Forty winks and free drinks for $3 an hour

Dear Mark,
I find that when I'm low on funds, keno is an excellent way to limit my casino expenditure. Though I realize that as a gaming writer you have written on occasion that players should avoid keno, I still don't think it's a total waste of time when you have little money left. Jill K.

I agree; that is, as long as you are prepared not to win big.

For the low, low roller and the near penniless, the keno lounge can be an oasis in Vegas's sea of sand. Besides, while any casino action is monetary servitude to the house, played right, you can lose less money per hour at keno than any other form of gambling.

Furthermore, Jill, yours truly is not above joining the ranks of the insolvent gambler in a keno parlor. Not long ago, I had two hours to kill before my shuttle left for the Las Vegas airport. Downright fatigued of gambling, I found a 50 keno game in one of the grind joints downtown. Since the keno game was only averaging six decisions per hour, my total expenditure would max out at 12 plays for six bucks.

Did I forget to mention, Jill, that I snared four FREE strawberry margarita's out of the cocktail waitress, read the Los Angeles Times, took a siesta, watched half a baseball game, plus hit a solid three spot for $26? I kept my six dollar investment and tipped out the remaining $20 between the keno writer and the cocktail waitress. Sure, I broke even, but profit wasn't my motive. Having fun and gambling on the cheap was.

So even though over the years I've taken my best shot at keno play in this column, and knowing your chances of hitting the big jackpot are nil - that's being overly optimistic - you surely won't become insolvent blowing two hours in a keno lounge.

Dear Mark,
Is it true that the odds of winning the lottery are worse than being killed by lightning? Bill H.

Lotteries in North America award more than $50 million in prizes every day. Excluding fishing every electrical storm in an aluminum boat on Lake Michigan, it is much easier to hit your state lottery.

Case in point. In 1996, 1,136 people won $1,000,000 or more playing North American lotteries, with an additional 4,520 winning more than $100,000. Lightning in 1996 killed only 91 people.

Dear Mark,
Recently I entered a Midnight Madness slot tournament. I've got to be frank with you; we seniors can't stay up that late. At least this one can't. I ended up purposely losing in the first round just to get away from all the smoke and get some sleep. I even missed the free 3 a.m. buffet. Any suggestions? Hazel R.

Here is how to be tournament prepared for those midnight hours. Start by building your tolerance level with a regimen of coffee drinking and chain smoking Lucky Strikes in a Lazy Boy chair. Include extended hours of late-night television for mind-set purposes. Once you get past those early morning Jerry Springer reruns (I mention Springer here because many of your graveyard patrons resemble his show's guests), you're ready to pull handles in any smoke-filled environment.

Otherwise, fear not, Hazel. You'll have your fair share of tournament opportunities as most slot contests are held during the day. To make sure you don't miss them, get on your favorite casino's mailing list. Personally, I would have been more ticked off about missing the buffet.

Gambling thought of the week: "Son, we are sorry about the tuition funds...your mother and I did not know you are not supposed to split tens..." - Letters home from people visiting Reno.