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Posted by on Mar 9, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal | 3 comments

The Night I Met Donald Trump at Shaq O’Neal’s 33rd Birthday Party

 

 

Twelve years ago tonight, I met Donald Trump at the most unlikely of affairs — former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal’s 33rd birthday bash in Miami Beach.

Why was I invited?  I have no connections to the NBA or Miami’s hipster social scene.  I hate going to parties.  And, hanging out with celebrities is way overrated.

Well, I wasn’t invited to Shaq’s party, exactly.  But I did fly all the way across the country.  I stayed the entire evening.  I also hung out with celebs including Shaq O’Neil, future President Donald Trump, and a young up-and-coming comedian who shall be mentioned later.

I’m writing about this story for the first time.

_____

Two months earlier, right after New Years, I was at the Sea World park in San Diego on a family vacation.  Miami Beach, Shaq O’Neal, and Donald Trump were 3,000 miles away, but might as well have been somewhere on the moon — for all I cared.

That’s when my cell phone rang.

The voice on the other end informed me about a potential marketing and public relations opportunity for the company I was working for at the time.  In addition to my annual seasonal work at the World Series of Poker, I also worked full-time for PokerStars.com, serving as their Director of Communications.  Those were exciting days to be working in poker, when we all had money to burn and the sky was the limit.

For the princely sum of $135,000 PokerStars.com had the chance to be the “official sponsor” for Shaquille O’Neal’s 33rd birthday party.  That figure amounted to pocket change for Isai Scheinberg, PokerStars.com’s enterprising founder and then-owner/CEO.  Shaq’s party was certain the be the social event of early 2005, even going so far as to generate national attention, especially in the sports and entertainment media.  O’Neal was then at the top of his game.  He’d just left the Los Angeles Lakers where he won an NBA title, signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat where he joined legendary head coach Pat Riley.  He’d lead them to their first world championship the following year.

O’Neal wasn’t just a basketball player.  He was a superstar.  He appeared in movies and was one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

$135,000 sure sounded like a bargain.

Sponsoring the birthday bash meant paying for the mega-party which was to be held on ritzy South Beach, on the night after the Heat played a home game in Miami in early March.  Everyone who was anyone was invited and expected to attend.  This party included a stellar guest list certain to generate lots of publicity and perhaps even some much-needed goodwill with numerous celebrities.  TMZ would even be there, their cameras rolling, just in case anything wild happened.

After a follow-up conversation with Dan Goldman (PokerStars.com’s Director of Marketing) and Isai, we jumped at the chance to host Shaq’s party.

This wasn’t just about poker.  This was Creative Branding 101.  This was being hip.  This was being at the center of the scene where much of our player demographic wanted to be.  We were about to entertain the most popular sports stars in America, numerous A-List celebrities, and one brash New York real estate developer who a dozen years later would become the 45th President of the United States.

What could go wrong?

_____

In early 2005, PokerStars.com ranked the second-largest online poker site in the world.  The site was raking in millions, remarkable since at the time there were no more than about 200 employees worldwide.  The site might as well have been a mint.  PokerStars.com was printing money.

But for Isai, and his son Mark (who was just as instrumental in building the site and creating the empire that was to come), ranking second was totally unacceptable.  We knew our software was superior to the game design used by industry kingpin, PartyPoker.com.  We knew our customer service was top notch in the industry, out hustling every other company in the gaming sector, including the land-based casinos which might as well have been living in the previous century.  We knew that our top management was genuinely driven by something more than just making money and was run by dedicated poker people who knew the game backwards and forwards and were clued into what players wanted in a poker experience.

The push was on to become the number one poker site in the world, both in terms of daily traffic and reputation.  Sponsoring non-gambling mainstream events like Shaq’s birthday party was yet another way to try and legitimize our company — which despite our best efforts — was still tainted as a shady gambling company based someplace that might as well have been Outer Mongolia, and therefore was quasi-legal.

Of course, no one gave this financial shakedown a second thought.  The irony of multi-millionaire athletes, presumed billionaire financiers, and movie stars having their personal entertainment paid for by an outside company was preposterous.

We’d all jumped the shark.  This was cultural insanity.

_____

Shaq’s birthday party took place at the swanky Hotel Victor, a refurbished Art Deco percolator for Miami’s “in crowd,” where South Beach’s thriving gay scene intersected with local elite.  Think of the movie — “Birdcage.”  A few years earlier, fashion icon Gianni Versace had been gunned down just steps away from the main entrance to Hotel Victor.

Rich Korbin and I became the chosen ones.  We were plucked to play the role of party hosts, representing the official sponsor — PokerStars.com.  My qualifications for this role were suspect, at best.  However, Rich was essential to the operation.

