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Posted by on Aug 28, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker | 4 comments

10 Ways to Tell a Sports Handicapping Service is Dishonest

 

 

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:

 

[1] 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.

 

[2] 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.

 

[3] 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.

 

[4] 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]

 

[5] 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.

 

[6] 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).

 

[7] 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.

 

[8] 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.

 

[9]  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.

 

[10] 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.

 

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Posted by on Aug 25, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker | 0 comments

My Review of the New Westgate Poker Room

 

 
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
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Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Politics, What's Left, World Series of Poker | 3 comments

Poker’s Shining Moment

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.47 PM - Edited

 

A Personal Note:  The 2017 World Series of Poker begins this week.  This will be the first WSOP in 25 years which I don’t plan on writing about, or attending.  With poker becoming a faint glow in my rear view mirror, this seems like a suitable occasion to clear out some personal files and post a few (previously unpublished) articles that were written up last year, but never posted.  These next few days, I’ll post some behind-the-scenes leftovers of my final series.

 

There was a time not too long ago when Ryan Laplante might have faced ridicule, and even hostility inside a poker room.

Why?

Because he’s an openly gay man.

Years ago, before being who you are was acceptable to many, the shackles of unwavering expectation sired a strict conformity.  If being gay was widely viewed as unacceptable, then being out about it was downright scandalous within many social and business circles.

It took a while, far too long many would insist, but the poker community became an unlikely coadjutor in the broader at-large struggle for gay rights, and in some peculiarity even progressively far ahead of other arenas of society, especially male-dominated sectors, like sports.  This wasn’t at all expected, and was surprising even, given poker’s jaundiced past where one’s masculinity was once tethered to a cowboy hat, a smoky cigar, and a dirty joke.

But poker turned out to be a most welcoming scene for those considered a little different.  Just about anyone and everyone was permitted to sit down and play — male or female, black or white, gay or straight — so long as the minimum buy-in was posted and no one tried to impose themselves on the competition.  Sure, unrestrained prejudice still burgeoned systematically away from the tables outside the poker room, but was muted once the cards were dealt.  To its credit, poker has acquired a startling egalitarian quality.

This seemingly odd kinship between serious-minded poker players and disparate subcultures which have been the targets of varying degrees of discrimination, including the gay rights movement, came to pass by means of the shared common experiences of society’s outcasts.  Like gay people, poker players too, were once cultural castaways, often viewed with suspicion and mistrust.  Perhaps it’s the ability to identify with those who have historically been excluded from the traditional mainstream.  Perhaps this is what makes serious poker players of today generally more tolerant and accepting of others different from ourselves.  Poker players would be among the first to challenge the old adage that being normal is no virtue.

Indeed, we must accept our differences.  That is because so often, we play, we work, we socialize, and we engage is so many activities with others who are not like us.  Sometimes, they are even the opposite of us, and oppose the very things we believe in.  Welcoming those who are different from ourselves isn’t just good for poker — it’s the right thing to do.

_____

Getting here was a rocky road.

There was the time not long ago, July 2007 to be exact, when Rep. Barney Frank made an unlikely appearance at the World Series of Poker, held in Las Vegas.  At the time, Rep. Frank, who represented a congressional district in Massachusetts was the only openly gay member of Congress.  He was also a tireless advocate for legalizing online poker in the United States.  Although Rep. Frank didn’t play poker at all, and knew very little about the game, he viewed our cause as his own.  And so, Rep. Frank became arguably the most unlikely proponent for legalizing online poker.  He introduced pro-poker bills in Congress.  He appeared frequently in media and often went out of his way to bring up initiatives supported by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA).  His appearance at the biggest poker event of the year seemed to be an ideal setting in front of a friendly audience.

What could possibly go wrong?

I was there, that afternoon, when Rep. Frank — joined by other dignitaries at the Rio — took the microphone to say a few words to rally public support, just before giving everyone the customary tournament opening, “Shuffle Up and Deal.”  However, when Rep. Frank was introduced by name, the crowd’s reaction turned out to be an embarrassment.  About half the room containing a few thousand players, completely ignored the introduction.  Only a few clapped.  Others booed.  A few hecklers hurled shameful insults at Rep. Frank.

