I’ve been asked once or twice or perhaps a hundred times if I’m a compulsive gambler.
That’s a fair question. Yes, I do fit the classic description. I’ve spent most of my life gambling. Check. I’ve lost vast sums of money at various times, sometimes even seriously harming my financial standing. Check. I’ve spent absurd amounts of time inside casinos. Check. I blow many hours on sports handicapping and watching ball games on which I’ve bet money. Check. I’ve driven across town to get down on the best number, and I’ve driven hundreds of miles to play in poker games. Check. My personal reputation is heavily tinged by gambling. Check. All this and more, it seems, makes me fit the description of a “compulsive gambler.”
However, what I’m about to reveal might be shocking. After nearly four decades spent gambling, and having experienced just about all the highs and lows that one could possibly imagine (keep in mind there are some stories I’ll never tell) — ideally, I’d love to be in the position where I didn’t have to gamble at all. I’d much rather read a good book or go on a hike than watch a basketball game. If I had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my life, I don’t think I’d bet on sports again. What would be the purpose? Sure, I might still play poker purely for fun occasionally since the game is just as much a social engagement and a gambling exercise, but that would be the extent of it. I’d have no interest in playing table games or other forms of gambling. In short, gambling doesn’t excite me. I could take it or leave it. And, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind leaving it.
That might seem like a bizarre thing to say by someone who’s made various types of gambling his life’s mission. I stumbled into this career quite by accident and given all that I now know and who I know, I’d be foolish to throw all that knowledge away and start anew into something else. But if I had my way, and had a real choice in life, I’d probably spend most of my time doing something else, something completely different, rather than gambling.
So, the answer is no — I’m not a compulsive gambler.
Coping often requires that we deceive ourselves into thinking we have choices in life when usually we don’t. And the older you get and longer you live, the fewer choices you’ll have. Age is an alarm clock and we never know when the bell will ring and our time is up. Late in life, choices become extinct and you’re stuck with a fate over which you have no control.
This isn’t a discussion of free will, and more precisely, whether or not we have it. Put more plainly, we’re all chained by common habits. We become dependent on jobs. We’re wielded to family members and responsibilities. We’re rooted in our communities. We’re expected to act and behave a certain way, especially by all those around us. Break the mold and do something different, and then eyebrows raise and whispers begin. Too often, we’re discouraged from breaking molds. Indeed, most of us are trapped in what writer Henry David Thoreau famously called “lives of quiet desperation.” Misplaced values cause us to attempt to fill this void of quiet desperation with money, material possessions, and accolades. But as studies have shown, those superfluous things don’t necessarily make us happy. There’s absolutely no correlation between society’s common definition of success (mostly measured in wealth and fame) and personal happiness.
To have any long-term chance of winning at gambling decisions must matter. Making decision (or choices) is the difference between games of skill and games of chance, although many forms of gambling include both.
So, in lives with so few choices left, gambling does become a convenient de facto substitute. When many gamblers say they feel alive again, what they’re often really expressing is the freedom of making their choices and then seeing the outcome within minutes or even seconds. That choice and the prospect of a win can be exhilarating.
Games which provide a long-term possible positive outcome include poker, blackjack, sports gambling, and horse racing. Some could argue there are advantage players in video poker, also. In each of these forms of gambling, the player must make choices. Those decisions determine the outcome of the wager, at least in part. Hence, the gambler — to some extent — controls his own destiny.
The 2016 World Series of Poker ends, which means now I have the entirety of all my days and nights totally free, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. The next eight weeks get spent mostly lounging out in the back yard, drinking white wine by day and red wine after sundown, and betting baseball from noon until midnight. Baseball is the only thing going in the doldrums of summer, aside from the occasional Euro or South American soccer bet that captures my gaze. The refresh button on the portable laptop pops a spring and breaks off from being punched too many times. With thousands of dollars riding in action daily, baseball updates on ESPN.com and MLB.com become what the stock ticker represents to a Wall Street investor.
Averaging 10 to 15 wagers a day, seven days a week, which is nearly every waking hour, that means there’s a pitch being thrown somewhere in the country at any minute which has some bearing on my financial standing. After awhile, it all becomes a blur, a mental fog. One becomes numb to the inevitable bad beat of a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in a game where you held a comfortable 2-0 lead and the bases were empty and you’d already circled the game with a bold “W.” One also becomes desensitized to the wins just as much, that occasional +230 flash in the pan underdog which cashes and reinforces the dangerously false self-deception that you’ve finally got this baseball thing figured out and can coast to an easy living the rest of your life.
Given my volume of wagers, there’s also the inevitable mistake. Since I began betting on sports full time, on more than a few occasions I’ve mistakenly clicked the wrong box on one of five online betting apps I use. That means, I thought I bet on one team when I actually bet on the other. That’s happened more times than I care to admit, and don’t tell me it evens out because it doesn’t. Years ago, I once bet $3,000 on a Seattle Seahawks halftime line which seemed like a lock. I almost never lay points in the second half, but this time I accidentally clicked my offshore account for $3,000 on the ‘Hawks laying -2.5. The other team covered easily, and that sloppy mistake ended up costing me a swing of $5,700. That’s the worst brain fart I can remember.