Rich was known as the man to get things done at Stars.  “The fixer” has a bad connotation.  But if we had a fixer, it was Rich.  He made things happen, and it was usually best not to ask about details.  We didn’t want to know.  When we’d ship stuff to events and ran into the Teamsters Union, and we needed our freight moved before everyone else’s shit got rained on at the loading docks, Rich greased the wheels and got us set up before everyone else.  When it came time to negotiating a new deal with a supplier playing had ball on the contract, Rich ball-busted the shit out of them.  That was Rich’s talent.  “The Art of the Deal” should have been written by Rich Korbin.

Rich also seemed to have connections just about everywhere.  So, he hired a handful of local poker dealers based around Miami to pitch cards all night.  We planned on running two poker tables non-stop as long as they’d let us run the games.  Given the legal restrictions against gambling and the precious time demands of party guests, we agreed it was best to run something called Sit n’ Go’s.  That’s basically a small tournament of 9-10 players, usually lasting not more than 30-40 minutes.  We expected to give away thousands of dollars in prizes.  Hopefully, the media would stick around and we’d get some “free” promotion for PokerStars.com, which would only end up costing us closer to $160,000 with all the extras added in.

Who knows — maybe Rich and I might even make TMZ.

_____

Sometime around 30 years ago, an unknown marketeer saw a tremendous opportunity in the mundane.  Take a closer look at old movie newsreels of athletes and celebrities.  When out in public back in those days, famous people up through the end of the 1970’s were almost always interviewed while bunched up in crowds along with other people hanging out in the background.  Entertainment and sports media lacked much in the way of commercialization.  There were no logos.  Corporations didn’t dabble in what later became known as — entertainment marketing.

Then, at some point during the “Greed is Good” 1980’s, a marketing maven somewhere who likely never got proper credit (more fittingly, the blame) for the idea saw lots of precious media real estate being wasted and decided to change every aspect of how pop culture is covered in the modern age.  And so, that’s how the “Step and Repeat” banner got invented.  When the person of the focus took a step, the logo was imagery repeated over both shoulders.  It didn’t matter where the celebrity stood or the position of the head and face.  There was the logo behind.  Note that’s how the banner got its name.

Today, you can’t watch a soccer game or see an interview with a movie star on television without absorbing a corporate logo plastered somewhere on the screen.  The Step and Repeat banner is now used everywhere, in all sports and major media events.  After a ball game, athletes are interviewed with corporate logos emblazoned in the background.  Now, even parties have the unremitting Step and Repeat banner in the background, and Shaq’s Miami bash was no exception.

Our banner that was special made that evening included logos from PokerStars.com and — much to my shock when I initially saw it — Hennessy, the brand of cognac which has a reputation for being a favorite of hipsters.

What in the hell was Hennessy doing on our Step and Repeat banner?  We paid a premium for that space!

That was the first time I’d seen Hennessy was involved in our party.  I’d been led to believe PokerStars.com had an exclusive on the marketing.  Gee, I wonder if Hennessy had to fork over $135,000 for their role as the “official sponsor?”  Err, make that — “co-sponsor.”  Something seemed dirty about this deal.  Of course, this is how those deals work.  It’s standard practice.  This is the bait and switch game, and companies fall for it — hook, line, and sinker — every time.

Still, if we were going to share media exposure, then I suppose we could do a helluva’ lot worse than being connected to Hennessy.  Poker and a premium liquor — that’s a coveted pairing.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to share the limelight with chewing tobacco, or tires, or worse — an insurance company.  Thank you, Geico — for presumably not returning the phone call or we might have been paired with that green lizard.

That night, the Miami Heat defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 108-100.  That was a good thing.  We didn’t want the Heat to lose, which might have cast a spell over the jovial expectations of Shaq’s birthday party.  Winning basketball players are happy basketball players.  Oh, and thank goodness the game didn’t go into double-overtime, which could wrecked the evening.

Sometime around 9 pm, Tara Reid was among the first celebrities to show up on the red carpet and walk the Step and Repeat, which marked the glitzy entrance to Hotel Victor.  Reid was either so drunk or so stoned off her ass that she had to be helped up the ramp to walk.  She was a hot mess.

Limos and Bentleys and Rolls Royces pulled up in front at the red carpet and one by one the celebrities paraded like pretty people in front of the cameras.  I worked the red carpet “line,” making sure the dozens of media outlets got the shots they needed while making certain no celebs were held up for too long by any one photographer or interviewer.  My mission was to keep the line flowing steadily, getting the shots, and making sure the celebrities weren’t overwhelmed.