I was standing near one particularly boisterous section of the crowd, positioned next to Rep. Frank when I heard someone yell out — “faggot!”  Right there, I nearly lost it, and yelled something profane back into the crowd.  That didn’t help the matter, of course.  It was just my gut reaction.

I was so angry afterward that I had difficulty staying in the same room among so much indifference and hostility.  Desperate for an emotional sanctuary, I walked back to the main casino at the Rio with Rep. Frank.  Along the way, I made a feeble attempt to explain that this wasn’t truly representative of the way most of us felt about what he was doing for poker and the players.  “Don’t worry about it,” Rep. Frank replied.  “I’ve been hearing shit like that all my life.”

_____

Years later, a young poker player named Jason Somerville made his first appearance at a WSOP final table.  That’s a really big deal, especially to a player who has serious aspirations of making poker a career.

Before the finale began, it was customary to introduce each player to the crowd and the viewers watching on the live stream.  It was pretty simple, really.  We normally announced the player’s name, hometown, occupation, plus a tidbit or two provided by the finalist via something called a “Player Bio Sheet,” usually completed the night before.  Some players used this rare occasion of making a final table to call out their friends and supporters.  Others listed interesting things about themselves.  Pretty standard stuff.

Somerville decided to use this occasion to send an important message.  On his bio sheet, Somerville wrote that he was an openly gay man and was active in the fight for equal rights and protections.  He hoped that this public acknowledgement on a major stage would encourage others who were watching, particularly those who might still be comfortable about disclosing something still viewed as controversial at the time.

We customarily followed the wishes of each player, unless something written on the bio sheet was terribly inappropriate (which alone might make for another good column, someday).  After all, this was Somerville’s time to shine under the public spotlight.  If he wanted to acknowledge something personal about himself, then who were we to censor his wishes?

Unfortunately, the announcer didn’t honor Somerville’s request on the bio sheet.  It was simply ignored and the occasion was mostly forgotten.  Somerville never made an issue of it.  But the incident did stick with me, long afterward.  I thought we made the wrong judgement call that day by not following the player’s request.  Then again, at least we avoided a possible repeat of the Barney Frank episode from four years earlier.

One can never predict quite how a crowd will react — especially a poker crowd.

_____

[Reminder:  This previously unpublished article was written June 14, 2016]

Ryan Laplante won the largest non-Hold’em tournament of all time at the 2016 WSOP, defeating a field of 2,483 players in the $565 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha event, good for a hefty payday of more than $180,000 — plus his very first gold bracelet.

Then, he woke up Sunday morning to the news of a terrible tragedy.

The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 took 49 lives when a madman stormed into a popular Orlando nightclub and gunned down more than four dozen people, mostly young gay men.  Since the attack occurred very late on a Saturday night, most of us didn’t hear the news until the following day.

The scimitars for poker and the real world do not often cross.  It’s as if what goes on outside the highly-competitive, almost circus-like arena of the WSOP stands as some kind of island or desert mirage apart from the rigors and ritual of reality.  I recall that a major tournament was even played on the very afternoon of the morning right after the events of 9/11, a disgraceful decision by tournament organizers made considerably worse by the callousness shown by the dregs of humanity — those morally-bankrupt poker players who bothered to show up to play, all while the towers of our national identity were still smoldering in ashes.

The Orlando shooting was certainly shocking, as all terrorist acts are, but to most of us — it didn’t touch us personally.  The deranged gunman who targeted people just for being gay wasn’t personal for me (or others) in the same way it was so very personal to Laplante, and presumably many others.

On what should have been a day of celebration instead had become something far more surreal.  Laplante had been scheduled to receive his gold bracelet on that Sunday, barely 12 hours after the Orlando murders.  Moreover, as was the custom on occasion, I was to be the fill-in emcee privileged to award Laplante his poker amulet.  As horrific images of the Orlando nightclub shooting aftermath were being shown on televisions throughout the poker arena, we were about to award an openly gay man with poker’s supreme honor.

