Our date night started with a tiff.

It was the usual stuff. I was acting too much like my mother and Jake wasn’t being adventurous enough.

Jake took this as a challenge and spontaneously pointed the car north towards Albert Lea, MN. We would certainly find an adventure along the way.

We stopped at Diamond Joe Casino, that strange, sparkly, concrete barn-like building located off I-35 in Northwood, IA.

Diamond Joe’s was in construction while I attended Wartburg College. I passed it every time I drove to and from school. I finally stopped there during my senior year of college, for I had never, ever gambled, unless you count candy poker in the dorms. I wandered in alone and asked a cashier if I could purchase tokens for the slot machines. She looked at me like I was crazy.

I was so disappointed to learn the slots were all electronic. This destroyed my visions of machines with pulley levers, tokens, and clinking coins. These had so many buttons and I had no idea what to do. I promptly lost five dollars, got mad, and left.

I tried again at Mystic Lake a couple years ago, though were mostly there for the casino buffet. I won back the $20 I had put into Kitty Glitter and Jake gently nudged me to call it a day.

On a recent Saturday evening, we giddily walked into Diamond Joe’s. I was surprised to see the security check-in literally sandwiched by a Subway and a Burger King. Pop and coffee are complimentary to guests and they do allow smoking. At the end of our hour and a half visit, my chest felt irritated.

We ate dinner at Woodfire Grille before we hit the slots.

Our meal was lovely. The entrees seemed a few dollars pricier we expected and the cocktails a few dollars less. Go figure. I enjoyed my $6 glass of house Cabernet, while beers are limited to bottles. My fillet of Parmesan-crusted walleye was the size of my forearm and delightfully fried. Jake’s Blackberry Barbecue Smoked ribs were Flintstones-sized and the sauce was not too sweet. He was especially smitten with the jalapeno cornbread muffin drenched in what tasted like honey and brown butter sauce.

A basket of bread with little ramekins of butter comes with meals and I did not regret ordering a side salad. The vegetables were fresh and we both liked the tart Italian vinaigrette.

Time to gamble. We take the $20 we set aside for slots and wander amongst them.

We can’t figure out the machines and ask the cashier if we are supposed to purchase a ticket to insert into the slots. She looks confused.

She provides us with a set of instructions that begin with visiting an ATM to get preapproved. . . we lose her but nod anyway and thank her, anyway. We have no idea what we’re doing.

“I don’t get it,” I confess and ask Jake, “Do you?”


We make our money stretch the farthest at the penny slots. I’m confused by the options regarding buttons and lines and I can’t do math. “Nine and one” my husband instructs me to push. We pick a new machine every time we lose $5 .

The first five go quickly.

The second five double our original $20.

“I think it’s time to go now,” I say, gently nudging Jake towards the cashier. I’m too cheap to actually enjoy gambling.

As we walk to redeem our ticket, we debate about whether should go with our original plan to gamble our entire $20 instead of cut our losses early. There are too many “if’s,” and we both feel the itch to find out. In the end, we decide to collect our extra $20.

In our case, the house most certainly didn’t win that night.