Twenty years ago, the first online poker cash game was dealt.
January 1st, 1998 marked the roll-out of the first real money poker site, at PlanetPoker.com.
For those who are still connected to the game two decades later, most of us remember those good old days and bad-ass nights of fast money, wicked beats, and broken mice.
Online poker has toasted booms and weathered busts. It has spearheaded soaring highs and withstood devastating scandals. It has busted an untold number of player bankrolls. It has broken up marriages. It has created millionaires, and even spawned a few billionaires. It has hatched a quirky subculture of heroes, villains, and scoundrels. It has attracted celebrities, forged criminals, and made fugitives out of heroes. It has been played in more than 150 countries around the world, some places legal, more often not. It has thrived. It has defrauded. It has survived.
If “poker exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great,” as American playwright Neil Simon once penned, then online poker is the witches brew of economic and social Darwinism. Indeed, online poker isn’t just the manifestation of the laws of natural selection. It has been the 52-card test tube which confirms survival of the fittest. And yet sometimes, even the very fittest ended up being cheated and were ultimately destroyed. Online poker has often been as cruel as invigorating.
The upcoming multi-part narrative to be posted this week encompasses a reminiscence of my online poker experiences from 1998 to present. The next several chapters, yet unnumbered because I”m writing them now, will relay (at least some) of the details of my marginal role in the game and global phenomenon — as a low-stakes player, a grinder, a political advocate for its legalization, and insider-executive.
Enough with my introduction. It’s time to log in, shuffle up the memories, and deal out the stories.
Photo Credit: The photo above was taken about 20 years ago in a cash game at about the time online poker began. It’s the only photo I have of Marieta sweating me at the table. So, it’s kinda’ special to me.
After seeing Molly’s Game, which is writer-producer Aaron Sorkin’s much-anticipated directorial debut, I’m thoroughly convinced he could script his next film based on the Yellow Pages and somehow make it riveting.
A partially-true tale constructed on the weak foundation an almost painstakingly unreadable narrative published in 2015 of the same title, Sorkin manages to do what I’d have deemed next to impossible — making sweet lemonade out of sour lemons. He transforms a brassy Heidi Fleiss-like protagonist into a highly-sophisticated and even sympathetic role model/movie hero. She coaxes our minds and wins over our hearts. Sorkin’s engaging screenplay, rapid-fire staccato dialogue, and convincing performances throughout ends up coercing us to cheer her rise and console her inevitable downfall.
Most unexpected, this is a stunning achievement.
Molly’s Game, the book written by so-called “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom really wasn’t much of a read. It was a gossipy, TMZ-tinged blog littered with dirt and scandal plastered between two peak-a-boo covers hustled quickly to press in order to hemorrhage every last dollar out a clump of rumors with the shelf life of last week’s tabloid trash. Sure, scandalous tell-all resuscitation has become popular fodder for every genre of American life — from the Mafia to the White House. Dirty revelations of what happens at by-invitation only, high-stakes poker games frequented by popular entertainers and sports figures is entirely consistent with this lengthy confessional catalog of cattiness we’ve come to digest, and frankly — often enjoy. I suppose there will always be an salacious audience anxious to peak through shuttered windows and cross rope lines, eager to read and learn what celebrities are really like behind the scenes in real life. Hostess-banker-confidant Bloom’s narrative tell-all shattered the firewall protecting several celebs who participated in her weekly poker games — including Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Alex Rodriguez, and other luminaries who frequented the world’s most exclusive man-cave, first in Los Angeles and then later in New York.
Yet for all the lurid details, given the shallow subject matter seemingly better suited for the inside pages of the National Enquirer, Sorkin shocked just about everyone in Hollywood when he announced his intent to direct his first film based on such petty triviality. Given Sorkin’s haughty pedigree, Bloom’s book made for a baffling starting point. After all, he’s penned some of the most memorable monologues in recent memory, including television excerpts which have attracted millions of hits on YouTube. Evidence: “America is not the Greatest” (from HBO’s The Newsroom) and “Based on the Bible” (from NBC’s The West Wing). Sorkin has also authored a few movie gems you might have seen — including screenplays for A Few Good Men,The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. He also won an Oscar for writing The Social Network.