One of the perks of working in an executive position at the WSOP is the occasion to take something to a whole new level.  Indeed, this was a time for elevation and we owed it to ourselves to aim especially high.

That morning, during my drive from home to the Rio, I pondered the unprecedented quandary of just how to handle the upcoming daily gold bracelet ceremony.  This wasn’t just any day.  This wasn’t just any winner.  This wasn’t just a typical five-minute ceremony, with no lingering afterthought.  This was a celebration blunted by a terrible tragedy, fronted by a remarkable young man of courage and conviction fully prepared to use this occasion to educate us, heal us, and make us all better.  It was about making the event bigger than just himself, bigger than all of us.

When I met with Laplante just moments before he was to take the stage and receive his gold bracelet, it became instantly obvious he’d been thinking the same thing.  Gleefully standing upon a stage and going through the usual routine in light of terrible events just didn’t seem appropriate.  What did seem fitting however, was to have Laplante’s fiance, Chris Katona standing on the stage with him to present the bracelet in front of the poker world.  Typically, this honor is reserved only for poker legends and sometimes the relatives of players, mostly wives and parents.  Having two men in a committed relationship onstage together in celebration would be a poker first.  Stung by the tragedy, but also empowered by the occasion to do a pubic good, Laplante agreed with the alternative plan.

At about 2 pm during a tournament break, I took the microphone.  I introduced Laplante as the latest poker champion.  Then, the stage was all his.  No one knew what he would say, nor what to expect.  No one knew how the huge audience — comprised almost exclusively of poker players and tournament staff — might react.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.11.32 PM - Edited

 

Once Laplante took possession of his gold bracelet, next he stepped up to the podium.  Few players opt to speak at these events.  I think I understand why.  Public speaking can surely be scary.  Many players don’t really have much to say.  Besides, no one comes to the WSOP to hear a speech.  Everyone wants to play poker.

This time, the room fell silent.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.05.40 PM - Edited

 

Rather than post my recollections of the speech given my Laplante, instead I’ll let this short video clip (provided by Card Player) speak for itself:

 

 

After the speech ended, everyone in the audience rose to its feet and applauded simultaneously for what seemed to be the longest duration in anyone’s recent memory.  The memorable occasion didn’t make up for past sins, the ill treatment of Rep. Frank or the refusal to acknowledge people for who they are.  The cheers weren’t some false notion that everything now is okay.  But it was a big step in the right direction.

June 13th, 2016 was was very good day for poker.  It was a day to be proud, not because we are, or we aren’t gay.  It was a day to be proud because we’re human.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.07.27 PM - Edited

 

Note:  Special thanks to photographer Antonio Abrego for the photographs.

 

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Posted by on Mar 17, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Rants and Raves | 5 comments

Video Poker Vasectomy

 

 

You can find video poker machines at some mighty strange places here in Las Vegas.

Video poker can be played at local bars and restaurants.  You can also try your luck at grocery stores and even gas stations.  Only in Las Vegas might a loaf of bread and gallon of milk end up costing $500.

Now, add hospitals to the list of predators.

Not content with bankrupting sick patients, overcharging insurance companies, and ripping off the government, at least one major Las Vegas hospital is about to plunge full steam ahead into the casino business.

Oh shit, I missed my straight flush draw.  Code Blue in the waiting room!

The hospital even paraded out a mental health “expert” to the curious media, who defended the unusual practice of installing video poker machines inside the facility’s rehab center.  Despite video poker having all the health benefits of watching television while scarfing down a bag of Ruffles, the “expert” professed that playing video poker stimulates the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

See you later — I’m off to get my prefrontal cortex stimulated.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m all for legalized gambling.  I even support some forms of so-called convenience gambling, which means offering easier public access to various forms of wagering — particularly live poker and sports wagering.

However, shouldn’t we be drawing the lines somewhere?  What next — craps tables at the funeral parlor?  Come to think of it, those padded wooden caskets might serve a remarkable duel function.  Seven out!  Line away!

At a time when just about every big casino on the Las Vegas Strip is grabbing gamblers by the ankles, turning us upside down, and shaking us like wilted rag dolls until every last nickel has spilled out onto the floor, the very last thing this town needs is another rigged game with a 10 percent house advantage.  Everyone’s involved in larceny now.  Even the Mormons, who own many of the supermarket chains with the worst video poker payouts on the planet, are in on the heist.  Why would we expect anything less from greedy hospitals who basically wrote the “how to” book on fleecing?

So, how did your annual physical go?  Well, there’s bad news and good news:  I just got diagnosed with herpes.  But I hit a royal flush!

With all the talk about Trumpcare recently, the notion of video poker machines flashing and ringing inside hospitals does give an entirely new meaning to reaching one’s deductible.  Gee, I wonder if I go on tilt and blow a grand in the Deuces Wild machine — will that apply to my annual out-of-pocket?  Can I get my 80-20 co-pay reimbursement on that brutal session of Double-Double Bonus?

That machine next to the urology center doesn’t pay out worth a damn!

Unfazed by criticism, one therapist at the local hospital which is scheduled to introduce Clark County’s first video poker machine offered up a novel idea as to how gamblers might multi-task during a playing session.  By the way, my dear readers — I’m not making this up.  The therapist really suggested this.  And I quote:

“We can also have them put wrist weights on, and they’re playing for a whole 15 minutes (a session),” she said.  “It can get you tired after doing it for 15 minutes.”

What?  Huh?  Seriously?  Weights on wrists while playing video poker?  Those hospital patients are going to come out of therapy looking like The Rock on steroids.

Since the cat’s now out of the money bag when it comes to unbridled greed, pretty soon hospitals are likely be looking for even more creative ways to expand their video poker profits.  Just think of the possibilities:  Hospital rooms.  Diagnostic centers.  Ambulances.

[Siren at traffic intersection] Watch out for that ambulance with the flashing red and blue lights!  Ahh, everything’s fine — the guy in back on the stretcher just hit a progressive.

Paging Dr. Bob Dancer.  Paging Dr. Bob Dancer.  Please pick up the white courtesy phone.  Your services are needed in the waiting room immediately!  We need to know — should the patient hold Jacks and Tens on a 9/6 machine?

 

Update and Correction:  At least two articles have appeared on the local press on this subject.  The article in the Las Vegas Sun noted that the video poker machines will not be for cash play, but for amusement only.

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Posted by on Mar 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal | 2 comments

Chit Chat with Donald Trump, Poker with Shaq O’Neal, and Breakfast with Katt Williams

 

 

Note:  This is the second part of the story, “The Night I Met Donald Trump at Shaq O’Neal’s 33rd Birthday Party.”  PART 1 can be read here.

 

After zonked-out Tara Reid had to nearly be carried across the red carpet in front of the step-and-repeat banner, the parade of A- to D-list celebrities swarmed the media trough and boarded the “look at me” train.

Vivica A. Fox; “The View” co-hosts Star Jones and Al Reynolds; Miami Heat owner Micky Arison and President Pat Riley; Rapper Timbaland; Miami Heat teammates-Eddie Jones, Alonzo Mourning, and Dwayne Wade; Houston Rocket-Tracy McGrady; Chicago Cub-Sammy Sosa; Chicago Bear-Brian Uhrlacher, Oakland Raider-Ray Crockett, New York Met-Mike Piazza — the guest list went on and on.  That’s who I remember seeing.

No surprise — Shaq won top prize for the “wow factor.”  The guest of honor arrived at his party decked out in regal splendor, chauffeured in some futuristic-looking car so exotic it didn’t even have a brand name.  Accompanied by his wife who was shorter than her husband by at least two feet, Shaq waltzed down the red carpet decked out in a bright-as-Tide white Zoot suit, his giant basketball-sized head topped off with a Panamanian-style fedora.