My career had been reduced to an ass-kissing enabler.

 

Coming Next in Part 2:  Meeting Trump and Playing Poker with Shaq

 

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Posted by on Mar 3, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal, Sports Betting | 2 comments

Gambling for a Living: A Madness to My Method

 

 

Writer’s Note:  This is PART 4 in my ongoing series, “Gambling For a Living.”  What follows is a partial recollection of my sports betting escapades over the course of 2016.  For other chapters, please read PART 1, PART 2, and PART 3.

 

Sunlight sanitizes the dim hue of gambling daily.

All the time wasted and ultimately lost — days, nights, weeks, weekdays, and weekends — prodding often so pointlessly and more often still so profitlessly — crunching ideas, testing theories, reading injury reports on squeaky laptops and cracked smartphone screens — eyes darting back and forth between ball scores — the “previous” button battered on the remote control beyond recognition — my solitary self-made man-cave begins narrowing slowly.  Life becomes absorbed within this timeless vacuum, sucking all the life and energy out of everything else that’s happening in the vast beyond, to which one becomes oblivious and indifferent.

Winning or losing has no impact on this dark place.

There’s a reason why convicts shackled up in solitary confinement are given at least an hour of daily sunshine.  Twenty-three hours spent locked within an isolation chamber of unbreakable steel walls are at least temporarily forgotten when the warmth of the sun’s rays hit the face and sink into the body.  This stimulant along with human contact keeps a prisoner from going mad.

The sun is my salvation.

*     *     *     *     *

August, 2016.

108 degrees today in Las Vegas.  Kick-off in five minutes.

Five months of full-time sports betting has provided me with a modest profit, and much to my surprise, almost narcissistic personal satisfaction.  It’s ridiculous, because I could have spent all those hours doing something not just constructive, but likely more financial rewards.  But there’s something inherently pleasing, even smug worthy, about doong what few people can and beating something that few people have mastered.

Sure, almost all sports gamblers talk a good game.  Ask any sports gambler is he’s a winner and damn near 100 percent will say yes.  Indeed, they might look successful.  But virtually all heavy sports bettors have reliable sources of outside income that help to cast the illusion of success.  Beating the vig in the long run is far more difficult than people realize.

I have no other outside sources of income, and so I was sort of forced into this role.  The bills are due.  The mortgage needs to be paid.  Oh, and one of my cars has 130,000 miles on it and the engine is starting to make funny sounds.

C’mon Los Angeles Rams!  Daddy doesn’t need a new pair of shoes!  He needs a new timing chain!

My $7,000 wager on this “meaningless” preseason football game promises to set the tone for the entire 2016 NFL season.  Worst-case scenario — it’s gonna’ be brutally tough to dig myself out of a $7,000 hole, that is, if I lose this bet.  The way things have been going, that’s about two months worth of what I’ve managed to make so far, while doing this full time, and that was mostly on baseball, which will end soon.  I’d have to pick fourteen $500 winners per game down the road just to get back to even (actually, more than that, with the vig).  To put that into perspective, only 80 or so entrants out of 1,727 — which is less than 5 percent of the field — who entered last year’s NFL Handicapping Contest at the Westgate (what used to be the Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest) finished fourteen games above .500 or greater, for the entire season.

But if I manage to win, that’s a strong head start and a nice financial cushion to invest in the upcoming football season, given my average bet size usually ranges between $300 and $500.  The bottom line is — this isn’t merely a $7,000 game for me, which would still be a lot.  It’s really a $10,800 game, since that’s the full amounts of the financial swing.

Indeed, this is money that means something.  They say you never know the real value of money until you don’t have any.  This will sound strange to non-gamblers, but every serious sports bettor will understand it.  I’ve wagered $5,000 on ball games dozens of times over the years, even on teams where I couldn’t name a single player.  Once, I bet $39,000 on a Super Bowl game [READ THAT STORY HERE].  Still, there’s no correlation between the size of a bet and the pressure to win it.  Most of the time when I’ve bet big in the past, I had enough money to cover the loss, and then some.  Notice I said, most of the time.

Fact is, this is a bet I really cannot afford to lose.  I need the Los Angeles Rams to win the game.  That’s it.  No point spread.  Rams on the money line, laying no points.  Just win baby.

This is the first NFL game played in Los Angeles since before the turn of the century.  Although it’s just a preseason game, 92,000 fans still pack the L.A. Coliseum to welcome the Rams back to Southern California (just three months later, they’ll be calling for the coach’s head to be fired, and they get their wish).  Based on the win-loss records from the previous season, the 7-9 Rams should be able to easily handle the 4-12 Cowboys, especially with the extra motivation of wanting to start off the new era in Los Angeles with a big win for the hometown fans.