With this expansive resume of ultra-seriousness, Sorkin, a champion of progressive causes and unapologetic proponent of overt liberal activism, could have picked any topic and likely transformed the subject matter into must-see social commentary. Hence, Sorkin’s decision to turn a blabbering tattle-tale of rich and famous people acting like scumbags into a movie seemed like a misguided decision and squandered opportunity for something far greater given the times we live in.
Well — call me converted and label me now a believer after seeing a marvelously-crafted movie with a brilliant script bolstered by standout performances from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba. The two lead characters and steady elevation of intensity absorbs the audience and never lets us stray. Consistent with the previous character-driven biographies within Sorkin’s creative wheelhouse, Molly’s Game employs no special effects nor cue music instructing us on how to feel. The story and characters reveal themselves. It’s up to us to draw our own conclusions as to how we react and what to believe. Judgement becomes subjective.
With yet another convincing film role, Chastain once again elevates her well-deserved reputation as one of the most credible actors working in Hollywood today. She’s “credible” in the sense that every film she appears in — is solid. Chastain never disappoints. There are no superhero sellouts, nor blockbuster bombs in exchange for a big, fat paycheck on her movie resume. Credit Chastain for displaying personal and professional integrity that’s uncharacteristic for most movie stars. Molly’s Game is a worthy addition to an already fruitful IMDB listing of impressive work from the ginger-haired actress, including Zero Dark Thirty, The Martian, and A Most Violent Year.
Matching Chastain in every single scene is British actor Idris Elba, who plays her attorney. He’s initially reluctant to represent Bloom in the criminal lawsuit, especially since she can’t pay his hefty legal fees. But Elba becomes increasingly sympathetic to her plight and ends up convinced Bloom is being railroaded by the Department of Justice with trumped-up charges intended to make her roll over on Russian mobsters who have infiltrated Bloom’s weekly poker games (whether she knew about their real backgrounds is fodder for speculation). Elba is simply outstanding. In any other year, he’s probably be a lock for a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar, but will likely face stiff competition given some other excellent work in film this year — most notably by Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World). The back and forth scenes and battle of wits between Chastain and Elba steal this movie.
“Molly’s Game,” is supposedly a poker movie, but really it’s not. Poker serves as the stage, but the surrounding arena could just as easily be any setting where an unsuspecting victim gets in way over his (make that her) head, an infectious trap from which there is no escape. The “game” played here isn’t about cards, at all. It’s about the people who play them and those who hold the power and always ending up raking in the most chips. Money might be just a way of keeping score, but in Molly’s Game the ultimate victory comes in achieving unconditional surrender, and even humiliation.
One segment of poker sequences is extraordinary, one of the best portrayals of what this game can do to normal people than anything I’ve previously seen in film. It shows a wealthy businessman, a player typically adverse to taking large financial risks, a rock-solid poker player going on full-blown tilt after taking a brutal bad beat in a high-stakes game. Films with poker scenes rarely capture the emotional intensity of the experience of losing. When this man crumbles right before our eyes, we see a sight all poker players have witnessed countless times before. The longer we play poker, the more meltdowns we’ve watched, and profited from. And, if you’ve played poker for a really, really long time, you’ve probably been that decomposing player who emotionally disintegrates into a defeated soul. Guilty.
Some poker notables have publicly criticized a few scenes (Mike Sexton foremost in the crowd — to his credit, Sexton actually participated in some of the Hollywood poker games portrayed in the film). Indeed, certain scenes do grossly violate the standard rules of the game. There’s even been some discussion on social media about why the detail-obsessed Sorkin would get so many things accurate about the real story, but then totally blow it on the poker scenes (mostly, the betting actions are incorrect). The most convincing rebuttal to this legitimate criticism can be read in poker journalist-writer Robbie Strazynski’s recent article at the website Card Player Lifestyle. Strazynski’s excellent one-on-one interview with Josh Leichner, who served as the poker consultant for Molly’s Game goes into considerable detail about how various scenes were filmed and why creative decisions were made. Read the exclusive first-hand account here (“Interview with Molly’s Game Poker Consultant Josh Leichner“), complete with some on-the set photos.
