Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Oct 10, 2023 in Blog | 0 comments

A Gambling Story: The Toughest Job is Working for Free Money



Here’s a poker and sports betting story from not too very long ago that I haven’t told before. When you read on, it will become obvious why I didn’t share this story back then.

In 2016, I had no income. So, there was only one option. Let’s gamble!

I decided this was the perfect horribly worst time to try the one thing that many delusional dreamers do, which is seizing the folly of becoming a professional full-time gambler.

I’d done intermittent stretches of semi-professional poker playing and serious sports betting throughout my life. But I also always had at least one side gig or some steady income coming in that provided a fallback. Sorta’ like a trapeze act working with a safety net. You don’t expect to tumble and fall, but hey, just in case. Any professional gambler will tell you that without some guaranteed foundation of income, the odds of actually becoming successful at it are astoundingly small; and even those who manage to generate some sliver of profit often don’t make quite enough money to sustain any kind of respectable lifestyle. This would be my doom during the failed 2016-2018 excursion-experiment. I didn’t beat the game. The game beat me. Slowly. But it beat me by wearing me down and squeezing what enthusiasm I had like a sour lemon dried out in the blazing sun.

To understand professional gambling and realize what it does to be successful at it, is to covet the misery of others, which is one reason so many full-time poker players and sports bettors are such utterly miserable human beings. There’s no other way of putting it. It simply wears you down. Success demands surrounding yourself with those who fail, preferably lots of people failing around you often, and then bitching about it most of the time and you nodding along and acting like you really give a damn. “I lost with picket kings 4 hands in a row.” Oh gee, that sucks (translation: he’s on tilt, this is terrific!). It’s like prison cellmates always bitching about the same old beans served in the cafeteria. Oh shit. beans again? This is true at the poker table and this is true in sports gambling, since there’s a collective pool of money created by the handle on any wager and any profits derived thereof are from your own presumed handicapping superiority, which is rewarded so long as there are enough deluded individuals on the opposite side of the poker table, the proposition, and the bet. There will always be a rare few with enough skill to exploit mass delusion; and in the interest of full disclosure while there were stretches when I was able to do precisely that, to the contrary, most of my own professional poker playing and sports betting has never been significantly skillful or sizable enough to provide any kind of decent income. And most who say otherwise, are either exaggerating (or lying).

We always look for angles. Short cuts. Opportunities. Overlays. They’re baked into the perpetual search for the +EV bet. For roughly a two-year period, my main hangouts when I played poker 40-70 hours per week were:

  1. Aria’s pot-limit Omaha games,
  2. The Orleans O/8 limit games, and
  3. Various scraps including Boulder Station’s Omaha-High limit games and the downtown Las Vegas Binion’s on weekend nights for no-limit hold’em.

Before poker there shut down about five years ago, Binion’s had a couple of tables bookended in the rear of the casino’s main pit, near the main cashier. That location was annoying because of the constant noise, but also essential to profiting. I was astounded how many clueless players sat down in a drunken stupor, played a few hands, and quickly $100, $200, $300 and sometimes more money EVAPORATED within just minutes. Sometimes, there was a line at the cage, and an impatient player took whatever chips they had read to exchange for cash and plunked it down on the table. Having those tables right there was like sticking lettuce into the jaws of a steal trap and then waiting for rabbits. There was always a stable of predator wolves ready to feast on the misfortunate and impatient, though things didn’t always quite come out as expected every time. I remember a few instances when the rabbit won the hand and bit the wolf, which was hilarious so long as I wasn’t bunny-fanged. All of this was wildly entertaining for in a cynically amusing way, though also embarrassingly unfulfilling — an almost embarrassing way to make a living. No one judged. This is Las Vegas, after all.

One night in August, one of the poker managers told me they were starting a generous promotion that would benefit players like me who played at least part-time hours. Putting in just 20 to 25 hours a week provided a ridiculous positive expectation.

Binion’s was desperate to attract poker action. So, on Monday nights the poker room (actually just one table most of the time) did a Monday night football pool. It was the hundred squares you see in office pools. The only catch was — you had to be sitting in a game to win when the quarters (or the game) ended. When you put in 2 hours the other nights, you got a square. So, I might play 10 hours on a Friday and that got me 5 squares (sometimes, they tossed in a freebie). I forgot the rules, but each week so long as I put in 20 hours (which was easy to do on Friday and Saturday nights) I’d have 15 or 20 of the 100 squares. There were three or four other “opportunists” like me who did the same thing. So, between the cabal of regulars, we locked up 60 or 70 percent of the squares every week.

Since Binion’s was giving away $1,000 on Monday nights, that meant each quarter was $250. However, my expectation was better than just 20 percent of the squares. Since some percentage of squares were held by people who didn’t show up, that meant my +EV was probably $250 to $300 just for sitting in the game, drinking (free) beer, playing poker, and watching football on the big overhead screen. Not a bad gig. The best part of the promotion was the rollover. If someone wasn’t present and didn’t collect their money, the cash prize rolled over into the next quarter, or in some cases, the following week. Some of the quarters got as high as $1,500 a few times. One time (I think it was the Monday before Thanksgiving) there weren’t enough players to even start a game. So, three of us just sat there, drank beer, and watched football. One of the other guys won a grand that night, which pissed me off because I wasn’t the winner.

When the Monday Night Football pool began, the 18 weeks of action meant $18,000 would be given away for the entire season. I considered telling my friends” Hey, come down to Binion’s and play a few hours in advance and yada, yada, yada. Then, I realized how self-defeating that info would be. I kept this little golden chestnut all to myself because to be perfectly honest, I was trying to make a living and the more people who had squares and who showed up Monday nights meant a lower chance I had to win (I now realize that if this promotion would have continued for a few more years, that would have likely been worth telling everyone just to fill up the room and keep management happy).

When the season ended, I tallied my profits and ended up $5,250 just from the contest, which is about where I should have landed. All those $250 quarters added up. The funniest incident I remember — and I can’t use his name because maybe he’s still a manager in poker somewhere — but we were good friends and since I also tipped well, you know how the Las Vegas game goes. The Packers were playing somebody and I had run cold and didn’t win for a couple of weeks in a row, so in the middle of the third quarter since I also had shit numbers I decided I’d had enough and wanted to go home. I left and was about to pull into my driveway when my cell phone rang and the poker manager said, “you got 10 minutes to get down here — you won the fourth quarter!” I figured the $250 was easily worth the drive but then the manager interrupted me and said. “no–it’s $750 because nobody was here for the second and third quarters.” A safety happened, which screwed up all the numbers in my favor and gave me the winner. Well, I practically helicoptered it from my house to Binion’s and collected my cash, tossed the manager $100 for his excellent customer service and attitude, and walked out with a nice profit. I think the next week I won another quarter for $250 and so forth, and so on. Oh, and the comp rate for poker was $2 an hour, so that was like getting $100 steak dinner for two once a month for free. Why tell anyone else about such a tasty gravy train?

Anyway, it sure was a fun promotion while it lasted. It was also a miserable failure of a marketing idea, an open indictment of poker promotions going wrong that was doomed to failure simply because people like me were going to *game the system* and sure as shit didn’t want others coming in and vulturing off the tasty feast.

I tell this story because I think it really cuts to the core of “grinding” as a serious gambler, especially in Las Vegas. There’s obviously some moral ambivalence required to be successful. There are other promotions around town that are/were similar — some perhaps even going on to this day. Insiders always want to keep the outsiders away. We want the treasure to ourselves. It’s all part of the game.

Besides, who’s ever heard of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, when you’ve got a dozen live football squares?

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *