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Posted by on Oct 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Politics | 3 comments

A Wine Dinner Worth Remembering

 

 

A WINE DINNER WORTH REMEMBERING

Take a look at this photo (above).  Tell me where you think it’s from.  No cheating.  I’ll provide the answer at the conclusion of the column.

__________

Earlier tonight, Marieta and I had the great pleasure of attending a special four-course wine dinner at a local restaurant here in Las Vegas.  But this wasn’t a wine dinner like all the rest.  We were seated with a couple, aged in their late 60s.

The gentleman and I got to chatting.  Somehow, the topic of the Vietnam War came up.  We engaged in a spirited conversation about the masterful Vietnam War television series, produced by Ken Burns, on PBS.  By the way, this is must-see television for anyone who has not seen it yet.

During the course of our friendly conversation, the man revealed that he served two tours of duty in Vietnam.  He was stationed at Da Nang in 1968 and returned again in 1971.  He was assigned to a U.S. Air Force unit that provided routine maintenance on fighter jets.

Initially, the man was somewhat reluctant to talk about his memories of the war. But inquisitive (nosy) as I am, I was riveted by this moment — what amounted to a front-row, first-person account of one of the most transformative events in all of American history.  How fortunate I was to have this rare opportunity.  I wasn’t about to let this chance to learn more pass me by.  And so, I pressed on.

The man stated that he arrived in Da Nang in early 1968 at the tender age of 18.  He had lied about his age and joined the Air Force at age 17.  His very first night in Vietnam was the Tet Offensive.  For those unfamiliar with Vietnam War history, the Tet Offensive was a surprise attack that caught the American military totally off-guard and was arguably the shocking turning point of the war.

I listened intently over the next two hours, privileged to be given this, such a rare gift.  As we talked, or I should say — as he talked and I listened — the man became increasingly more open and willing to talk about the many experiences that had haunted him for nearly half a century.  It will take me some time to digest all the perspectives he shared with me, some of which were very troubling to hear.  Perhaps I shall write about them later, if appropriate.  I don’t know.  Perhaps some things are best left unsaid.

But what really struck me at one point during our conversation was when I sought to give the man an “out,” allowing him to escape my inquisitive and perhaps annoying curiosity and enjoy the evening with the rest of the 30 or people assembled in the room sipping on Pinot, Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Sangiovese.  Indeed, I casually tried to change the subject at this point, thinking my captive might leap at the chance to leave those painful memories of Vietnam behind.  But instead of taking the easy bait, the man wanted to talk — more.

I have a tear in my eye and a tremble in my wrists as I write this now, a few hours later thinking about the next thing the man revealed to me.

“No one ever asks me about my time over there.  It feels good to talk about it.”

Wow.  Just, fucking wow.

Here I was, thinking I was blessed to be able to gain a new perspective from his insight, and yet he was on the opposite side of the table, convinced that my empathy was in some small manner — therapeutic.  He thought I was doing him the favor.  I’m having trouble writing now.

For another 90 minutes or so, I heard stories and memories and events and perspectives that opened my eyes and broadened my knowledge about what thousands of good men (and women) went through — both over there then and back here later.

I won’t give the man’s name because he insists he’s a private person.  But I suspect there are many, many more veterans like him harboring memories that deserve and must and demand to be shared, real pain and emotional conflict that merits the soothing salve of a kindly ear, a gentle nod at the right instant, and a genuine but simple expression of gratitude.

I wonder how many others are out there now, tight-lipped, sitting in silence.  How many others of this war and that war and all the wars we’ve fought and continue to fight didn’t get the chance to sit down at a wine dinner and speak about what they saw and what they endured and how they survived the madness.  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Tens of thousands?  Why don’t we ask questions and why aren’t we listening?

Yes, the wine dinner was exceptional, but then most of my wine dinners are great.  But this one was of Grand Cru of an exceptional vintage, two souls de-cantered into one.

How blessed I was to have the opportunity to share a dinner with a Vietnam vet, and listen and learn.

__________

Finally, the answer to the question posed in the opening paragraph is — the photograph shows Da Nang, Vietnam.  This is a photograph of Da Nang, formally one of the largest American military installations in South Vietnam, as it looks today.