I’ve also double clicked bets, which means when I thought I was laying $400 on a ball game, I was actually risking $800 because my fat fingers turned the keyboard into what amounted to a bingo sheet. Earlier this year in college football, I took Rutgers for (what I thought was ) one unit, which was very much competitive up until kickoff and ended up losing 79-0. A double click made the defeat all the more costly.
But the worst betting mistake I can recall making was the “no bet” on a ghastly baseball game that lasted an ungodly 19 innings. Given my distaste for the game, the only thing worse that following a baseball game is sweating a ball game that goes into extra innings. I’d bet the under in the Cleveland-Toronto game played in July and despite a marathon match which extended even beyond a double header, more than 6 mind-numbing hours in all, the teams combined for 2-1 pitchers’ duel where my under was never in any serious danger. Dull but easy money, or so I thought.
Upon checking my account balance the next day, the ledger came up exactly $400 short. What the fuck happened? Apparently, I’d put in the bet but then failed to hit “confirm.” So, I sweated a 19-inning baseball game for absolutely nothing. That was like getting sucker punched. I don’t know why, but breaking even on the game was worse than losing.
All these capping and clicks ends up being profitable. But that the end of each month, I’m still short of what’s needed to pay the bills. Hence, my betting bankroll continues to evaporate and instead of being able to wager more money on games and eventually step into the class of 55 percent winners and a steady income because I”m now betting $1,000 a game, I’m now having to downshift back to $300 per game because a cold streak could wipe me out.
What I need is a big win. I need to find the right opportunity.
During the NFL offseason, the insufferable St. Louis Rams move west back to their old home in Los Angeles and become the first professional football team to play in the nation’s second-biggest city in the last 20 years.
Many bettors chose to skip preseason football. Even so-called sharps ignore it. I’m glad. That leaves more opportunity for those of us who take these “meaningless” football games quite seriously and invest lots of time studying lineups and motivation. I could explain more as to why preseason football is actually easier to handicap than the regular season or playoff games (which means they are sometimes more predictable), and will do so another time. But for now, just go along with me that I’m really smart and know what I’m doing.
The Rams are scheduled to open up their 2016 schedule with an exhibition match versus the perpetually over-hyped Dallas Cowboys. They’ll play in the ancient but refurbished L.A. Coliseum, which according to media reports gets sold out instantly, despite this being a preseason game. Most NFL stadiums are half full with bored fans during the preseason. However, 92,000 excited local supporters of the new team are expected to turn out and welcome the Rams back to Los Angeles.
There’s more compelling reasons to love the Rams in this opener. Head Coach Jeff Fisher has just been inexplicably resigned to a contract extension. He’ll be fired three months later. But entering the 2016 season, there’s reason for optimism. Fisher appears to be popular with his players and has the support of management. The Rams are coming off a lackluster 7-9 season. But this appears to be a great spot for them since they’re facing the downtrodden Cowboys, who went 4-12, their worst record in 26 years when Jerry Jones first bought the team.
I figure the Rams will make a definitive statement in this game. They’ll play hard. No way that Rams ownership wants the team to come out on a perfect August Saturday afternoon and lay an exploding lump of dog shit in the first game back in Los Angeles — in front of 92,000 paying customers eager to gobble up plenty of new merchandise. If ever there was a “phone call” from upper management down to the coaching staff and players saying, “win this game, or else….” this was it. This was the game I’d been waiting for. This was the right opportunity.
The opening line comes out at Rams -3 over the Cowboys. The number quickly gets bet up to -5, then drops back down to -3.5
I get nervous laying points in preseason football games. So, the more viable alternative seems to play the Rams on the moneyline. What that means is — I just have to win the game. No points are involved. So long as the Rams beat the Cowboys, I win money. And so, given this rare opportunity where one side seems to have so much the best of it and all the motivation to win, I decide to fucking fire.
Laying the round number of $7,000 to win back close to $3,800 (in profit) means that I’ve got a swing of $10,800 on a single preseason football game. That’s quite a step up from betting $100 a game on baseball back in April, or the ultimate in degeneracy depending on one’s perspective. The spread even dips down to -3 for a short time, and I contemplate firing more on the game. However, one can never be too cautious in gambling.
It’s announced that Dallas won’t even suit up several of their starters. Star quarterback Tony Romo won’t play. Dallas, which suffered a rash of killer injuries last season, announces though head coach Jason Garrett, they just want to “say healthy.” Lots of scrubs, which is the term used for bust outs who will get a couple of weeks in training camp before ultimately being cut back to civilian life and a life of anonymity, will see plenty of action. Then, right before the game, the Cowboys suffer another setback when the second-string backup quarterback gets hurt and won’t play. Dallas’ first round draft choice, running back Ezekial Elliott also suffers an ankle injury and will be out. Meanwhile, the Rams appear healthy and hungry. This is looking like the lock of the century.
Come the time for kickoff, the Cowboys field a goulash of starters which includes an unknown starting quarterback drafted in the fourth round who has never taken an NFL snap. His name is Dak Prescott.
Coming Next: Part 4 of “Gambling for a Living.”