To be clear, Molly’s Game doesn’t merit listing among the pantheon of revealing poker films, nor even great movies about gambling, although it will inevitably be compared to its iconic forebears. While every bit of compelling as Rounders (1998), but not nearly as then-groundbreaking The Cincinnati Kid (1965), there simply isn’t enough poker shown in the movie to group amidst its cinematic brethren. Rather, this is a story about our quirky legal system, about those who get caught up in the web of hypocrisies, and the unlikely paths we’re forced to take which ultimately shape our lives and determine at our inner core who we really are.
Two minor quibbles with the movie are worth mentioning. First, Erba’s character wasn’t real. Bloom was not represented by legal counsel like the attorney portrayed in the film. Sorkin thought that adding this character was absolutely essential, and he was right to take artistic licence. Without Erba in the room to ask the necessary questions and restore some balance as a moral guidepost, this movie wouldn’t have been nearly as watchable (perhaps one of many reasons the book isn’t nearly as good).
Second, the conflict between Bloom and her father as portrayed in the movie didn’t really happen. A total fabrication gets added to the mix by Sorkin, presumably to enhance her psychological profile and illicit some sympathy. Kevin Costner in the role of Mr. Bloom does spice up the drama playing a stern father pushing his daughter to the very limits. Some critics have taken issue with this emotional padding since it adds perhaps another 30 minutes or so to a movie that clocks in at an unusually long 2 hours and 25 minutes. However, I thought the fictionalized addition enhanced Bloom’s persona. I chose to overlook the criticism and think it’s unfounded.
After loathing the book but loving the movie, I remain conflicted as to whether I like or respect Molly Bloom. But this movie doesn’t concern itself with winning over my affection. While told entirely from Bloom’s point of view, and therefore subject to obvious bias, I did gradually find myself rooting for this tough-minded female trying to scratch out a role for herself operating within a wicked world of chauvinism, determined to make it on her own terms and preserve who she is.
Poker can be a game that provides rich rewards far beyond just money when we least expect them, on junk hands that bloom into gold. In real life, often what we reap is not necessarily what we sow. Winning can come in different forms, in places where we never expect to taste victory, in the most unlikely settings. Then and there, we do find ourselves in these crucibles of profound awareness and ultimately, self-discovery. Just as with a good movie based on a bad book, there’s no such thing as a great poker hand, that is, until well after we’ve seen the flop. With Molly’s Game, we initially get dealt two unplayable cards, which end up catching a favorable flop followed by a miracle catch on the turn and river, morphing into the unbeatable nuts.
“Molly’s Game” receives an 8 out of 10 score and is very likely to be included on my list of the year’s ten best films.
The Las Vegas Club in downtown Las Vegas was a smelly armpit of a casino, coated in a mix of disgusting bodily fluids and cheap booze, the dingy carpets dusted in cigarette ash. And I adored every sick square sentimental inch of all that rotten residue and loved blowing every dumb dollar I wasted there.
The outer skeleton of the Las Vegas Club is crumbling, barely standing now because the building’s torso keeps getting pummeled by the constant blows from a wrecking ball swinging from a big crane. Like a bruised boxer in the 12th round hanging on the ropes, what remains might soon be a giant pile of dust by the time you’re reading this. And so, the Las Vegas Club is destined to decay into an antiquity that eventually disappears, except for what retreats into the deepest recesses of our memory alongside the bygone Dunes, Stardust, Riviera, Castaways, and so many other once-thriving monuments to a city’s past.
Even with all its plentiful scars and blemishes, I have fond memories of the Las Vegas Club. I recall the unusually large $22/night hotel rooms, many with a window alcove overlooking noisy Fremont Street. I recall the spooky-dark steakhouse ringed with red-leather booths with a smell of the old criminal underworld that sat empty most of the time, but the Maitre’d still always insisted on having a reservation (they once turned away a party of three — which included Mike Sexton, Stu Ungar, and myself).
Sure, the Las Vegas Club was a dump. Everyone agreed. I went back and read some of the old reviews posted on Yelp. Many are as comical as they are cringeworthy. Reviewers complained about everything — from the dank smell of cigarette smoke to the loud noise. They bitched about the parade of hookers in high heels ramping up and down hallways that echoed like a wind tunnel piercing through the hopelessly outdated decor that hadn’t seen renovation since the mid-1970’s. Sorry for my lacking any sympathy. What the hell did anyone expect for $22-a-night? A hooker holding a sixpack, I guess.
