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YVONNE ABRAHAM

You can bet on this

SOMEWHERE IN FEDERAL WATERS -- I'm 3 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, and I am praying for an iceberg.

The slot machines are sending up an obscene cacophony of dings and bleats, like some acid-tripping orchestra tuning up. Every so often, the one called Swinging Green sends an elephant's trumpet drilling through my skull.

The carpet is a riot of red, with a pattern that won't show the bloodstains if the ladies get into a battle with their walkers over who gets to sit at the Black Widow next.

The air is heavy with smoke and resignation. Grim-faced gamblers punch buttons and place bets like it's their job and they've been doing it way too long.

Or not long enough: One dejected slotster stepped away from her machine , and the very next player up raked in 3,000 quarters.

Halfway through this six-hour casino cruise, I want to leap off the boat, but I can't.

First, I am with child, and it's not just about me any more.

Second, if some Beacon Hill bigs get their way, this is how the state is going to be paying for my kid's gym equipment in a few years.

Treasurer Tim Cahill figures casinos in Massachusetts are inevitable, so the state should clear the way and make sure it gets a cut of the new action.

Governor Deval Patrick has a group studying the prospect.

Craps for chemistry classes might not be far off.

I want to pay my fair share, but I need to get into practice. So I start at the slots.

I slap the button over and over again. (There's a bona fide arm, but the button chews through the money faster and burns fewer calories.)

I drop 25 bucks in about 10 minutes. I feel like a loser, but then I pretend it's the future: The more money I blow, the more goes to the state. And that means more for schools. Therefore, I am actually a winner.

Bar, Bar, Cherries. I lose. Yippee !

Seven, Seven, Blank. Nothing again. Woo hooo!

Sure, I could just give the money to the state directly instead of putting it through the Double Jackpot Haywire first, but then I'd miss out on the buffet. And as the nice folk in Stoneham will tell you, particularly those whose kids are done with the school system, property tax overrides are such a frightful bore.

So say hello to Patricia Noyes, a sweet, diminutive, short-haired 66-year-old in a fuchsia Windbreaker and angel earrings.

This slot machine she can barely reach is as close as she gets to fun these days.

How are you, Patricia?

"Lousy. I got so many problems it would take me a year to tell you. Oh gawd, let me see. I've had three heart attacks, and I had the last rites four times. I'm in the house all the time, except when I have to go to the doctor, so gambling is just a luxury."

Patricia used to work in electronics, soldering circuit boards. Now her disability income is about $1,000 a month. From that, she pays $177 for health insurance, and $601 for her apartment in Peabody.

She gambles mostly in the warmer months, when the casino boat sails out of Lynn. Last season, Patricia took the cruise about twice a month, dropping about $100 each time. Tonight she will lose $60.

When she's feeling up to it, her ex-husband takes her to Foxwoods, in Connecticut. But it's far, and it's not easy for her these days.

If there were a casino closer by, Patricia could gamble more often. Now, some might argue that's not necessarily a good thing.

They might say Patricia can't really afford to gamble in the first place. Or that there are other ways to solve the state's fiscal woes besides putting them on this woman's frail shoulders.

But that kind of talk won't get my kid very far, gym-wise, will it? So I say, Go, Patricia, go! Hit that button! Roll those dice! Snake eyes . Hallelujah.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail is abraham@globe.com.

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