At the behest of long time blog reader and friend, MMinWa, I thought you might enjoy three of the greatest gambling moments of my life. Please allow an introduction and disclaimer.
I started gambling on golf at age 12 and continued on for the next 50 years. I managed to lose a semester's college tuition playing two card guts when I bet the pot with a pair of queens and someone at the table turned over a pair of kings. I have gone completely broke on at least three occasions in my lifetime with no visible way of bailing myself out. This is where my disclaimer comes in.
Gambling is all about math. The people who offer gambling opportunities understand this concept well. They have an insurmountable mathematical edge with which they will beat you bloody. In horseracing, the track/house edge can be as high as 30%. In sports parlays, the house edge is 25% or greater. In straight proposition betting, the minimum house edge is 10%. Casino table games rely on math as well giving the house a small to large edge depending on the mathematical skill of the player. Games like Keno, Wheel of Fortune, slot machines, and lotteries are for math challenged idiots.
That's the way it is. Gambling is an insurmountable mountain with the exception of two situations. One of those situations will be one of the stories I tell you about today. The other is what I refer to as a "spot play" which is an infrequent situation wherein some incredible angle injects itself into the potential wager. One of those situations currently exists between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA. Memphis simply can't beat Dallas the last two years and although on paper Memphis looks like a better team, they get their ass handed to them every time they meet. Now that might change if Luka Doncic is benched or injured but sans that line up change- Dallas gets my wager until the angle evaporates.
In short, gambling is a waste of time and money. Fortunately, 50 years of this worthless pursuit has led me to the front row of some of the zaniest stories ever witnessed. These are all very true stories. I saw them and I brook no bullshit. I could probably come up with a hundred of these stories but I have cherry picked these three because they were particularly insane and defied all odds.
The Great Roll
In the late 80's, the best card room in Vegas was probably the Las Vegas Hilton. They had about 35 tables and this was where I first saw Phil Hellmuth when he arrived in Las Vegas. The dealers liked him and he was a genuinely nice guy. You can see what 35 years of card playing can do to someone.
At any rate, I think it was sometime in the fall of '87 when I became involved in one of the greatest crap rolls of all time at the Las Vegas Hilton.
I had busted out of the poker game and when I went to the casino cage with my remaining 30 dollars worth of chips, the line was so long I said screw it. I went to the pit to blast off my remaining chips or so I thought.
I wound up at the craps table. The minimum bet at that table was 5 bucks so I just took my remaining chips and placed the 4,5,6, 9, and 10 in a bet we call 26 across. The point was 8.
The dice rollers or "shooters" were three young, well dressed, black guys which I believe were from Hawaii. They had the dice. And the greatest roll of the dice I have ever witnessed was about to begin.
The shooter probably rolled at least 10 numbers that I had bet before he made the 8. I remember having about 100 bucks before he made his point so maybe he hit my numbers even more than that. Maybe 13 or 14 numbers excluding 2,3,11, 12. The black guys were "pressing" or doubling all their place bets like mine. So I started doing the same thing.
After at least a half hour had passed, I had 5 or 6 hundred in chips. By that time, I had 25 or 30 bucks on every number. The table was so crammed we were all forced to stand sideways. The casino was getting pissed and the pit bosses were all gaping at our table. People clamored to get into the game but there was no room. The casino strung one of those velvet ropes around us and barred anyone else from getting into this game.
But the real story were those three black guys. Each of them had 5000 dollars, the table limit, placed on every number. So when the shooter threw a 4, each of them received 9000 dollars or 27,000 dollars plus whatever they had bet on the field or the hard ways. It was insane. I could not see how much they had but after an hour- they had to have had a million dollars. They had to chip up to the highest denominations and the table actually went broke. The had to get more chips, at least twice from the vault. The black guys had racks of chips under the table where drinks and ashtrays normally go.
Paying the table sucked and was very slow. It took the craps dealers about two minutes to pay off all the bets before the next roll of the dice could occur. By this time, the pit bosses were becoming assholes. They slowed the game. They grabbed the dice and twirled them between rolls. One of them, an attractive brunette, was actually inventorying chips as I caught her staring at every person's chips and writing amounts down on paper by position.
When the roll finally ended, I had won 1500 bucks. I was the small chipper on the table by far. There is not a doubt in my mind that the Las Vegas Hilton lost a couple million dollars on that nearly two-hour roll of the dice. When it finally ended, the players at that table knew we had been involved in something miraculous. Some 35 years later, I have never seen anything like that.
As an epilogue to this story, the Las Vegas Hilton fired every employee of that shift that day. This resulted in a long running lawsuit that eventually saw each of those employees receive 2 million dollars each- several years later.