Opened in 1949, the Las Vegas Club went through as many different owners as blackjack shoes. They tried various gimmicks and new branding campaigns most of which failed, but all the crusty old joint really ever ended up being was a great place to gamble, get a stiff drink, and perhaps end up crashing in a bed bug infested hotel room, provided you still had $22 left in your pocket. The hotel was so notorious towards its ending days, they wouldn’t rent to locals.
Sometime around 1990, the Las Vegas Club decided to adopt a sports theme. Walls were knocked out and replaced. The sportsbook tripled in size. A huge aluminum grandstand like you’d see at a high school football game was installed for gambling fans. For a buck you could get a beer and a hot dog. The walls were tackily decorated with sports memorabilia, probably 95 percent of it fakes and forgeries, but nobody gave a fuck. So, that’s the baseball bat Mickey Mantle used when he hit his 500th career home run? Yeah, right. Step right up, folks. We also got the loosest slots in town. All that was missing was the cheap carnival barker in a striped coat chomping on a cheap cigar while swinging a cane.
During the poker boom which happened about a decade ago, the Las Vegas Club opened a new poker room. The first day I showed up, all eight tables were filled to capacity and there was even a waiting list. A few months later, the empty room closed down for good. I think half the dealers who worked in that room are dead now.
When I was working as Public Relations Director of the old Binion’s Horseshoe across the street, the Las Vegas Club might as well have been my break room. Both on the clock and off it and plenty of days and nights before work and after — I bet plenty of sports there, had a few drinks there, made a few friends there, made a few enemies there, got into some fights there, and most of the time had the blast of my life. It was the kind of place where you walked up to the bar and the barkeep asked the simple two-word question, “the usual?”
The Las Vegas Club even had its own karaoke spot. Upstairs on weekends right atop the sportsbook, a melting pot of human gumbo cracked plenty of eardrums, all in good fun. One night when I showed up late, the karaoke bar was closed. So, tagging along with Dan and Sharon Goldman (and her mom), we were later joined in the casino by two of Britain’s finest — Simon “Aces” Trumper and “Mad Marty” Wilson (yes, those are their real names). This motley crew decided to perform our own version of karaoke at the casino bar, sans the musical accompaniment. Half the casino looked at us like terrorists. The much drunker half laughed and some even joined in the singing. The bartender let us get away with it all because we tipped like crazy. “Mad Marty” talked me into playing a trivia contest for $100 a question. I finally left broke after maxing out my hits on the ATM machine. Some advice: Never engage in trivia on classic English literature with “Mad Marty.” He’s a hustler. [PROOF: WATCH THIS VIDEO]
I have no idea if the Las Vegas Club a pool. I never checked. But I doubt it would have been safe to dive into the water, anyway. It would be like swimming next to the drain pipe from a lead smelter.
There wasn’t any fancy showroom either. No headliners. No celebrities. No paid entertainment. Hell, the gamblers and the hustlers and the hookers and the hustlers were the show. And it was free at the Las Vegas Club, all the time.
The last few years of the Las Vegas Club were not kind to its memory. The deterioration was gradual. Burned-out light bulbs weren’t changed. Sticky floors got mopped less and less often. Stained carpets rarely felt the tickle of a vacuum. Felts on the worn out gambling tables faded. The steakhouse closed. Valet service was discontinued. The hotel shut down. But amidst the decline and fall, as so so often we see when times aren’t so good, the people turn out to be so very good indeed and they even surprise you. Those loyal employees who worked there towards the end stayed cheerful. They almost always smiled. They were good people. They were hard-working people. And sadly, they were the last voyagers on the teetering deck of a sinking ship. Like the band that played on during the frigid night when the mighty Titanic plunged to the depths of the Atlantic, the people who gave the Las Vegas Club its memories despite all its defects kept their pride and worked until the fateful final hour. The casino closed in 2015.
The Las Vegas Club didn’t try to be nice. Carnivals aren’t nice either. Neither are amusement parks nor state fairs nor sports stadiums. Hell, a sleazy strip club called “Girls of Glitter Gulch” was just 25 feet from the main entrance, front door to the right.