Celebrity events can be wildly unpredictable.  You never know for sure who might show up, and perhaps more important, who will not show, despite accepting the earlier invite.  That’s the danger of coaxing lots of media to attend and throwing a high -profile bash.  If all the cameras and reporters show up, then it becomes essential to deliver on the goods.  That means plenty of A-list celebrities.

Any remaining fears that the evening might turn into a clunker were put to rest when, out of nowhere, Donald Trump showed up with his entourage, along with his new wife, former model Melania.  The Trumps were married just two months earlier in West Palm Beach, some 70 miles north of Miami.  They still looked and behaved like newlyweds together.  Their son Barron was born about a year later.

This was long before Trump had expressed any political aspirations.  However, a new television show “The Apprentice” had debuted a year earlier on NBC which had already spawned a spin-off.  The Trump name was hotter than the Manhattan commercial real estate market, and the cleverest con-man and carnival barker of them all was about to take full advantage of his swelling notoriety.

Newly married, with a hit-TV show in full production, his name plastered on consumer products from beef steaks to fancy hotels and golf courses — hell, he even had his own university! — Donald Trump was about to launch the mega-roll of a lifetime.  Following more than a decade of ugly divorces, business collapses, bankruptcies, and embarrassing personal misfortunes, Trump was about to embark on the most remarkable personal marketing campaign ever witnessed in American politics and culture.

However, no one knew any of this way back on the balmy Miami evening of March 7, 2005 in South Beach.

He was still just Donald Trump, a.k.a. “The Donald,” there to pay his respects to Shaq O’Neal on the occasion of the NBA star’s 33rd birthday.

______

Parties attended by celebs are full of players, and by this I don’t mean the sporting kind.  Everyone’s a player.  Everyone has ulterior motives.

Everyone.

Well, maybe not Shaq and his immediate circle of teammates and “friends.”  However, the people who go to all the trouble of fancying themselves up and attending such events do so for a variety of reasons — some personal and others professional.  Perhaps it’s to make new contacts and/or re-establish relationships currently in the works.  Maybe it’s to gold-dig a rich athlete into a paternity suit or better yet, marriage, which for some conspiring females amounts to cashing a lottery ticket.  It might be a way for a nobody who aspires to be a somebody to get cheap publicity.  Sometimes it’s just to giggle and gawk at the rich and famous.

At least I was paid to be there.

As the party’s official sponsor — make that co-sponsor, along with the surprise co-partnership of Hennessy — PokerStars.com was permitted to set up two live-action poker tables.  Hopefully, the party guests would make their way over to compete for various prizes and charity gift certificates and we could get some good press out of all this.  Like I said — ulterior motives.

Unfortunately, there was a huge problem right from the start.

Without any forethought by those put in charge of logistics, the two poker tables were positioned outdoors on the second-floor terrace next to a swimming pool overlooking the ocean.  That might have been perfect for a poker game in the afternoon.  But for games to be played much closer to midnight and later into the early morning perhaps, the night sky presented a huge problem.

No one could see their hole cards!

Making matters considerably worse, South Beach evenings are known for steady breezes off the ocean.  This made each poker table a potential confetti machine.  The flop would be put out, a gust of wind would suddenly blow off the waves, and the cards would go flying towards to pool.

Wait!  I flopped a full house!

Too bad — misdeal!

Despite the hardships poor lighting, wind gusts, and flying cards, the poker games still proved to be a good draw.  Trouble was, none of the celebrities were showing up.  Sure, it was nice that lots of stargazers and broke nobodies wanted to play poker with us and compete for chip sets and schwag bags.  But what was the whole point of spending $135,000 (plus expenses) as the host, if we couldn’t get the A-listers to come over and join the game for at least a couple of minutes?

That required Rich Korbin and I to get creative.

______

Rich and I made it a mission to work on the big two.  That meant getting Shaq and Trump.

