Coin-Touch Iowa Gambler Confesses, Declares Let's Sue 'Em

by Homeless T
The Tyrannical Reign of the Hot-Spotted Brain

Four Days in the Life of a Coin-Touch Machine Addict, February 2006
24 February thru 27 February, 2006

Actual X-Ray

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric disorder with a neurological pathology. Using brain-scanning technology and brain-chemistry analysis, some researchers postulate that OCD sufferers, in addition to imbalanced neurotransmitters, demonstrate repeated activity in localized regions of the brain--continuous synaptic firings, or "hot spots" in the brain, like a broken record, endlessly skipping--repeating the same synaptic patterns firing, over and over again. These involuntarily synaptic repetitions, in combination with stimuli-induced changes in brain chemistry, cause in the OCD sufferer an insatiable desire for some activity—insatiable because it can never be satisfied, only cease temporarily when means to the stimulation are depleted.  

The "Education State" has lost its integrity.
My "hot spot" compelled me to gamble--and gamble, and gamble. Different sufferers have varying compulsions. Never-ending desires include hand-washing, drinking alcohol, eating, having sex, taking drugs, and yes, even working (the so-called workaholic).

Less common compulsions include arson, theft, performing sex on rest-stop strangers, hording until a house is crammed to the ceiling, and far more serious criminal acts, like child-molestation and serial murder. I count myself lucky that my sickness involves the relatively banal activity of wagering money—but even that creates hell in my life.  Under the briefly autonomous policy-making of the Iowa State Lottery Board, my personal hell was imported to every place I visited, with few exceptions. 

That's right.  I'm still muttering about the least-ethical state lottery gimmick known to me, the Iowa State Lottery Coin-Touch Machines. 

In my case--and others, too, I'm sure--OCD is cunning and silent as it navigates me to somewhere its ever-vigilant obsession has detected a chance to go compulsive. I am often unaware of where I am really going, and once there, things get worse. Critical thought degrades as compulsive action begins.

Freedom is lost.  Will to stop is bound and gagged. OCD logic consists of yes or no, on or off, in pursuit or not, all or none.  It throws reason to the wind, and yet the sufferer must watch too, often equally appalled--yet awareness alone lacks the power to arrest compulsive behavior.

The shameful personal narrative I am about to share shows me

in the dreadful light of split personality. One feels guilt and fears further loss, while the other soars mindless over such trifles during compulsive outbursts. Coin-Touch machines brought the worst part of me to dangerous levels--everywhere I went, from gas station to restaurants, convenience stops to grocery stores to barber shops. I couldn't make it from home to work without stopping to go broke several times over. When absolute destitution halted the compulsion, my OCD crept silently away into seeming remission, like a rat abandoning a sinking ship.

That gnawing rat was the worst sort of companion, too leaving the reasoning side of me flat broke, holding an empty bag, worried sick over unpaid bills, bounced checks and neglected duties--and detested by many.  My family, my work, my art--forgotten, until the money was gone!  Worst was the self-hatred.

I begged, borrowed, and stole to clean up the financial, family, and personal messes "Touch-Coin" machines regularly made in my life. But even as I worked to repair the damages, deep within, the subterfuge of OCD was spinning silently, recharging and surveying opportunities to start anew its maniacal pursuits.

They looked like this.
Iowa's Touch-Coin machines left in their wake families disbanded, homes lost, savings squandered, and suicides made, owing to a legislative decision inspired by--who else?--lawyers. The legal eagles at a briefly independent Iowa lottery put the words "Make Purchase" on the spin button of the machines, to give lawmakers the reassurance they needed to sign off on the charade. Things might've been different if they'd written "Lose Everything" on the buttons.

I was out-of-state when the machines were removed after a run of less than two years.  I know that I was not alone in my daily dives off the deep end, but the decision to end the party was defended on technical grounds.  Whatever.  