The Las Vegas Club never pretended to be Paris or New York or Venice or a Mirage. It was exactly what it advertised. It was Las Vegas.
When you see ads featuring douchebags driving fancy cars fanning wads of cash surrounded by sexy girls — run in the opposite direction. They’re all crooks. Every one of them. Here’s the truth: Real sports handicappers don’t call attention to themselves. Real sports handicappers don’t toss around $100 bills like confetti. Real sports handicappers don’t hang out in Las Vegas nightclubs. Real sports handicappers work their asses off — because that’s what it takes to win.
It’s that time of year again.
The start of football season means two things. First, sports gambling ramps up big-time. Second, an infestation of predators will be hunting for fresh prey. These predators are known as “sports handicapping services.”
Fortunately for us, dishonest sports handicapping services are easy to spot. In fact, they make it way too easy.
Here’s some advice that’s never once failed me in my 20-plus years on the sports gambling scene and more than a decade living here in Las Vegas. That advice is as follows: When somebody looks and acts like a scumbag, he’s usually a scumbag.
Want to know more of the warning signs? Okay, let’s do this. I’ve compiled a list of things to watch out for. Here are 10 ways to tell a sports handicapping service (also known as “touts” or “sports advisors”) is probably dishonest:
 When the Handicapper(s) uses a Pseudonym
Any successful sports handicapper should be willing to use his real name in all of his business dealings. This is especially true when your hard-earned money is involved. Sure, some handicappers may employ a catchy nickname for marketing purposes, and that’s okay. But each of us has a legal first and last name. Anyone who’s honest about what they do for a living should be willing to be known publically. I’ve discussed this sticky point with some full-time touts who insist they use pseudonyms for legal reasons and/or to maintain privacy. I call bullshit. If you can’t take pride in what you do for a living, or you’re uncomfortable with your customers knowing your identity, then you shouldn’t be in the business. Here’s a question: Would you take financial advice from someone who doesn’t use his (or her) real identity and instead relies on a fake name? Of course not. This should also apply to anyone you trust to provide sports picks.
 Handicappers Using Phoney Academic Credentials
Over the years I’ve noticed many scumbag handicappers use “Doctor” or “Professor” in their titles. This would be perfectly fine if they actually had academic credentials — particularly in fields such as statistics, psychology, or some other discipline related to sports gambling. Fact is, these “doctors” and “professors” are frauds. They’re liars. Years ago, a scam-capper who went by the name “Dr.” Ed Horowitz was exposed as a cocaine addict and was found to be a convicted felon. More recently, “Dr. Bob,” a college dropout who lit up the sports betting scene about a decade ago when he went on a (perhaps random) hot streak which caught the attention of mainstream media, has no doctorate in anything. He’s still around. Be careful about who you trust. Academic titles shouldn’t be slung around loosely with the intent to establish a false credibility so as to fool people. Academic credentials should be rightfully earned. No sports advisory service to my knowledge has any doctors of professors working as full-time handicappers. Perhaps they do exist and if so, they could post a copy of the doctorate at the website.
 Living a High-Roller Lifestyle
There are legitimate handicappers and honest sports services making a living researching games and then giving out the plays, and perhaps even betting on those picks themselves. Every single one of them puts in massive numbers of hours. This is especially true for bona fide sports services that really do care about their clients, which are few and far between. If you see advertisements (or worse, “reality television” shows or videos) with douchebags posing with fancy cars surrounded by pretty girls, or fanning huge wads of cash — run in the opposite direction. They’re all crooks. Shit stains. Scum. Every one of them. Here’s the truth: Real sports handicappers don’t call attention to themselves. Real sports handicappers don’t toss around $100 bills like confetti, nor hang out in Las Vegas nightclubs. Real sports handicappers work their asses off because that’s what it takes to win in this business.