As manipulative as it all soudns, we had to get at least one photo of Shaq towering over the PokerStars.com table, confidently holding a poker hand, putting on a convincing shit sham that he was indeed having a total blast along with the PokerStars.com crew.  Basically, that’s the real background of just about every publicity photo you will ever see.  Fake.  Staged.

Rich, you go get Shaq!

I’ll get Trump!

At this point, an argument broke out.  Some public relations person who had been involved heavily in the pre-party planning approached.  In a testy exchange, we expressed some considerable disappointment that the celebrities weren’t coming over to play poker.

Get us some celebrities!

Get Shaq!

The lady had sure talked a great game for weeks before, but come to find out — she didn’t really know Shaq from shit.  She’d promised to deliver everyone from Kobe Bryant to Robert De Niro at this party, and she came up about four diamonds short of a flush.  But, to her credit, we were drawing to a solid pair — Shaq and Trump.

“Where am I going to find Shaq in that crowd?” the PR lady asked.  “There’s at least 500 people at this party.”

My reply was something to the effect — “Gee, I don’t know.  Try looking for the 7′ 1″ Black guy dressed in white suit topped with a fedora.”

The xenostrobe flashing at Miami International Airport couldn’t have stood out any more than Shaq O’Neal in that room.

So, the PR lady worked her considerable talent on getting us Shaq.  That left Rich and I to do some Trump trophy hunting.

_____

The party downstairs had turned into a mob scene.  Chaos.  Security had apparently departed for the evening, and with the doors of a fully-functional hotel now wide open on a Saturday night, ass jokers were streaming in off the street, drawn like a steel to a magnet to the prospect of a free open bar and hanging out with a bunch of celebrities.  You couldn’t move.  Thick as flies on a rotting corpse.

Rich and I barreled our way through the crowd.  To our quick surprise, we spotted Trump.  He was standing off to the side near a wall, whispering something to Melania.  Incredibly, no one seemed to be bothering Trump much, who appeared somewhat bored with what was happening.  This was our big chance to nab a celebrity for the poker game.

Rich and I darted straight ahead for Trump when all the sudden what few lights were on inside the cavernous room went dim, and out of nowhere a spotlight appeared onto a makeshift stage close to where the Trumps were standing.

Boom boxes started blasting a rap song, bursting all but the most buttressed of eardrums, and then a sexy young woman dressed in a black evening dress stepped into the spotlight.  The entire room was transfixed on the spectacle.  Rich and I stopped dead in our tracks.

Cheering.  Haaaaaaaaappppy 33rd birthday — Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaqqqqqqqqqqq!

Boom!  Boom!  Boom-boom-boom!  Boom!  Boom!  Boom-boom-boom!

The pretty woman hoisted a violin onto her shoulder and launched into one of the most rousing displays of musical creativity I’ve witnessed.  Come to find out later, the rapper was off to the side rapping live, and the woman joined impromptu into the makeshift duet with a staggering virtuoso of electric violin, superimposing a Vivaldi concerto layered brilliantly over the top of a bunch of indecipherable, but catchy lyrics.  The classical violinist.  The rapper.  It was mayhem.  It was also fantastic.

Shaq, the star and beloved birthday boy, was standing in the middle of the room some 15 feet away, bobbing his head up and down to the beat like a steady dribble.  Within another minute or so, the music became infectious.  Pretty soon, everyone’s head was bobbing to the beat like the wave.  Rich’s head was bobbing to the beat.  We looked over and Trump’s head was bobbing.  Melania, too.  Gee, this spectacle was great and all.  But this music was shooting our poker plans all to shit.

After about 20 minutes, the performance was over and our prize catch was still swimming in the party pool.  He had our hooks set.  Trump was within sight.

I don’t remember if it was Rich or me who started with the small talk, which we both admittedly don’t like.  Trump hates small talk too, from recent testimonials of his personality.  Gee, I wish we’d just come right out and said what was really on our minds at the time — Mr. Trump….we need a favor….would you help us out for a couple of minutes?  He’d likely have gone along.  But instead, we wiggled through the usual conversational gymnastics trying desperately to get Trump to join the poker game upstairs.  Trump politely declined.

