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Doubling down on fun: Seniors head to Chumash casino

SCV seniors descend on Chumash casino

Posted: September 28, 2009 10:28 p.m.
Updated: September 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Billie Culbertson displays her lucky ladybug as she prepares to head to Chumash Casino with a tour group from the SCV Senior Center on Wednesday morning. Nearly 50 seniors participated in the day trip. Billie Culbertson displays her lucky ladybug as she prepares to head to Chumash Casino with a tour group from the SCV Senior Center on Wednesday morning. Nearly 50 seniors participated in the day trip.
Billie Culbertson displays her lucky ladybug as she prepares to head to Chumash Casino with a tour group from the SCV Senior Center on Wednesday morning. Nearly 50 seniors participated in the day trip.

SANTA YNEZ - As the bus climbs Highway 154 with the Pacific Ocean fading in the rear-view mirror, senior citizens from the Santa Clarita Valley sort their money.

Some separate bills by denomination, while others put the money they gambled with in their left pockets and reserve space in their right pockets for their winnings.

"I separate my money from the house money," says Bonnie Ann Allen, 80, of Canyon Country.

When the senior citizens spot the Chumash Casino through the windshield of the coach bus, everyone collectively exhales.

"We're here," says Virginia Compton of Newhall.

The "we" is a group of nearly 50 senior citizens from the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center on one of its regular day trips to the casino.

The senior center arranges monthly trips that take the seniors to wineries, musicals and, of course, their favorite getaway of all.

"We don't miss the casino trips," Compton says. "They are our favorite."

Seniors find their thrills
Pauline Norris, 86, of Castaic, doesn't fill her days knitting booties for her grandchildren. She can't sit still long enough for that.
"I go to the casino as often as a I can," she says.

Norris is best described as an action junkie, but not necessarily gambling action. The casino actually serves as a relaxation time for Norris. She spent a good chunk of her summer in Norway and Sweden with best friend Allen.

"We landed in Oslo and got on a cruise ship. We saw all of Scandinavia before sailing to England," Norris says.

Norris and Allen caught a glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover before returning stateside. With Europe a distant memory, the pair is resigned to relaxing trips to the casino, where Allen is really in her environment.

"I play table games like three card poker, pai-gow poker and blackjack," Allen says, displaying the steely nerve of a cardshark.

She's a seasoned gambler disguised as a grandmother in a jumpsuit - more likely to double down on 11 in blackjack than clip supermarket coupons.

"I love the thrill," she says. "You don't know what's going to happen."

Allen had honed her game in the gambling halls of Laughlin, Nev., where she lived for several years before moving to Santa Clarita.

"I know how to read a table," she says, "to tell whether it's a money maker."

Beyond the jackpots
Compton doesn't touch the table games. She is a slow and steady gambler who bides her time on the penny and nickel slots alongside long time friend Margaret Lowden of Canyon Country. The pair finds the casino's true allure in the culinary delights of the buffet.

"We always enjoy the buffet," Compton says.

She pulls a small notebook from her purse. Inside, in a self-taught shorthand, she has rating for casino all-you-can-eats across the Southland.

"I'd give this one a fair rating," Compton says. "There's really no gourmet stuff on it."

When Lowden isn't critiquing the tapioca on casino buffets, she keeps busy staying up on current events.

"I read three newspapers each day," she proclaims loudly. "Then there are lots of doctors appointments and household chores."

To sit in front of a nickel slot machine, Compton left behind her four cats: Squeaky, Mr. C, Stiltsy and Gabby.

The day trips keep Lowden and Compton's lives from turning into a dull routine.

"These trips are a great escape," Lowden says. "They are a way to get together with friends and even make some new ones."

House money
After four hours in the casino, some of the seniors start to trickle out, looking a little broke and dejected.

"I gave them enough of my money," says Ralph George, of Newhall.

George pulls open a book to pass the time until 4 p.m. comes and it's time to load the bus for the trip home.

Inside the casino, the die hard gamblers work the machines and the table games. Some try to squeeze out at least one jackpot before they need to leave.

In the case of Allen the card shark, she is playing with house money.

"I hit a big jackpot on three card poker," she says. "I hit a straight flush. It was a 40 to one payoff on a $15 bet."

Allen patted her right pocket, flush with poker chips, as she pulled the lever on a slot machine passing the time with Norris.

Allen walked away from the table shortly after hitting the jackpot.

"The table was getting cold, so I left," Allen says with a devilish grin.

She wasn't the only person who came home with some of the casino's money.

Luck be a ladybug
Numbers are important to Billie Culbertson, 59, of Canyon Country. She plays Keno, which is similar to the lottery except the drawing occurs in the casino.

Culbertson always plays the same numbers.

"These are my life numbers," she says. "They follow me through my life."

Scratching out the numbers 7, 11, 15, 21 and 33 turned into $300 in casino winnings during the trip to Chumash Casino.
The numbers are the ages of her two sons and her grandchildren.

While Culbertson's lucky numbers change, the source of her luck stays the same. At all times, Culbertson carries a ladybug.

"They're good luck and they are good luck for me," she says.

Culbertson luck dates back more than 25 years when she first began scratching out numbers on a Keno card at the Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas.

"I won $9,750 and I was hooked," she says.

Culbertson dashes to the casino whenever she gets a chance and even plays Bingo locally.

"It's about more than the thrill of playing," she says. "It's a chance to meet people. I have made a lot of friends on these trips."


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