 Touting Only Recent Win-Loss Results
This is a red flag that screams — scam! We see this frequently, especially on print ads and all over social media, including Twitter and Facebook. “We went 8-2 our last 10 plays! Sign up now!” So, the service claims that they went 8-2. So what? I can flip a coin and it might come up 8 heads and 2 tails (there’s a 3 percent chance of this happening if you flip a coin ten times right now). But why is the service bragging about only the last ten picks? What happened the previous 20 picks? Or previous 50 picks? You can be absolutely certain — if the service had enjoyed a longer winning streak, they’d be bragging about it. Fact is, the service might have gone 2-8 the prior week and ended up with a 10-10 overall record. Minus the usual 10 percent vig plus the service’s subscription fee, congratulations — you’re well on your way to going broke. All that matters in sports handicapping in the long term. One day, one week, or even one month is almost meaningless. Unless a service can provide a legitimate W-L record over a lengthy period (at least a year, and preferably several years), they should be avoided no matter what claims they make. [One more thought: A trustworthy service shouldn’t have to constantly brag about themselves — winners become self-evident]
 Failure to Post Comprehensive Win-Loss Record
This is closely related to the previous red flag. All handicappers should publically post their comprehensive W-L results. This is easy for a website to do. All plays should be archived so that customers and potential new clients can see for themselves how the handicapper has performed. That said, be careful because many sports services have been caught “scrubbing” their dirty records. These unscrupulous services appear to maintain an updated listing of all recommended wagers, but they go back later — a few weeks or months afterward — when no one remembers the losing picks. Then, they scrub away the losses. Removing ten losses from 100 picks can make a 50-50 coin-flipping handicapper look like a genius since the falsified record would be hitting 56 percent winners. One very strong indicator to know if a sports service is honest or not is to look carefully for losing streaks and losing seasons. Oddly enough, this is a somewhat reliable indicator of integrity. If a sports service has a few losing seasons, but also more winning seasons on their record, that might be worth consideration (provided they don’t have other red flags). In short, be more inclined to trust a handicapper and/or sports service that admits to bad streaks and losing seasons.
 Different Levels of Service or Clubs — Based on Price
This is a dirty trick used by most dishonest sports services. They offer different levels of service for their clients based on the price. Often, you see “VIP” clubs and other elite offers which presumably provide a higher level of service (which implies better sports picks — but is junk just like the rest of their stuff ). If I’m relying on someone else’s judgment, I want his best stuff at all times. This would especially be true if I’m paying for information. While the time period of a subscription is indeed a legitimate way to categorize clients (giving discounts to those who purchase a full season, rather than one month, for instance), no sports gambler should ever be receiving second-rate plays. Any service with segregated membership clubs is a scam. Without exception. Here’s the reason — it’s playing the odds. The more clubs a service offers, the better chance one of those clubs will get hot and produce a winning record. That way, the service can market its best-performing club to future suckers (and ignore the inevitable losing records).
 Beware of Hype
Here in Las Vegas, several daily and weekly radio shows feature sports handicappers as regular guests. These “experts” break down games and provide their picks. While many are worthless so far as value, just about all of them do provide accurate information. Most public handicappers who appear in major media work very hard to provide analysis, injury updates, and other data which can help the listener to make a solid pick. Even those who don’t win in the long run can provide valuable insight on a game we may not know otherwise. Hence, I do respect these handicappers who are willing to share their opinions. That said, gamblers should avoid the braggarts and screamers. Beware of so-called “experts” who spend lots of time touring their records and marketing next week’s picks. YouTube.com is filled with these videos of self-promoting scammers who spend most of the program telling the world how great they are. Stay away from them, unless you’re looking for a laugh. Note: One example of an excellent resource for gamblers is the daily video analysis released by Teddy Sevransky and Pauly Howard HERE.
 Any Sports Service Promoting a “Game of the …..” is a Fraud
No sporting event is so lopsided that it merits being promoted as a “Game of the Year.” Yet, we see this garbage advertised all the time. This is marketing targeted directly at saps and suckers. Gambling is a long-term endeavor. Gambling is about percentages. No game is a lock. Ever. The most egregious violation of this “Game of the….(whatever)” is often witnessed early in the football season. Dishonest sports handicapping services advertise their “Game of the Year,” sometimes even in early September! How does a service know there won’t be a superior wagering opportunity later in the season, in October, November, or December? There’s a reason for this and it’s a sure sign of dishonesty: Scammers know most gamblers still have money early in the football season that will inevitably be lost from week-to-week. So, they hype early season games to try and take advantage ignorance and desperation. You will also see the hucksters promote multiple “Games of the Year.” If you see anything like “Game of the Century” advertised (yes, this is quite common), that service is a scam 100 percent of the time. These aren’t reliable handicappers. They are clowns.