I will say, and this comes as no surprise — Trump was cordial and even somewhat charming.  One doesn’t get to that level without some degree of personal magnetism, and even though I didn’t like him even back then, he was a perfect gentleman.  One might even say given his penchant for being famous, that he was (and is) naturally gifted at parties and in social engagements.

While Rich and I were congratulating the Trumps on their new marriage, a photographer appeared from nowhere and asked if we’d like a photo.

Yes!  Absolutely!

Rich and I aren’t exactly smitten with celebrities.  However, the image of a couple of PokerStars.com guys hitched alongside Donald and Melania Trump would be a nice PR nick knack.

The grimy photographer didn’t seem very professional about his job and the way he was handling things.  Presumably, he was going around the party, taking shots of famous people.  He could have been a freelancer.  He might have been paparazzi.  He might have been off the street.  Who knew?

I knew one thing.  I had to get that photograph, no matter what it took.  In the conniving world of modern marketing and PR, photos with famous people are currency.

To make certain I got the photo, I gave the photographer my business card, which listed my mailing address and telephone number.  To guarantee the photo was sent, this required something a bit extra.  So, I slipped him $100.

The photographer took a few photos.  We all smiled and shook hands.

We never saw or heard from the photographer again.

_____

To this day, there’s no actual evidence showing me meeting Donald Trump.

Well — at least, there should be evidence out there which shows that we finally got Shaq O’Neal to play poker.  Right?

Uh, read on….

The PR lady had promised us Shaq.  It was long past time to deliver.  Now, it was close to 2 am and guests were starting to leave the party.

Shaq remained a no-show.

Pissed as hell and trying to figure out what we were going to say to higher ups at PokerStars.com, explaining why Shaq didn’t play poker that night despite paying the freight for the party, the NBA All Star was finally coaxed into coming outside by the pool.  By this time, all the boundaries of security were long gone and Shaq was pretty much a moving target of anyone with bold enough to approach him for an autograph, or a photo, or a business idea, or a joke or any other mindless time-wasting augmentation of being a rich and famous celebrity.

Hey Shaq!  Over here!

Look, it’s Shaq!

Shaq, my man!

Got a sec, Shaq?  This will just take a second.  My brother’s on the phone.  He’s a big fan.  Can you just say hello?

The PR lady made good on her promise and Shaq scurried his way over to the poker table with a trail of fan barnacles.  The look on his face revealed this was the very last place he wanted to be at 2 am on his birthday, while his basketball buddies were downstairs partying their asses off.  Even though we were in the midst of a Sit n’ Go, no one at the table cared about the interruption.  Chips were fished out of the rack, and placed in front of Shaq like he was some Egyptian pharaoh.

Look!  Shaq’s playing poker!  Shaq’s playing poker!  Go Shaq!

Within a few seconds, it became painfully obvious something was very wrong.

“What do I do now?” Shaq asked.

The dealer explained the action, that it was his decision to either call the bet, raise, or fold.  Shaq didn’t have a clue what was going on.  However, he’d apparently seen enough poker on television somewhere to move all-in.  Shaq moved all-in.

Shaq’s raise was snap-called in two spots, and Shaq rolled over something like 9-4 off-suit.  The board didn’t help, and Shaq was out of action in one hand.

I forgot if it was me, or Rich, or Brad Willis (who was blogging that night for PokerStars.com), but one of us yelled out, “Give Shaq more chips!  Rebuy!  Don’t let Shaq leave!”

Shaq was promptly given another fresh stack of chips.  On the very next hand, the same thing happened.  Shaq went broke.

Again, Shaq was given more chips and the Sit n’ Go suddenly had all the integrity of a rigged South American soccer match.

Three stacks into the game, and Shaq dying to split and go back to his party with pals Tracy McGrady and Alonzo Mourning, we suddenly realized that no one had a camera.  This was a few years before smart phones came out, which enabled everyone with an instant camera-phone.