For several days during the reign of the machines, I kept track of my out-of-control life.  I am tempted to rewrite these journals so I don't look like such a miserable ass--but I will not, because that's what I was, even if miserably sick. So if you have the stomach, I have the diary.  It would be a far better read if cut down to Reader's Digest length, but I doubt they would be interested.  Besides, the truth is full of long-winded convolutions, as found here.

The Addiction Detailed 

Friday, February 24th, 2006.  Fuck it.  Enough is enough.  I'm going out to the gas station to gamble.  I started out this day by losing $42 in "the Copper Dropper" at All Stop.  That gambling machine is aptly named.  All my copper dropped, I skipped lunch--always expendable where compulsion is concerned--and worked to keep myself from thinking about gambling.  In mid-afternoon I discovered that one of my payday loan checks had been deposited.

The account was already overdrawn, but my well-intending bank branch manager, out of actual kindness, did me what she thought was a big personal favor, and let the account overdraw even further by paying the check.  I hustled over to American Payday with a print-out of the internet account page showing it had been paid, and borrowed $120 more, writing the store another $150 check, payable March 10th.  Maybe I'll luck out and be dead by then.  But at least I had some do-re-mi!

I headed for another Copper Dropper, this one at Kum n Go.  I smoothed out each bill, and one-by-one, fed the twenties into the machine, one after each spin.  The Dropper kept reeling them in, consuming $2.70 a "purchase," and within two or three minutes, I had slid in my last $20.  I had about ten bucks--1000 pennies--left when the machine came to life and hit for over $600.00!  Of course, the gas station attendant looked very annoyed, and announced she couldn't pay cash.

I'd been trying to win enough to fly off to a real casino like Ladbroke's, but I couldn't even make it off the block--much less to a luxury destination.

The State of Iowa guarantees cash payment on the spot up to $600.00.  Yet none of the merchants seem to keep any cash on hand to pay a win.  My clerk gave me a Kum n Go money order for $400, which I deposited in the bank because nobody cashes such instruments.  But I did get $200 of that win in cash.

Weeks before, I had learned the hard way that proceeds from winning tickets over $600 had to be cashed at an Iowa State Lottery regional office. I drove down to Cedar Rapids, where they gave me quite a check, alright.

The Management's Ethos

It was my first time at the Lottery office, trying to collect.  Things seemed to be going smoothly.  The clerk told me about withholding, had me sign, and then wandered off to print my official lottery check.  I wondered why the whole counter crew sort of gathered to watch the presentation, and soon realized why. They were waiting to watch my jaw drop as I examined my check--an official Iowa Lottery's Winner's Check in the amount of "Zero Dollars and 00 Cents."  

After they had their laugh, the clerk told me about the office's policy of collecting outstanding garnishments, or whatever before cashing a winner.  Look at that dope they probably say among themselves--he thought he was gonna get some cash!.

The frosting on the cake is that I got to pay taxes on the full amount of winnings which I never received.  

So, I was winning again, and asked myself why stop at $300 on the Holiday machine?  No way!  A six-hundred win could compel me to get off the machine--so down those 30,000 copper pennies went, down to the last copper, straight back into the state's hopper. Broke again, and I couldn't even buy a stinkin hot dog. At least a real casino like Ladbroke's would give you a snack.  
$300 baloney Sandwich. Mmmm!

I skipped dinner, but will get food at my next stop--another next gas station, where I can cash another check. My personal situation has devolved to a point where I buy scratch-off lottery tickets with checks (at those gas stations that will take them) and then cash the winning scratch tickets, and use that cash to play the machines. This I must do because gas stations are not banks, and therefore not obliged to cash your checks. Nor is a scratch-off lotto ticket a reliable financial instrument.

No gas station in Waterloo will give more than $10 - 20 cash back with a check purchase. I can't use my bank card, because it is usually overdrawn, empty, and if there is a balance, it is subject to surprise Payday Loan store raids. So I buy a couple hundred dollars worth of the worst games in gambling, and scratch away, usually losing from 25 to 80 percent of the tickets' face value.

I owe every payday loan store in town.  At rates of 350 - 800% interest annualized, some would call them usurious, but they can't charge on delinquencies, so I'll pay them back when I get that big win--and use what's left over for my long-awaited junket to Ladbroke Casino.