Times do change.  Places change also.  What should not and must not ever change is our curiosity for history and insatiable compassion for others, even strangers.

This was an evening I shall not soon forget.

 

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Posted by on Oct 5, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 5 comments

Living Las Vegas: Last Night at the Golden Steer

 

 

Walking into the Golden Steer is like visiting the ghosts of Las Vegas pasts.

If these walls could talk, just imagine the stories they could tell.

Last night’s motley crew guest list included Andy Rich (Golden Nugget Poker Manager), Todd Anderson (Creator of television show Poker Night in America), Vin Narayanan (who’s doing some lucrative deal in Hong Kong that’s succeeding despite making no logical sense whatsoever) and yours truly.  Our frightening foursome plopped down in a red-leather booth.  Almost instantly, we had appetizer cocktails in one hand and dinner menus in the other.

Now, that’s service.

The Golden Steer has been in business for like — forever.  It’s a really weird location, helplessly bookended into a seedy strip mall right off Las Vegas Blvd., on Sahara.  A few doors down there’s a busy cigar bar that you can smell from a block away.  The restaurant, in the shadow of the new Lucky Dragon casino, is bordered by ghetto apartments.  Fortunately, there’s a spindle of rusted barbed wire atop a cinder block wall separating the slums from the Golden Steer.  That way, we can all feel safe while feasting on dead animals.

If these directions don’t make any sense, then try this:  Look for the giant sign with the fat cow out in front.  Everyone in town knows the fat cow.  Err, steer — whatever.

Years ago, the Golden Steer was the favorite hangout of the Rat Pack.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. and company used to dine here regularly.  The trio of crooners even had their own private booths (each still in place and memorialized with plaques).

The Golden Steer has undergone a sparkling facelift since my last visit a few years ago when it seemed the old cow’s best days were way behind her.  While the inner decor has been updated, it still screams “Old Las Vegas.”  You don’t see places like this around anymore because they’ve all been bulldozed and paved over by an all-too-crowded kitchen of celebrity chefs.

Now that you know a little something about the Golden Steer, here’s where the story really gets good.

While Andy, Todd, Vin, and I were solving the world’s problems last night while trying to get away from our own, the scene across from us in the opposite red leather booth caught our attention and kept us captivated nearly to the point of becoming a distraction.  About 15 feet away, a scruffy bearded man wearing a brown western hat dined with a young lady.  The man’s coat looked disgustingly filthy.  His hat was bent out of shape and wouldn’t fetch $2 at a garage sale.  If you examined this scene for no more than five seconds, you’d have made a reasonable guess the man was homeless.

No big deal, really.  This is Las Vegas.  You see a lot of weirdness in Las Vegas.

At some point, the scruffy man asked the waiter to remove a portrait from the restaurant wall (yes, I’m serious).  Then, he requested the portrait be positioned next to him and his lady friend, in the booth.  If the scruffy man wasn’t a curious sideshow to watch before based on appearances, well now he had our full attention — at least as much attention you could muster without turning into a gawker.

So, the large framed portrait of a movie star was nestled into the booth while the scruffy man feasted on supper.  It was hard to tell who this was exactly in the picture, but after some artful eye-dodging, someone in our party finally recognized the portrait was of the late actor Charles Bronson.

The scruffy man, the lady friend, and Charles Bronson’s portrait all seemed to be quietly enjoying themselves, although Bronson didn’t say much.  Bronson also didn’t eat or drink anything.  Those delicious delights were left to the other two, who emptied at least one bottle of expensive wine followed by a bottle of champagne.  I tried to catch a glimpse of the labels to see what they were drinking, but I didn’t want to seem too nosy.  One can only gawk so much without causing a scene.

Of course, we had to play the whispering game of speculation.  Who in the hell is this guy?  He sure looks like a pauper, but he’s dining in a fancy restaurant, guzzling down wine and champagne.  Who could make such a wild request to have a portrait removed from the wall — and then have that request honored by the staff?  And the woman really seems to dig him!

An eccentric billionaire?