Dallas should mail it in.  The veteran starter, Tony Romo is out. He’s not even suiting up to play.   The second-string quarterback got injured in training camp.  Some kid that no one has ever heard of who was drafted in the middle of the fourth round is starting for the Cowboys.  His name is Dak Prescott.

The game begins, and meanwhile — I’m outside sunning by the pool doing my best to magically make a fresh bottle of Santa Christina Umbria disappear, preferably before halftime, after which I’ll crack open a bottle of Blac d’ Blanc Champagne from Schramsberg.  All this is evidenced by the photo above.

I’m not even going to bother watching this game, I tell myself.  Why should I?  I refuse to waste a gorgeous Las Vegas afternoon in front of the television.  I’ll be doing plenty of that during the rest of the season.  My money should win.  Let it do the work for me.  Let my money make me money.  It’s just like stocks, I tell myself.  Like a mutual fund.  Hmm, should I go cash my ticket that going to be worth $10,800 later tonight, or wait until tomorrow?  Such are the difficult decisions of the overconfident.

*     *     *     *     *

My laptop is out by the pool.  The game kicked off just a few moments ago.  I want to make sure I’ve got a good connection, so I hit the refresh button while linked to ESPN.  My first look at the scoreboard….

With 14:43 left in the first quarter, it’s Dallas 7, Los Angeles 0.

What the fuck!

How the shit did Dallas score in the first 17 seconds?

Motivated by panic, my curiosity piqued, I slam the refresh button again and see that the Cowboys have run back the opening kickoff 101 yards and scored a touchdown.

I’m about to throw up my last gulp of Santa Christina.

Alright.  Calm the fuck down.  It’s just one touchdown.  Some dude who’s about to be cut from the team blew a tackling assignment.  Big deal.  It happens.  The Rams should still be in control of the game.

Next series, Rams go 4 downs and out.  Punt.  Dallas ball.

Rookie Dak Prescott takes the field for the first time in a Cowboy uniform.  He looks like Roger Staubach winning the Heisman Trophy at Navy and dashes Dallas on a 85-yard drive that looks to be pristine perfection.

Dallas 14, Los Angeles 0.

I’m swimming and cursing at the same time.  If the neighbors didn’t already think I’m half crazy, they’ve got plenty of new material to ponder.  I refuse to let this gambling abomination ruin my day.  No. No. No. No. No.  Let the game play out and quit obsessing over every play of every drive, I tell myself.

About 40 more minutes pass.  Unable to accept the serenity and remain calm, the laptop opens up again and now it’s Dallas 14, Los Angeles 7.

That’s better.  Now, I’ve got a chance.  I’m back in the game.

Another 40 minutes or so passes.  It must be halftime, by now, I suspect.

ESPN on the screen.  Half time score:  Dallas 24, Los Angeles 7.

FUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!

*     *     *     *     *

I tend to be pretty good at the things I’m interested in.

If I’m not interested, or worse — bored with it — I’m the laziest motherfucker on the planet.  [Consider that one reason it took me a month to get back to writing this story.]

Lots of people don’t know this but my work did have a significant impact on NFL betting about 15 years ago.  Allow me to tell you that story.  Since it’s halftime, this makes for perfect timing.

Just before I moved to Las Vegas from Washington, DC, I spent that last summer in the nation’s capital outdoors in the sun, reading and calculating and pouring over old box scores of ball games dating back nearly 20 years.  Each and every day, my routine was pretty much the same.  I went outside, dug into the numbers, made my notes, and eventually came up with gambling fucking gold.  It was the equivalent of discovering hidden treasure.

I have to share some of the credit here.  A handicapper and researcher named Mike Garbowski (whom I’ve never met) had been the first writer ever to take on the unchartered topic of football halftime betting.  Sometime around 1999, he published an obscure data set in a booklet which included all the NFL halftime betting lines and results dating back to the season when they first became available, sometime back in the 1980s.  I don’t even think that data is around anymore.  If there’s a copy of “NFL Second-Half Betting” around somewhere, I still have not seen it since my old copy became so worn out it is no longer legible. [Note:  I think that’s the title of the book.  I’m not sure.  It’s been many years since I’ve seen a copy.]

Thing was, Garbowski didn’t do much in terms of creating a narrative with all his data.  He didn’t market the research, at all.  So, I spent the next three months scouring his numbers and then crosschecked them with as many NFL game results as I could find from the Internet.  The longer I worked, the more excited I became.  After a few weeks of doing this, I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day, go outside, and spend the entire day data mining NFL box scores.  I know, that doesn’t sound like much of a life.  I guess — it isn’t.  But in the faux-laboratory of the mind of an NFL handicapper, this became an obsession.

