MILLE LACS -- When Marjorie Cox of McGregor met up with her husband, John, at Grand Casino in Mille Lacs around 1 p.m. last week her plastic cup of quarters was nearly empty and she needed more money.
The Lucky Sevens slot machine was not lucky for Cox. She borrowed money from her husband and went back to the machines.
By 3 p.m. she hit big on the quarter Double Diamond Deluxe machine. Her plastic coin cup now was full.
"This is the first time I got lucky today," she said. "Now I will have to pay back my husband."
Cox, 70, and her husband, John Cox, 71, have been going to Grand Casino since it opened in 1991. They travel 50 miles once a week and on occasion they will stay overnight in the hotel at the casino.
Last week they stayed two nights since John attended the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe annual state of the tribe address. While he attended the meeting, his wife played the slot machines.
The couple, who have been married for 48 years, began going to the casino out of curiosity. Now they say it is fun and is a way for them to escape from the pressures of the world.
The Coxes go to the casino at their leisure and do not always on Senior Tuesdays, a day the Grand Casino promotes for senior citizens.
The couple usually plays certain slot machines together. They will sit side by side with money in both machines and will play one machine at a time.
"We like each other," said John. "We like to spend quality time together and by doing it this way it takes longer so we can gamble more."
The Coxes will gamble separately, John likes to play live poker and Marjorie likes to play bingo for a few hours. Marjorie said she will play on the slot machines by herself, but John will not.
"I like to play Texas Hold 'em," said John. It's fun."
The couple would not say how much money they spend at the casino, but said they have a limit and it is their entertainment money.
By the numbers
The percent of seniors, age 55 or older, who gamble regularly at Grand Casino is 48 percent, said Joe Nayquonabe, Grand Casino director of guest services.
The highest percent of seniors come on Tuesdays, he said.
Grand Casino has 160,000 customers who visit regularly over a one-year period and the casino sees 10,000 customers a day.
Nayquonabe said 33 percent of the casino's customers come from within a 50-mile radius.
"If we both lose we just go to bed and if we win we play longer," said John. "We are never unhappy about losing because we have a good time when we come here."
John said gambling is fine for anyone at any age to do for fun. He said people just need to be careful not to become addicted to gambling where it would pose financial or relationship problems.
He has seen a few people at the casino who have a gambling problem, including people who play on three different slot machines at one time.
The Coxes do not only come to the casino for the gambling. They also come for the food. They eat at all three restaurants at the casino, but most of the time they eat the buffet.
"I have to keep my girlish figure," joked John.
If they are at the casino on Thursdays they like the $2.99 breakfast that is served at night. On Tuesdays they always have to get their free ice cream cone that is offered to seniors through the casino's Fun Club Book.
"We also love to use the double points," said Marjorie. The double points are from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays on the slot machines.
Another couple, Leonard and Marilyn Morgan of Cushing, was found at Grand Casino playing double points. The Morgans also have been going to the casino since it opened. They come to the casino once a month. If there are good promotions at the casino or they get cabin fever they come more often.
The Morgans came to the casino on a tour bus from Browerville. This was their second trip this month.
Of all their trips to Grand Casino, the main thing they enjoy is the company.
"We know all the employees really good," said Leonard, 76. "Robin (Grostad, the casino's Lady Luck) calls me Dad. She lost her dad. She is my sweetheart."
Marilyn, 75, said the turnover at the casino is high and she misses many of the employees.
The Morgans do little gambling. They have a limit of money they spend at each visit, but would not specify the amount. They like to gamble on the nickel machines and in the non-smoking area.
"I'll play Black Jack and I like Wheel of Fortune," said Marilyn. "And when the money is gone I'm done."
Leonard said he has won some and lost a lot. He shared a few of his lucky moments. When he walked into the casino for the first time, he put a dollar in a slot machine and won $2,500.
"I haven't won that much since," he said. "Another time I told the dealer to deal me a straight flush and he did. Then right after that I hit three of a kind. It was back to back.
"I left after that and I played on their money."
Now Leonard jokes, "I come to the casino to visit my money."
The Morgans said they do not know what their win-loss ratio is, but don't care.
"We come here to have fun," they said.
Grostad said the Morgans are the least superstitious of any of the Grand Casino customers. She said there are people who talk to the slot machines and people who will do signs with their hands to the machine.
Grostad likes it when people win. She said most of the women will scream when they win big. She said men don't scream, but they do get excited.
At the casino, the Morgans also go for the entertainment and the food. They have seen Charlie Pride perform at the convention center.
The couple raved about the food at the casino. They said a few of their favorites are the steak and the salads. They said they avoid the buffet because it is too much food.
"We always split a meal," said Leonard. One recent lunch they split steak and shrimp at The Grill.
Right before the Morgans get on the bus to go home they always get their free ice cream cone. Marilyn got maple nut and Leonard got chocolate.
Jan Warzetha, 65, St. Cloud, also was at the casino on Senior Tuesdays.
She comes to the casino two to three times a month. She began coming to the casino nine years ago after her husband died.
Warzetha said her sister-in-law likes poker and one time she went to the casino with her. Warzetha likes to play the nickel machines. She avoids the machines with the sevens and the bars because those are boring, she said. She likes the I Dream of Jeannie slot machine.
"I used to get lucky," said Warzetha. "But I don't anymore."
Warzetha said she spends only $50 at the casino and once that is gone she is done. She said if she comes on the bus she spends more because she spends $17 for a $35 coupon to use at the casino.
"I carry a book in my purse that I read if I lose all my money," she said.
Warzetha said the money she gambles is her entertainment money. She said she does not put herself in debt by gambling.
Most of the time Warzetha goes to the casino on a bus. She gambles and then has lunch at Plums, the casino's deli. She said she would go to The Grill, but there is a longer wait.
Warzetha said she mainly goes to the casino to gamble because it is something to do and she has a lot of fun.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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