The owner of the restaurant?

A perverted Charles Bronson fanatic?

Who was he?

Just as we were preparing to leave, the scruffy man and his friend got up also.  They made a swift bee-line for the front door, hopefully not leaving stoic and speechless Charles Bronson to pay the bill.

Consumed by curiosity, we stopped the waiter in mid-stride cold in his tracks.

“Who in the hell was that scruffy guy in the hat?  Do you know him?” we asked.

“Oh, that was Nicolas Cage.  He’s a regular here.  He comes in all the time.”

 

 

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Posted by on Oct 2, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics, What's Left | 5 comments

We Don’t Need More Prayers, We Need Tougher Gun Laws

 

 

Another mass shooting.  More bloodshed.  More death.  More agony.

And, of course, more thoughts and prayers.

Sigh.

Tragedy and suffering have become a national epidemic.  During the past month, America has endured three terrible storms which created mass destruction and many deaths.

But this tragedy was something very different.  The killings which took place at a country-music concert in Las Vegas were concocted and carried out by a human being.  The disaster wasn’t a natural act.  It was man-made.  Hence, the tragedy was preventable.

The current debate about man-made climate change notwithstanding, there’s not much we can do to stop forces of nature.  Storms happen.  But we can and we must do everything we can to prevent massacres initiated by one human being upon others.  We must try and stop it.  A civil society, particularly America which is such a statistical outlier when it comes to gun violence, not only faces a decision to act now, it has an obligation to do so.  This is assuming that we really do value human life, which is very much an open question.  Question:  Do we really possess the moral and political courage to stand up to powerful forces who are de facto co-conspirators in this pandemic of mass death?

I’m not so sure.

Instead, and in place of action, there are relentless empty words.  Thoughts and prayers are nothing more than a sweet-sounding Hallmark card, only they’re cheaper and not nearly as sentimental.  At least sending a Hallmark card to someone suffering inconsolable pain is a tangible act.  By contrast, thoughts and prayers ring hollow.  Thoughts and prayers are a cowardly abdication of greater responsibility if not linked to something more meaningful.  It’s like offering to help your pal move out of his apartment but secretly hoping he’s already hired a moving company.

If prayers really worked, some nutjob wouldn’t have hammered out the windows on the 32nd floor of a luxury hotel on the Las Vegas Strip and then starting shooting upon a crowd in the first place.  If prayers were effective, no benevolent celestial divinity overseeing the vast universe would have remained asleep at the wheel, emotionally isolated and criminally idle for ten full minutes, all while bullets rained down onto a defenseless cluster of terrified innocents.  Expressing “thoughts and prayers” to some imaginary do-nothing sky wizard in the aftermath of such tragedy isn’t just pointless.  It’s offensive.

Thoughts and prayers are offensive because they detract us, some by intention, from the very relevant discussion and debate we should all be having, instead.  Thoughts and prayers are a smokescreen.  Yes, perhaps there is a time for thoughts and prayers — later.  At funerals.  Do the prayers there.  There will be at least 59 funerals happening in the next week or so.  So, pray there.  Pray at remembrances intended to give comfort to relatives and survivors.  Pray there, if you want — all you want.  But the terrible aftermath of preventable tragedies aren’t assuaged by empty words tweeted and posted on public forums, even if well-intended.  Evil is eradicated, or at least diminished, by acts of courage and specific action.

Gun-fellating ostriches will protest “politicising the tragedy,” an all-too-convenient reflex I’ve already read dozens of times this morning posted all over social media.  But if this — the deadliest mass shooting in American history — doesn’t motivate us to do something now, then what will?  A hundred deaths?  A thousand?  Twenty more mass shootings?  What if your relative or friend was caught in the crossfire of some wacko blasting a high-powered assault weapon armed with thousands of rounds of ammunition?  Pray tell, — what will it take?

Quoting Sarah Q. Queen from Facebook, who said it best:

“Saying not to politicize this is the single most political thing you can do.  Anyone who has lost family or friends to an assault rifle wants nothing more than to prevent subsequent murders, and the only way to do that is to stop allowing access.  Now is the second best time, the best time being quite a few years ago.  So stop politicizing and get out of the way of doing what’s best.”