The work wasn’t easy.  For every nugget of gold I found, probably 30 or so theories turned out to be false leads pointing to fool’s gold.  That’s the excruciating toil of data mining, the labor that no one sees.  It’s spending half a day or longer than that on something that looks very promising dating back a few seasons, and then when you continue to run the numbers with all the crosschecking, eventually the advantages fizzle out and end up at the same random percentages as coin flipping.  That’s why it’s called mining.  You have to go deep underground, dig through an incalculable amount worthless rock, and if you’re extraordinarily persistent and then lucky, you might just find a few tiny diamonds amidst the coal.  Data mining is an exercise in constant frustration and disappointment, not to be attempted by anyone but the most determined and stubborn.

My research finally led to 7 NFL Halftime Betting Angles that were irrefutably successful, and ended up altering the second-half lines of pro football games.  Seriously, the actually stared shifting the lines because of this research,  I first published my data in 2001 online at MadJack Sports (with proper attribution given to Mr. Garbowski, of course), and afterward everyone pretty much stole our data, re-posted it elsewhere at other sports betting forums, and the gold rush was on like has never been the case in NFL second-half wagering.

Incredibly, those NFL Halftime Betting Angles produced a whopping 65 percent winners during the full 2001 season.  My systems produced an average of 3 to 4 plays per week.  There was no handicapping involved, whatsoever.  You just bet them blind, and won.  It was that simple.  A monkey could make the plays and win.  It was a dream come true.

Making a really long story much shorter than it really deserves to be (note to self — do the detailed write up someone later, especially on the dead-end angles), those angles made me some money, but they didn’t make me rich.  I had no full-time job for about a year (similar to my experience now), so I relied on those wagers to keep me going.  Thank goodness for offshore sports books, which was my only betting option in those days.

The following season, in 2002, I moved to Las Vegas.  The angles performed even better, winning at nearly 67 percent.  In 2003, Dave Tuley published my angles in the Daily Racing Form, even though the subject matter of the periodical was horse racing.  I published a revised editions of my angles in 2003 in Casino Player magazine.  In other words, I updated some angles, and dropped a few based on results.  This was before software packages ran the data, and even that wasn’t very good since quarters and halves aren’t usually broken down with numbers and percentages — so all the work had to be done the old fashioned way, by making your eyeballs bleed pouring over the data.  By 2005, I was attending sports handicapping seminars in Las Vegas and the “experts” sitting up on the stage were quoting my work (and Garbowski’s work), citing our betting angles, and I pretty much just sat there stewing like a pressure cooker with a thumb up my ass, silent like a bitter victim who watched as everyone else ran away with the prize.

Fuck me.  I never should have published those angles.  I should have kept them to myself.

I coulda’ been a contender.

Addendum to this story:  Two things happened — (1) Lines makers began adjusting lines to the angles, and they became less reliable.  (2) The NFL became more of a passing game and rules were changed which helped offenses, negating some of the “under” betting systems I had created.  Closing advice — don’t bother with the angles anymore.  They’re now totally obsolete.

*     *     *     *     *

No, I didn’t tell that last story with any purpose in mind.  It just seemed like a good time.

No, I did not make a halftime wager on this game.  I’m already down y 17 points.  It looks like I’m about to lose more than enough money on this day and the first thing you must when you’re stuck in a hole is to stop digging.

Second half kickoff.  Dallas 24, Los Angeles 7.

Under these circumstances, I now have to go back into the house and watch my action.

Fuck the sun.

Fuck the pool.

The champagne is still sitting the fridge.

Marieta senses that something is very wrong.

I’m miserable as all fuck.

The second half of the first preseason opener is usually a romper room of ineptitude.  Players who have no shot of ever playing in the NFL are now out on the field, trying desperately to make an impression somewhere on someone just enough to get noticed so he might later get signed to a minimal contract to play on the practice squad.  Many preseason second halves are nothing more than scrimmages — training exercises where the coaches just go through the motions, sending in dull plays that would only interest some talent scout from the former XFL.

For this reason, being stuck 17 points in a preseason NFL game is like being down 30 points in a regular season game.  It means your double fucked.

My five-figure wager is now riding on the arm of a new quarterback for the Rams named Sean Mannion, who used to play for the Oregon State Beavers.  I had to look that up just now, because I could not even remember his name or anything about him.  But over the next 90 minutes or so, he’s going to turn into the second coming of Jesus Fucking Christ.