Needless to say, I have no credit because of my latest bankruptcy last year.  So I'll buy three hot dogs for $1.49, and throw a hundred bucks worth of scratch-off tickets on the order.  The clerks always look surprised.  If I need gas, I'll get that.  And Fritos.  Anyway, I'll write a check for say, $150.00.  Then I'll sit in the car, eating Fritos in the station parking lot, scratching all that friable crud off the garish faces of scratch-off tickets, and getting that grimy, scratch-off crud under my nails and mixed up with my Fritos.

On a good night, I'll get sixty bucks back in "winnings"--money that I can pump into the slot machines that are not slot machines--no, they're Iowa's "coin touch" lottery machines.  On an average run of scratch-off tickets, getting back twenty bucks on $100 worth of tickets is a common occurrence.

As I scratch, part of me watches in disgusted amazement: how could anybody possibly be such a sucker?  I know that scratch-off games are the worst bet in the world, returning only 40 cents on the dollar to winners.  And the idiotic marketing they foist on the suckers--like specious distinctions of "scratch off the lucky emblem and win instantly! Exactly how that "instant win" of one dollar differs from the buck you get returned on a plain old non-instant ticket mystifies me.  Maybe the cashiers make you wait a bit longer.  But, hey, we're having fun already! And this is what they call the education state?

The Iowa State Lottery [at the time of the coin-touch debacle] was an independent agency with thousands of slots distributed over every grease pit and pop-stand across the horizon.  Yet all those lotto marketing supplies--the machines, the scratch-off tickets, the terminals, even the advertising creative work--are purchased from operations in other states, or overseas. 

But you know, if I were on that gravy train, I'd let myself get corrupted too.  The poor will always be with us, right boys?  I mean, isn't that part of  the Christian religion?  Jesus, will I always be this fucked up?

Circumstance has cast me into that not-so-bright, gas-station/casino gambling crowd.  I feel more like a victim than a woo-hoo client of Iowa's "have some fun already" bureaucracy. Writing this took a few hours away from the uncontrollable compulsion, so it can't be all bad to tell the truth every now and then.

After I finished my first diary entry, I didn't run out to another gas station. Instead. I stayed home, nuked a 12-inch burrito, read a few chapter of DeLillo's Underworld, and went to bed.  Heavenly. The bed, not the novel.

Saturday, February 25th, 2006. AM. The bug is back and I note that two payday loan checks had cleared at the bank on the kindness of the manager.  The money order I deposited yesterday hasn't cleared yet.  Today: hit American Payday, and return to the machine that I ran up to $300 yesterday, but had foolishly given back; take a profit today, and bank it.  Sure you will, you poor idiot.

Then, on to another gas station, and from there on to a real casino for a change: horseracing, keno, 3-card poker, and real slots. It may not be a Ladbroke's Casino, but I still haven't mustered the plane fare.  Once I do, I will be there. 

Today's budget: write that Payday Loan check for $350, receive $320.  This check due to be repaid on the 11th.  These stores stay open on weekends for fools like me.

And maybe I'll get some things done that my OCD wouldn't let me yesterday: buy some buttermilk, vinegar, a haircut, an oil change, and groceries.  I'll let you know how the whole business went when I return.


I'm back, and down $760 for the day.  My first payday loan went into the Coin-Touch machine at Holiday Gas Station, where I dropped the entire $320.  Then I wrote EZ money a payday loan check for $270, also due on the 11th.  I dropped that money, and although I got briefly ahead on the Copper Dropper, I lost it all in about half an hour.  The guys who own the place seem fascinated, but they won't cash anything.

I drove to the bank, where despite repeated negative available balances, the logic of their ATM spit out $40, which I took to the nearby tobacco shop. I bought a diet Dr. Pepper and flushed the rest into their Power Surge.  I've lost $2500 on that one machine.  That's no slot, say the Iowa Lottery Executives.  Hell no, it's a guillotine. But I'm making "purchases" with each spin, so that legitimizes my suicide in the eyes of legislators.