Want to honor the victims of this tragedy, or one of the innumerable tragedies which have taken place before?  Better yet, want to try and prevent another tragedy which is otherwise sure to come?  How about this:  Let’s update our gun laws.  Let’s start with gun registration.  Hell, let’s start with restricting guns getting into the hands of mentally disturbed people.  Yeah, that would be a good place to start.  But we can’t even agree on something this simple.  The last time federal legislation was proposed to restrict gun purchases to mentally ill people, the National Rifle Association and its faithful foot soldiers stepped in and killed the bill.  What kind of sick perverted society allows this?  What sicko wants to allow someone with mental problems to, gulp!, buy guns?

Apparently, there are about 4 million sickos.  That’s the number of active NRA members.

Note that I don’t propose getting rid of all guns, even though that’s pretty much what the rest of the civilized world has done where mass shootings simply do not happen.  People can keep a gun in the house for self-protection or perhaps even carry a weapon.  It’s a very valid point that people should have the right to protect themselves, and that right extends to legally buying a gun.

But if we’re going to sell guns to tens of millions of people from all walks of life, shouldn’t there be some minimal level of scrutiny as to who buys them?  Should anyone out there be legally able to buy a dozen potentially deadly high-powered assault rifles plus thousands of rounds of ammunition?  For what purpose?  Shouldn’t this be a red flag?  Sure, many private gun collectors who are good people and there are valid reasons for some citizens to own many guns.  Indeed, we can live in a reasonably peaceful society where we have both — tougher gun laws along with maintaining the right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment.

We require licenses and insurance for people to drive cars, and there are plenty of good reasons for this.  No sane person would argue against requiring drivers to show competency before getting behind the wheel of a car.  We also require restaurants to obtain licenses and adhere to safety inspections.  Again, no sane person would argue against requiring food servers to demonstrate clean and safe practices.  Our government even requires many professions — doctors, dentists, insurance salesmen, financial planners, and so forth to be licensed.  Even hair stylists must obtain a license before they can cut hair.  If we demand the person who does haircuts for a living have a license, shouldn’t we require someone who walks into a gun store and purchases a deadly assault weapon to not only to meet some standard of mental competency but also attend a basic training course on gun safety?  Bartenders in many states are required to attend courses on alcohol safety.  Is anyone really shocked that a nation with much stronger laws restricting who gives haircuts and serves beer than buys a deadly rifle has a rampant problem with gun violence?

I mean, WAKE THE FUCK UP!

Most gun owners are responsible people and good citizens.  However, 33,000 gun deaths per year, on average in the United States, plus another 100,000 or so non-fatal accidents is a collective scream for immediate action.  That’s not acceptable breakage for any sane society that values human life.  That’s re-fighting the Vietnam War every two years.  Think of that.  Based on the number gun deaths and accidents in America, we are re-fighting the Vietnam War every 24 months.  Now as then, we are losing another costly and preventable war. 

Anyone who seriously believes last night’s Las Vegas Mandalay Bay tragedy is the final mass shooting is hopelessly naive.  No doubt, there will be more shootings in the future.  More shootings will take place given that gun laws are unlikely to change anytime soon.  And so, we are destined to endure far more preventable deaths, that is, so long as this nation remains foolishly wielded to outdated gun policies that were written when the most deadly weapon in the world was an infantryman’s musket.

Since the Second Amendment was written into the United States Constitution, technology has changed.  America has changed.  So too, our laws much change also.

And if you still want to pray — then please go ahead and pray.  But while you’re remembering the innocent victims, also pray for some sensible gun laws in America.  That’s a prayer where I’d willingly bow my head in complete agreement.

 

Postscript:  I would be terribly remiss were I not to add that we need to spend far more and do far more for mental health in this country.  But instead, we are cutting services to agencies which deal with mental health problems.  We will never know if mass murders like this terribly disturbed individual might have cried for help and not been given the treatment which could have prevented another senseless tragedy.

 

 

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Posted by on Aug 28, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker | 9 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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