Mannion throws a touchdown pass in the middle of the third quarter, and after three frames, it’s Dallas 24, Los Angeles 14.  Still down by 10 points.  C’mon, you bastards!

By this time, Dallas has replaced Dak Prescott, who played like an All-Pro in his first-ever NFL start.  That stellar display foreshadowed the incredible rookie season he would later enjoy with the Cowboys as he led them to the NFL East title.  Done for the day, now a fourth-stringer takes all the snaps, and it’s apparent the Cowboys aren’t really interested much in scoring in more points or risking injuries to anyone who might make the team.  They won the half that counted on the scoreboard, from both a coaching and talent perspective.

Fortunately for me, the Rams fourth stringers are treating this game like a Super Bowl.  Los Angeles manages to score another touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and now it’s Dallas 24, Los Angeles 21.

I’m pacing back and forth in front of the television like a wild mare.  Rams players who drop passes get called out as cocksuckers.  Cowboy receivers who drop passes get called out as heroes.

Down to the two-minute warning.  Rams have the ball, and are driving.  92,000 fans are on their feet, and while most of the television viewers watching wouldn’t normally think this is a big dive, for me this might as well be Elway piercing through the Browns defense in the epic ’87 AFC Championship game.

With about 1:30 left on the clock and the Rams with no time outs, it’s 4th down.  Crunch time.  Rams ball.  They’re on about the Dallas 35.  I’m mulling over the possibility of kicking a 52-yard field goal, and ponder if that’s what I went to happen.  But Rams’ had coach Jeff Fisher isn’t playing for the tie here.  He wants to win.  I desperately need a first down.  Then, I need another 30 yards in the closing minute.

On fourth down, Mannion takes the snap and goes back to pass, then looks to his right, and nothing is there, so then he looks to his left.  A pass rush floods into the backfield and just as Mannion is about eat the ball and go down with a sack, meaning “game over,” he sees a running back trekking out towards the sidelines, fires a missile that hits the receiver high in the shoulder pads, and he collapses with the ball out of bounds, but a half yard across the first-down marker.

First down Rams!

A few plays later, the Rams are down on the Dallas 9-yard line.  A few seconds remaining.  If I lose this game after storming back against the odds, something’s going to get broken.  I don’t like breaking furniture.  Marieta really hates it when I do that.  Please, o’ please let the Rams score.

Mannion goes back to pass……Aaron Green slants off darting towards the left post in the corner of the end zone…..his arm moves forward……ball is in the air…..Green makes the catch…..

TOUCHDOWN!!!!

With the extra point, Los Angeles 28, Dallas 24.  Final score.

Sean Mannion, my hero.  Congratulations, Sir!  You made the blog!

Time to cash a $10,800 ticket.

 

 

Coming Up:  I’ll be writing a lot more about “data mining” in my next chapter of “Gambling for a Living.”

 

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Posted by on Feb 7, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 15 comments

55 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

 

 

Today’s my 55th birthday.  Okay, that was yesterday.  My 56th birthday is 364 days from now.

Gee, that makes me sound old as fuck.

Save the sentimentality, people, though I appreciate the spirit in which it’s intended.  Birthdays don’t mean much to me.  It’s just another day.  5-5 just another number.  However, this does seem like a good occasion to share some personal stuff with readers.

First, a short commercial message.  I’m asking for money.  Yes, money — as in please make a donation.  I accept PayPal.  There’s an icon on the upper right-hand side of the screen.  Please click that square and be generous.

When I embarked on this (almost) daily blog four years ago, I promised I’d write whatever popped into my head as often as time permitted — and those thoughts would be unfiltered.  But I also made an agreement that I would not allow this website to cost me any money.  I hired a terrific webmaster, Ernst-Dieter Martin, who should take a bow (see his picture on the Emeritus Section, along with a link to his web services).  He’s been with me since Day One and makes sure the site stays up and is free of cyber attacks.  I haven’t paid the webmaster in a while.  So, I’d like to send some cash his way.  So, if you can send $10, $20, or $10,000 — he (and I) would appreciate it.  Thank you for doing whatever you can.

Now, on to my confessional.

There’s no such thing as normal.  We’re expected to be circles and squares.  Reality is, we’re all polygons, with multiple sides.  Here’s 55 things you probably didn’t know about me:

 

1.  I was born in Dallas, Texas on February 6, 1962.  The most famous person also born that exact same day and year is Axl Rose — the lead singer for Guns and Roses.

2.  My parents divorced when I was 2.  My father spent most of his professional career as an air traffic controller.  He was fired by President Ronald Reagan in the infamous PATCO strike of 1982.  My mother worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company most of her life.