 Touting Parlays
Parlays are bottom-of-the-barrel traps for chumps and suckers who lose consistently and are desperate to crawl out of the financial hole. Some sports handicapping services are so vile, they prey on these most vulnerable who believe in the fairy tale of parlays — gamblers who hopelessly need a longshot winner to get back to even. Hey — it’s tough enough to pick more winners than losers over the long run, let alone make two or more picks on a single betting ticket. Yet, we often see “side and total” parlays advertised for the biggest games, especially the golden goose of fleecing for the sports handicapping industry, which is Monday Night Football. Some services even promote 3- and 4-team parlays. This is insane. It should be a crime. I’ve made perhaps 100,000 sports wagers in my life, and I can count on one hand the total number of parlays I’ve bet (they were all weather correlated — like when a hurricane slammed into Florida a few years ago and I bet several games in the region to go under due to rain and high winds). Parlays are for losers.
 Beware of Concentration on Sides / Beware of Concentration on High-Profile Games like Monday Night Football
Betting sides (and nothing else) is at best a break-even proposition for 95 percent of all gamblers. The lines for NFL and most college football games are rock solid. Oddsmakers don’t make mistakes (or, if they happen — they’re very rare). Value comes when we have reliable information that’s not widely known nor factored into the line (yet), which is far more common on propositions — such as the number of yards rushing a running back will gain. There’s also still some value in second-half (halftime) wagering. In short, the more exotic the wager (betting obscure players, quarters, etc.) the better the chances the number might be off since it’s impossible to calibrate every proposition of every game with complete accuracy. Incredibly, very few sports handicapping services give out propositions, quarters, first-halves, and so forth. They focus on numbers that are virtually unbeatable — sides and totals. There’s a reason for this: Most sports bettors want to bet on something they understand and can easily follow. Very few gamblers take the time to consider a rash of cluster injuries along a team’s offensive line which might lead to allowing more sacks. In such situations, betting OVER the sack total would be a far wiser wager than betting the side. Again, very few services concentrate on these opportunities. Similarly, sports services that always give out picks on the most popular games aren’t doing their customers any favors. Betting values are much more likely to be found on an Arkansas State-Louisiana Lafayette game that almost no one cares about instead of the New England-Green Bay game. Seriously — do you think a handicapping service knows anything special about a game likely to be watched by 50 million viewers?
My conclusions are as follows: Avoid sports handicapping services. You can probably pick just as many winners (and losers) as the typical “professional.” Moreover, if you add in the cost of the service — which can be hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars — making a steady profit is even less likely.
A final word: I have many friends in the sports handicapping business. I know many of the biggest names known to most serious sports gamblers. Some of them are honest. Many are hard-working. Most have experienced temporary flashes of profitability which launched their careers as public handicappers and provided some measure of client confidence. But remember — all glory is fleeting. Caveat emptor.
Disclaimer: I have publically posted my football picks for more than 20 years. I have posted more winning seasons than losing seasons. Over the past five NFL seasons, my pre-game recommendations have been posted on this website. In more than 1,000 plays, I have a produced a very small profit — but a profit nonetheless. I have never once sold my picks, nor recommended any sports handicapping service.
When I first heard the Westgate was re-opening their poker room, my initial reaction was — what the hell are they thinking?
Poker’s popularity has been flat for quite a while, especially here in Las Vegas where the overall table count has declined and some once-popular rooms have closed their operations entirely.
Westgate has boldly decided they’re going to defy all this pessimism and strike out on their own. Poker rooms might be closing down elsewhere, but Westgate is determined to blaze its own trail and become a success, some might say, against the odds.
Westgate, which was known for many years as the Las Vegas Hilton (and The International, before that) has experienced a rocky road with poker. The Hilton ran a thriving room back during the 1980’s and even held some big-time poker tournaments. When poker declined in popularity during the 1990’s, the room faded and closed. It remained shuttered for more than a decade.
