Jackpot is for Lovers 

And gamblers

I'm a terrible gambler. My first--and so far only--trip to Las Vegas ended with me stranded (all but one pair of pants gone), cashless, friendless and hung over at the Bellagio, stuck in a penthouse with a crazed 22-year-old timber baron's son.

The only upside was some very sound student loan consolidation advice I received from a lovely 40-ish stripper named Shar at the Crazy Horse Too. That place has since closed, sadly. Judging by how much money I've saved following Shar's advice--she worked by day as a lending agent--the Crazy Horse Too was the sanest place in that city.

So it was an especially out-of-character decision for my wife and me to head for Jackpot, Nev., on our seventh anniversary. We were not disappointed, but if your first impression of Jackpot is that it shouldn't exist, you'd be right. There's no reason for a settlement at that particular sun-blasted bend of the road. No native trees, no body of water, no farms. The only thing it has going for it is the morality (and proximity) of Idaho.

Credit Peter "Cactus Pete" Piersanti, who operated some slot machines at the Island Park Lodge in the '40s. When Idaho outlawed gambling in 1954, he pulled up stakes and moved south to found Cactus Pete's Motor Lodge, a gas station that four years later had grown into a hotel.

Today, the house that Pete built boasts 296 rooms and 26,000 square feet of casino floor space. And Pete's is pretty much the only game in town. Parent company Ameristar Pinnacle Entertainment owns the Horseshu Casino Hotel across the street, as well as the General Store. Beyond that, there are a few smaller motel/casinos, a Chevron station, liquor store and a collection of trailer homes huddled in the shadow of the Cactus Pete's Tower. Which is where my wife and I found ourselves, surveying Pete's posthumous empire from the windows of our top-floor Jacuzzi suite (reasonably priced at less than $200 a night).

A trip around the casino floor brings you face-to-face with the more interesting grandparents of the greater Twin Falls area. Miss the days when you could smoke almost everywhere? You're in the right place. Craving an all-you-can eat seafood buffet 700 miles from the ocean? I hit the Canyon Cove Buffet on a Friday night.

Did we win any money? Hell no. Cactus Pete's boasts mainly slots. There are table games, but if you're like my wife and me, you're a miserable failure at them. Better idea: pump singles into the video poker machines embedded in the bar(s) and sip on some "free" drinks. That's a bet that never loses; and, when it comes to a quick weekend getaway with just the right amount of sin, Jackpot doesn't either.

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