3.  While growing up, I lived in Dallas, Chicago, and Albuquerque.  I changed schools five times between the grades of 1-6.  Each time we moved, I had to make new friends.  That probably made more into an outgoing person.

4.  I had speaking and singing roles in all four of my high school musicals.  My senior year, I had the lead role in “Bye Bye Birdie.”  Play the guitar badly.  I play the piano worse.  Actually, I don’t play the piano at all.  If I have a great personal regret, it’s that I never learned the piano.

5.  My junior year, I got expelled from high school for drinking alcohol and had to go to an alternative school for troublemakers.  Nonetheless, I was elected Senior Class President the following year.

6.  I’ve never done illegal drugs of any kind, including smoking marijuana.

7.  I earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Texas system, but dropped out of a Masters Degree program after one year.

8.  Right out of college, I tried to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer, but was rejected for flight school because I’m colorblind.  I have what’s called a red-green deficiency, which is the most common form of color blindness.  About 3 percent of all people have this vision defect, which predominantly afflicts males.

9.  I’m probably one of the very few people who was in close proximity to both the Kennedy Assassination and the events of 9/11.  When I was nearly 2, we lived a few miles from where Kennedy was shot.  39 years later, I lived across the street from the Pentagon, which was struck by an airliner and exploded.

10.  I hate mushrooms.

11.  I don’t like making small talk.  I like discussing serious subjects that matter.

12.  My favorite actor is Marlon Brando.  My favorite actress is Isabella Rosellini.

13.  My spiritual mentor is the late Christopher Hitchens.

14.  I am embarrassingly ignorant in math and science.  I’m ashamed about this, so I’m trying to catch up and learn more, especially about science.

15.  I was born into Roman Catholicism and even attended Catholic school for a time.  However, I’ve been an Atheist since about the age of 25.  Despite this, I still once joined the Knights of Columbus.

16.  I ran for city council once.  I finished third in a four-candidate race.  Just imagine how shitty a candidate the fourth-place finisher was.

17.  I’m passionate about animal rights and environmental protections.

18.  I despise flair bartenders.  I think they should be banned, imprisoned, or shot depending on how fancy they get.

19.  I am trying to become a vegetarian.  Trouble is, most veggie food really sucks.

20.  I made my first bet at the age of 8, losing $1 on Super Bowl V.  I’ve been gambling ever since.

21.  Both of my paternal grandparents were deaf.  My grandfather, an immigrant from Northern Italy, once played minor league baseball and pitched an exhibition game against Babe Ruth.

22.  My grandfather’s name was shorted when he arrived at New York’s Ellis Island.  His real name was DALLAVALLE, which roughly translated means, “from the valley.”  He was born in Rabbi, Trentino (Italy).  The name was shorted to DALLA.

23.  My favorite brand of car is Citroen.

24.  My favorite book is “The Power Broker,” the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner for non-fiction, by Robert Caro.

25.  Except on very rare occasions, I do not read fiction.

26.  I witnessed the 1989 Romanian Revolution first-hand.

27.  I drink wine every day.  My favorite wine is Gevrey Chambertin, from France.  My favorite white wine is just about anything from the Alsace region of France.

28.  My favorite movie is The Godfather.  The best movie ever made was Schindler’s List.

29.  My favorite sports team is whoever I’m betting on that day.  Aside from gambling, my favorite sports teams are the New Orleans Saints, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Boston Bruins.  I don’t have a favorite baseball team, except that I always cheer against the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox.  I like to say when the Yankees play the Red Sox, I cheer for a rain out and a stadium collapse.

30.  I’ve met and shaken hands with six out of the last nine U.S. Presidents, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.

31.  I’ve met and spoken with Donald Trump four times.

32.  I once sat in the senate office chair of Ted Kennedy.

33. I’ve been married to Marieta Dalla for 26 years.

34.  My basic philosophy can best be summed up as follows:  If Immanuel Kant, Robert Owen, Karl Marx, Lyndon B. Johnson, George Carlin, Van Morrison, Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez, and Sam Harris all had a secret love child — that would be me.

35.  I refuse to eat fast food, unless it’s a matter of life or death, or I’m traveling through West Virginia, which is kinda’ the same thing.

36.  I run 2 to 3 miles every day.  I used to run 5 miles, but that was too much strain on the joints.  The longest distance I’ve ever run at once was 12 miles.  I have never competed in a 10K race or a marathon of any kind.  My father, however, used to run marathons regularly and even competed up until he was 50.

37.  The sound I cherish most is the sound of silence.

38.  I like people.  I also like being alone.

39.  My greatest enjoyment is reading.

40.  I do not believe in UFOs.  I do not believe in superstition.  I do not believe in astrology.  I do not believe in faith-based healing or prayer.  I do believe in inquiry and science.

