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Grandma’s Game Room photos by Felix Gillette FEATURE Texas Hold’em In hard-luck Montague County, slot-machine operators hit the jackpot BY FELIX GILLETTE IFrom the outside, Dice’s Pizza and Subs looks like a mom-and-pop delicatessen, perhaps a nice place to grab a meatball sub or a slice of pepperoni pizza. The low-slung brick building sits near a Dairy Queen along the main drag in the small town of Nocona, Texas, just south of the Oklahoma border. On one side of the building is a mural featuring a village of homes nestled in the foothills of a mountain. The scene looks vaguely Mediterranean. Inside, the room is dark and smoky. There are no shakers of Parmesan cheese or crushed red pepper. No red-and-white checkered tablecloths. In fact, there are no dining tables. These days, nobody visits Dice’s to eat pizza or subs. They come here to gamble. A few months ago, some local entrepreneurs converted Dice’s into a makeshift casino of sorts. Although gambling is still illegal in Texas, local law enforcement agents have chosen to ignore the handful of minicasinos that have recently popped up here and there throughout the surrounding area of Montague County, roughly 900 square miles of small towns and farmland northwest of Dallas. The police’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach has given Dice’s a significant house advantage. The game room can offer its patrons something that the slumping economy all too often cannot: the hope of hitting it big. While other businesses in the county flounder, Dice’s is flourishing off the money of local residents, who are often poor, sometimes desperate, and always willing to ante up for one more shot at a hundred-dollar jackpot. On a Thursday afternoon in May, about a dozen men and women sit on stools facing upright machines with bright screens surrounded by dark wood consoles. At first glance, the contraptions, which line both sides of the rectangular room, appear to be video games, the room like an arcade. But a closer look won’t reveal any Golden Tee or Deer Hunter games. Instead, each device offers a menu of amusements. With a touch of the screen, the players flip between blackjack, bingo, keno, and games that mimic slot machines. A friendly woman mills about, offering to fetch free sodas. It’s also her job to cash out the winningsif there are any. Betty Wright, a soft-spoken, middle-aged woman with a willowy frame, silver nail polish, and round glasses sits in an alcove toward the back. A black tarp 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/16 /04