The tobacco shop already has one check for $1500, which they plan on depositing comes payday.  Clearly, my excursion to Ladbroke's will have to be postponed.  Today the tobacco clerk won't cash any check for me, although last week at this time, she was very accommodating. I felt sick because I couldn't play.

Discouraged and half-crazy with loss, I drove down to the Kwik Star--a place I play almost daily, and buy all my crappy diet--where I tried to write out a check for some $65 in scratch-off tickets, and fine gas station cuisine.  The clerk wouldn't accept my check because it had no address on it.  I've written at least ten of these checks right here since I got them, but never mind.  I bitched, but I felt relieved. This same unlovely clerk would later have me tasered and hauled off by the local police, but that's another story.

When my big-girl weekend KwikStar clerk wouldn't take the check, I was glad. KwikStar features only the crappiest in Coin Touch anyway--games that pay you back less than your wager, and play that high-pitched, cheap music to make it seem like a win.  Further, KwikStar are notoriously opposed to cashing tickets.  You can plunk down a hundred in cash for their lamebrain scratch-off games, and should you win back $50, they'll give you a hard time about it.  

Under no circumstance will they cash anything larger than a hundred dollar winner [recently lowered to fifty dollars], but you can get a money order up to $600--good luck cashing it.  What a management strategy.

Hey, you manipulative bastards Kwik Trip owners up there in Wisconsin.  I know that you're not a public corporation, so I assume that you're family-owned.  Well, I hope one of you turns out to be a bird-brained addict to something like the lottery games that you sell. 

I hope you choke on one of your own greasy pizzas or egg salad sandwiches.  Most of all, I  . . . oh hell, forget it.  You're merely profiting from the state's decision to create hell for a lot of poor children belonging to fools like me.  Hey, have some fun already, right?  This Iowa, where we're all stupid now.

 If I could just win a bit of money, maybe I could parlay it at the Casino.

So it was on to All Stop, where I cashed the days final check, for $77.02, for some ciggies, a bottle of soda, ten bucks cash back, and about $60 in tickets--including some ten dollar scratch-offs.  I quickly dumped the cash into their copper dropper, and then turned my attention to getting some cash back from the scratch-offs.  I actually came out ahead on the scratch-offs--that was a first--and received $118 back.

I plugged eighty of that, one twenty after another, into the Copper Dropper, and soon had the machine up to about $150.  I had $35 in my pocket, for a total of about $185.  Yet the old OCD couldn't stop, and it lost every penny to the old Copper Dropper.

I felt really sick on my way home, because one of the checks that may bounce is for my rent, and the landlady lives about ten feet away.  Saturday's Losses: $870

But back to payday, also the day that my personal check for $1471.19 gets deposited (all of it lost in about ninety minutes on the tobacco shop Power Surge, with its big $5 per-spin bet).  Clerks will all be cashing my checks that day, and the tobacco shop owner agreed to wait a few days to deposit his big check. 

I say a few Hail Mary prayers before sleep.  Although I am atheistic overall, I recall how in 1979, praying drunk in a bar for an end to that wretchedness worked.  I stopped drinking shortly thereafter.  Will I ever be back in control of my life?  Is this happening to anybody else?

Update of December 6, 2014: Every time I hear one of State Lottery terminals exclaim "Woo-hoo, you're a winner" the urge to begin a class-action suit against the State Lottery runs through my body like an electrical surge.  Exchanging a $1.00 ticket for $1.00 in proceeds is not winning.  It's a constant public reiteration that smacks of conspiracy to defraud, among other things. It makes Joe Camel look like Mother Teresa.  

I say let's sue the crummy state lottery bastards. Seriously. Call me at 319 429-9991 if you agree.

Post Script: Try finding a picture of an Iowa Coin Touch machine. Anywhere. State Bureaucrats have made sure that the internet has been wiped of any such picture. So it never happened, right? This is what happens when you let farmers get too big for their britches.
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