41.  I do not believe it is wrong to have tried and failed.  My life is filled with failures.

42.  No words offend me.  None whatsoever.  I have no regard for political correctness.  The older I get, the less I care what other people think.

43.  My favorite television shows at the moment are, in no particular order:  PBS Frontline, American Experience, 60 Minutes, John Oliver, This is Us, Suits, StarTalk, and anything that’s news or political.

44.  Celebrities aren’t particularly interesting to me.  The people I admire most are those who rarely get praise, particularly medical caregivers and those who work with animals, especially solving animal abuse cases.  I’m weak.  I do not think I could do those jobs, so I really admire those who do.

45.  The older I get, the less material possessions mean to me.  So long as I have a laptop, and internet connection, and some wine — I’m good.

46.  My preferred alcoholic drink is Johnny Walker Black, not only for taste but because it’s historically been the beverage of choice for Leftist revolutionaries.  I also have a soft spot for Jameson.

47.  I have no internal time clock.  I can work or read or sleep anytime of day or night.

48.  Despite being outgoing, I’m not into parties or social engagements, at all.  I despise making meaningless talk.

49.  I once ripped up an airline ticket, rented a car and drove from New Orleans to Las Vegas because Marieta found a wounded Ring-Necked Dove in the street and we didn’t want to leave it behind to die.  True story.

50.  I’m ridiculously fortunate to have wonderful family and friends, far better than I deserve.

51.  If I could do my life all over again, I’d make many different choices and decisions.  However, I would not change my essential belief systems.  I’m proud of my beliefs and my path to a personal philosophy.

52.  I’m still trying to decide what to do next and where to live the rest of my life.  When I figure that out, I’ll likely write about it.  Or, maybe I won’t.

53.  Writing is easy.  Editing is hard.

54.  I plan on writing a book over the next six months.  It’s a project that was shelved which I aspire returning to with fresh enthusiasm.

55. My first World Series of Poker was in 1985.  Since then, I’ve been to most of them.  However, I have probably worked my last WSOP.

 

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Posted by on Feb 6, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 1 comment

Viewer Discretion Advised (My Video Rants)

 

 

Making video rants are fun.

Sure, there’s the misery of the preamble, that painful period of time leading to a ballistic blow up.  That’s not fun at all.  However, doing a video rant is sort of like engaging what psychiatrist Arthur Janov coined as “Primal Scream Therapy.”  Janov charged his clients, which included many celebrities, hundreds if not thousands of dollars per hour to express their deepest emotions.  By contrast, making a video only requires a smartphone and the bravery to share one’s soul with the world.

I lost a wager on the Super Bowl yesterday.  My wager appeared to be a lock, until seconds were left in the game.  Then, the ice cream turned to shit.  I won’t go into details.  You can just watch this 8-minute clip for yourselves:

 

Alternative version of clip with reader comments can be seen on my FACEBOOK PAGE.

I watched yesterday’s Super Bowl at Russ Fox’s house, along with several friends.  Russ always does a nice job of hosting.  I have having a great time until the epic meltdown in the fourth quarter.  After getting into arguments with people about how stupid the Atlanta coaching staff was, electing to have QB Matt Ryan pass the ball with only a few minutes left in the game and a lead that should have been insurmountable, I drove home and was prepared to call it a night.  Another day.  Another bad beat.  Shit happens.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it might be a healthy outlet to make a video and let myself go.  I’ve done this a few times in the past, and I’d call it a win-win.  I have fun with the rants, and it sure feels good to let off some steam after losing thousands of dollars.  Viewers also seem to enjoy the rants.  I think every gambler can identify with the frustration of suffering a loss.

Here’s a similar video I made a few years ago after a devastating weekend where I lost almost every game.  This video runs longer, but has quite a plenty of red meat  [Viewer discretion advised]:

 

Rants can be fun, even on topics other than sports.  Here’s a much longer video I made a few years ago in reaction to the absurd Las Vegas Review Journal “Readers Poll,” an abomination which includes the public’s picks on the top restaurants and entertainment in Las Vegas.

This video begins calmly and then as I read the readers poll picks, I begin to lose it.  Enjoy!

 

Today’s a big day for me.  I’ll run a few errands and be back later with a special announcement and a pledge drive.

I need the money.

 

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Posted by on Jan 23, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Rants and Raves, Sports Betting | 4 comments

Gambling for a Living — Part 3 (Give Me $7,000 on the Los Angeles Rams)

 

 

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.”

Checkmate.

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.”

 

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