The poker room experienced a short-lived return during the poker boom of 2004-2008, but was still never able to create a much-needed niche in what was then a thriving local poker scene. It closed down again, sometime around 2010.
About three years ago, Westgate (the new owners) made a feeble attempt to offer poker once again — but failed. To those familiar with the Las Vegas poker scene, the Westgate had become a dead space. The old alcove that housed the poker room sat dark and empty. It was all but forgotten.
Then, completely out of nowhere, Westgate announced a few months ago they were renovating the old poker room, nestled conveniently next to the gargantuan Superbook (race and sportsbook). The Westgate offers one of the biggest and most respected sports gambling operations in the world, so positioning the poker room right next to all the giant screens and a new bar that spans the entire casino floor seems like they’re taking advantage of logistics and timing where the Westgate could be on the verge of a renaissance. This sparks reason for optimism. In short, the poker room is located in a perfect spot — certain to attract casual players hanging out near the bar and sportsbook. That’s essential to gain foot traffic (new business).
I made my first visit to the Westgate poker room late on a Thursday night, arriving around 9 pm. The sportsbook was relatively quiet this evening (the sportsbook is usually lively, especially when multiple sports are happening). There was just one poker game — $1-2 No-Limit. This night was expected to be slow (mid-week, just prior to a big fight weekend — so even having one full game was a positive). The max buy-in is $200 — probably a good decision since building a client base with require a fresh crop of novice players (customarily, the max is $300 and higher in some places).
The room made a very positive first impression. I approached the front desk and was greeted immediately by the manager, who I would later identify as David Fried. David was very much hands-on and gave me the full layout of the room (he was initially unaware that I’d worked in the industry, and only recognized me later — so the time he took with me would presumably be given to anyone). This made a big impact on me. I really appreciate people who spend time with customers and try and build a clientele, and David impressed me as someone trying to cultivate new clients for the room. Bravo.
[Side Note: David, who’s name I recognized from Facebook, has also made several announcements on social media about the new room, including promoting $1-1 Pot-Limit Omaha. I really like a room that tries to build other games. Kudos]
The room has about 8 tables (I think), just about the right size since they also offer tournaments. The room is bright (slightly too bright in my opinion, but that’s a matter of taste). For those who like to watch sports while playing poker, this might be the best poker room in the city since there are giant screens located right inside the room, as well as all the excitement just steps away in the sportsbook. This is a wise strategy, to combine the experiences of poker and spectator sports — which is likely to help the Westgate build a player base.
Cocktail service was stellar, almost in-your-face. Many poker rooms are considered the stepchild of F/B service, but I saw a cocktail waitress come by about every ten minutes. That’s another big plus. Next time, I have to find out if they freepour Johnny Walker Black (not the Red, which is standard elsewhere).
Although my sample size was small (one visit), it appears that Westgate attracts mostly out-of-towners. Based on the table conversation, 7/9 players were with conventions and were staying on property or nearby. This is another positive — who wants to play with grinding rocks with no personality? Indeed, this game was lively, with plenty of conversation. Everyone was drinking a beer.
Just a few hands into my poker session, I was dealt pocket aces. I moved all-in, and lost. Boom. There went one buy-in down the shitter. To my surprise, I learned there’s an “aces cracked” promotion. Any player that moves all-in and loses with pocket aces gets $50. This was kinda like getting kicked in the groin and then receiving a kiss. But hey, I’ll take fifty bucks whenever I can get it. Comforting salve applied to the bad beat.
One other attribute of the Westgate is the close proximity to parking. The prime parking spot is on the back lot, which is used by sportsbook patrons. I’ve made hundreds of in-and-out visits from this lot to the counters in the book. So, this makes the poker room no more than a one-minute walk from parking. Contrast this convenience with the madhouses of Strip properties and PAID parking, and this is another big plus for Westgate.
I give Westgate poker high marks. Building a loyal clientele will surely take some work. There are certain to be down times. However, given casino management’s willingness to go against the tide of perception as to poker’s future in Las Vegas, I have to admire the effort.
Congratulations to Westgate’s new poker room and their staff. I wish them much success.
Note: I forgot to snap a photo, so I took this one from CardsChat.com