Where’s the photographer?!!!  Where’s the photographer?!!!

Someone came to our rescue and quickly produced a camera, and Shaq was photographed shoehorned into the six seat, his giant 350-pound frame crushing a fragile metal folding chair, his mammoth size and stature overwhelming the felt while holding up two hole cards like he’s just drawn out on Johnny Chan heads-up for the world championship, pearly whites flashing brighter than his ivory suit.

High fives all around.

We got it!  We finally got it!  We got the photo with Shaq playing poker!

Now, twelve years later, I still have not seen that photo of Shaq playing poker — that elusive photo that essentially cost us $135,000 to get.  But, that photo is floating out there somewhere.  Somebody has it.

I swear.

______

Cynicism is the final tumbling domino of broken illusions.

I’m betting if you surveyed those 500 or so people who attended Shaq’s 33rd birthday party that night, and queried them on who was the official sponsor, no more than 50 would have answered “PokerStars.com.”  Perhaps 1 in 10.  Hennessy probably would have polled only slightly better.

PokerStars.com might as well have handed out $20 bills on the streets of Downtown Miami.  That would have been money wiser spent.

By 4 am, the party was done and we’d broken down the poker tables and put away the cards and chips.  Time to leave.  We were about to say our goodbye’s, until the next gig.

Then, out of nowhere, Rich Korbin appeared with a marketing idea.

“Have you ever heard of Katt Williams?” he asked.

“Katt who?”

“Katt Williams.”

No.  Never heard of him.  Rich explained to me that Katt was waiting for us downstairs.  He wanted to meet both of us, interested in the prospect of receiving some kind of paid sponsorship with PokerStars.com.  At the very least, Katt was interested in playing for the site, if we agreed to post the $10,000 entry fee to Main Event of the World Series of Poker, just three months away.

“It’s four fucking a.m.”

Rich, I must say, is on the ball.  Always.  24/7.  Somehow, he set up an impromptu meeting which was to take place in exactly 15 minutes, inside the hotel cafe, which was closed and completely dark.

Wait, we’re going to meet some aspiring stand-up comic right now at 4 in the morning, in a dark restaurant?  After a party?  Really?  What the fuck?

So, Rich and I went downstairs and were met by Katt Williams and his sister, who served as his manager.  The meeting lasted about 45 minutes.

Katt’s sister impressed the hell out of both of us.  What a pistol.  She was an astonishingly convincing marketer and pitch person.  You couldn’t say no to her.  Within just a few minutes, Rich and I might as well have been eating of out of her hand.

This meeting was a godsend.  Admittedly, the rest of the evening had produced mixed results.  However, we were ready to sign Katt that instant.  ON.  THE.  SPOT.  He was young.  He was edgy.  And, he was Black, which might sound racially biased, but from marketing standpoint — which should focus on the future rather than the past — was a noteworthy diversion from the usual sponsored poker players and celebrities made up pretty much of white bread.  He was also extremely polite and couldn’t have been more impressive, in person.  Then and there, Rich and I knew instantly that Katt Williams was going somewhere in show biz.  Within just a few years, Katt Williams was appearing in his own HBO specials.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get PokerStars.com to sign Katt to a sponsorship.  That was a huge disappointment to us.  The decision to pass on Katt was one of the few marketing mistakes our company made during my years I was with them.

No worries.  Katt ended up doing pretty well on his own, without the help of PokerStars.com.

Katt Williams even appeared in a comedy special a few years later, “Friends with Shaq,” the friendship likely bonded that night in South Beach.

 

 

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Revealing my own complicit behavior in going along with the sham, here’s how I was quoted in the official party press release which was distributed the next day to all media via PR Newswire:

“We were thrilled to be invited to join Shaq’s friends and family for this intimate gathering,” said Nolan Dalla, Director of Communications for PokerStars.com. “It was a great way for us to come together with many of our celebrity poker fans and wish someone who continues to give us year after year of truly memorable basketball a very happy birthday. We were thrilled with the turnout, which included so many great athletes and celebrities.”

 

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