God Loves Drunks and Fools Too
The following year after the great roll, I was trying to get a seat at a low limit poker game at the Palace Station. The games were full so I wandered out in the casino to find something interesting while I waited for a seat to open after putting my name on the list. I sat at a slot machine right behind the 21 pit and I noticed a middle-aged Mexican guy sit down at an empty table. It was midafternoon.
He had clearly been drinking but I didn't think he was drunk. He bought into the game for 500 bucks. I didn't realize I was about to see another crazy run at the table. The limit was 2000 at this game.
He bet 200 dollars on his very first hand and was dealt 21. He then bet 500 and received another 21. Wow, this is starting to look interesting. He was up 1000 dollars in two hands. He ordered a drink. He bet 1000 this time. I think he just won that hand. Soon he was betting the table limit. Every hand he got seemed to be a 20 or 21. It was an insane run of cards.
When the cocktail waitress came back- he tried to tip her 500 bucks. The pit boss stepped in and refused to let her accept the tip. Eventually they let her have 75 bucks or three green chips.
This guy's run continued. The pit boss knew this could not continue. They asked the player if he wanted to raise the limits. He said yes and they raised the limit and changed the limit sign to 5000.
He won a few more hands and at his very highest, I think he had something very close to 45,000. In 20 minutes, this guy had turned 500 bucks into a small fortune. He was starting to get drunk and I think he was on his 4th drink- the turnaround time on a guy tipping 75 bucks a drink is about 30 seconds. The cocktail waitress nearly ran back to this table. The Federal Express of cocktails.
Unfortunately, at 5000 bucks a hand, the drunk guy simply didn't know when to quit. When he split 7s for 10 grand total, against a dealer's 9, I knew the end was near. Still, I think he could have left with 25,000 or so but he didn't. In 10 minutes and before they called my name, this guy had lost everything. I will never forget the smug look on the pit boss's face. What a shame.
I often wonder when he went home that night, or perhaps the next day, whether he told his wife "Sorry honey, I had a bad day and lost 500."
When the Sheep Eat the Wolves
I have so many stories that it's hard to pick just one. Do I tell em about the autistic kid in Tucson or the horrible beat I saw a guy take on a 1500 college football bet? After mulling it over- I landed on this story. Every once in a while, the sheep eat the wolves. This is one of those stories.
Each year, sportsbooks offer what are called "futures bets." These are bets on sports teams to accomplish certain feats. For instance, you can bet on whether a professional baseball team will win the National League pennant or whether they will win the World Series. These odds can range anywhere from 1000-1 to 9/5 depending on a team's record, talent, and opponent. The odds generally change quite a bit as teams are eliminated from contention. That is when the sportsbook remembers to change them. One day they didn't.
I used to play cards with a little old guy who is still with us and well into his 90's now. He is in the poker hall of fame. I'll call him Dave because that is his name. He is a sharp guy, always looking for any angle to make a buck. He generally makes small sports bets usually 20 bucks or so. Well until this one day.
I noticed him continually circulating through the sports book, making 500 hundred-to-1000-dollar bets. This was a huge deviation from his normal betting pattern. So, after making another big bet, I took him aside and asked him what the fuck are you doing? Just like that.
Dave explained to me that the year before, before the AFC and NFC championship games in professional football had finished, the sportsbook forgot to take down the futures bets or change them after the divisional round. He said he had made a small killing before they realized their mistake. This year he said he was ready. He had 12 grand with him.
The AFC championship game was between the New England Patriots at plus 225 and the Indianapolis Colts at plus 285. These were the odds to win the AFC championship before they won their respective games. Instead of adjusting the odds or taking the bet down, they left those bets up.
This meant for every 100 dollars you bet on the Patriots you would receive 225 dollars plus your 100 dollars back. The same was true with the Colts. If the Colts won- you would receive 285 bucks for every 100 you wagered plus your bet back.
You could not lose.
Dave bet a total of 12,000 on these two teams. That was 6,000 on each. All I could muster was 4,000 and so I circulated through the betting window making smaller bets so that the employees wouldn't notice. I alternated between cashiers. I managed to get 2000 down on each team before running out of money. I had a friend, a multi-millionaire friend but could not find him or I might have bought a house that day.
I was kind of worried that they would catch this. The tickets were date and time stamped. I figured at the very worst, the gaming commission would declare the tickets dead and return our money.
That never happened.
The next week, we were in the poker room, Dave and I. Rooting for the Colts of course. Unfortunately, Brady the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) and the Patriots won.
I collected 6500 dollars minus my investment for a 2500-dollar payday.
Dave nailed down 7500 bucks for his efforts minus expenses. Strangely, the following year, Dave said the sportsbook immediately took down the futures betting after the divisional round was over.
It's not often that the sheep get to eat the wolves. But it sure was fun that day.