piggies -- there are countless slot machines, but no hand cranks, only touch screens. We fed a machine a $1 bill. Images swirled on the screen. Play three lines, play five lines, bet two per line -- 10 free spins! A friend said, "This is more complicated than grad school." I played $4 and lost it all.
Our next stop was the poker room, brightly lit with plush leather chairs and flat-screen TVs. Men sat around the tables, serious and silent, earphones in ears, sunglasses masking their eyes.
"Do you guys play?" an employee asked, looking skeptical. We shook our heads. "Well, that's not the place to learn."
She ushered us to a demo table in the corner of the room, logging us in with a key fob marked with the ace of spades. There are no cards in this game, only more touch screens -- a large one in the center of the table and a smaller one in front of each player.
She gave us a quick lesson in Texas Hold 'Em, a game I'd heard of but never played. I asked her what it's like to be a woman in the world of poker. "It's hard," she admitted, "when it's so dominated by men." She shrugged. "But then you just take all their money."
I played the game the way I play most games that involve a glowing screen: on Street Fighter setting. When I was 9 and Street Fighter II was the hippest game on the block, I beat all the boys with the deplorable "button-mashing" technique. It won me $300 in poker, too, but we weren't playing for cash.