On the Seventh Day, God Suggests I Take A Day Off From Gambling

March 26, '10: The first time this blog came out on the winning end!

While filling out job applications in February, I was occasionally inquired to list what I think my weaknesses are. I would respond with: spelling, cursing, crossword puzzles, interviewing for a job, Pogo-Balling, remembering names, making my bed and microwaving popcorn.

Here I am in March; still searching for that Dream Job. Maybe it works against me sometimes, but I feel it’s important to be completely honest with any potential employer. Therefore, I now feel inclined to add one more weakness to that list: predicting winners of NCAA tournament games.

I mean, this is ridiculous. Does anyone mind if I just skip paying the house for a day and flush a five-dollar bill down the toilet instead? I promise I’ll take a picture and try to write about it.

I doubled down on No. 1 seed Kentucky yesterday in their “My Grandma can shoot better than that-and she’s dead” performance vs. West Virginia (I also put action on the Wildcats to win their region back on day one). That left me $5 poorer and with a ZERO accuracy rating in predicting Final Four teams for the first time in my life. My ESPN bracket tells me that I will have accurately picked 51% of ALL the games in the tournament. I suppose that’s what happens when most of the college basketball (or equivalent) I followed this season came by way of seven New York Knicks games (before they traded Nate Robinson, of course) and half of a New Jersey Nets game.

I haven’t been in a gambling slump that bothered me this much since I sat at the “Diff’Rent Strokes” themed nickel slot machine at O’Shea’s for a Tuesday afternoon.

Maybe I should just start asking Oak-Town, the guy who fries your Twinkies and Oreos downtown (Fremont St-Old Vegas) for help in making my picks. Seriously, he couldn’t do much worse.

There has been “One Shining Moment” for me during this tournament. I finished up Friday at Treasure Island with cash in my hand. I looked at the sports book’s digital board and saw Duke laying an -8.5 spread. Something spoke to me there. So I made like Vince Vaughn in Swingers and talked back to the board like it was a cocktail waitress: “There she is, the most special lady in town!”

Trent tipped his cocktail waitress a 50-cent piece. It gets me every time.

That night she was wearing blue and her father likes to be referred to as Coach K. I guess all those hours I logged growing up playing his old video game on the Sega Genesis (not to mention 2 more the other day) finally paid dividends.

The funny thing about that first win was just how “hard to get” Duke played with my psyche during the first half: Senior All-American point guard John Scheyer didn’t make a field goal. As a team, Duke had 0 buckets made in the paint. They have four or five guys who can touch the rim without jumping!

Tom Petty once wrote “the waiting is the hardest part.” Well it was during the halftime break that I began to ask myself questions: Will I ever win here? And if so, will I ever catch up to The House? Should I have listened to the guy next to me who scoffs at the idea of betting on ANY NCAA tourney game; and instead puts down a pair of Benjamin’s on horses named “Backside Blackie” and “She’s A Cougar”? And why is the guy in front of me watching only FOX News with ear buds plugged into his personal set for hours upon end?

“So this must be what it feels like to drive through Texas?” I asked the horseracing junkie.

I've driven through Montana a few times, but never the Lone Star State.

“What did I tell you, kid?” He responds politely. “Betting on basketball is like waiting for your female to get ready to go out for the evening. You never know what the end results are going to be like and it takes waaay too damn long to find out.”

Confucius couldn’t have said it better himself.

**$5-A-Day Running Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 8 @ $45

Total winnings: $9.10 (Coach K’s head should be added to Rushmore)

Overall balance versus house: -$35.90

Outstanding Bets: N/A

Next $5 Bet: NBA hump-day Wednesday

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Syracuse vs Butler: Hardly a “Just Add Water” Gamble

Because it is miles from the strip, Red Rock owns one of the more underrated sports books in town.

Game time, 4:07 p.m. I am dead set on Syracuse beating Butler. I had no idea how much they would win by, I just knew they were a better team-just about every angle you try to analyze it from. And I was far from anxious before placing this bet, despite the fact that I have yet to make a proverbial basket myself against The House: 0-for-4, totaling -$20 overall.**

I enter the grandiose sports book at the Red Rock Resort/Casino around 3:30 p.m. with one word on my mind: Prudence. If I’m going to be ahead of the house by this time next year, I’m going to need to start betting with some sense of resolve for a while-if not permanently. I will develop my own “wise guy” philosophies/betting formula, but until that comes into fruition, playing the money lines with the favorite (as opposed to the spread, in which Syracuse was -6 ½), might be the way to go. At least until I get that first win out of the way.

“I’d like to bet Syracuse with the money line please…ahem…$5,” I politely prompted the teller.

“…That will only win you a dollar-fifty,” the Barney Frank-looking teller burps.

“That’s fine, Sabertooth. I’m just looking to get that first win out of the way,” I replied with conviction.

“Well at least a win will buy you a Hot Dog. Good luck,” the teller concluded.

(The teller was right. All hot dogs and Budweiser bottled products are $1 at Red Rock during NCAA tournament games. I’m almost ashamed to say this, but I know grown men who, already wooed from the fact that every single game of the tourney is displayed, would have considered this a deal maker. If Red Rock had done a better job marketing this deal, say with an internet ad on ESPN or $5-A-Day Parlay, my friends would have known about it, and in turn, would have been on the next flight down here.)

One half of play and what seemed like 28 Syracuse turnovers later, all Butler had to do was “just add water”, or hit the automatic pilot button for their 10-point lead. The pundits will tell you Butler played great defense, but I’ve seen better from teams that have lost in this tournament (e.g. #15 Oral Roberts vs. #2 Villanova). The stat of the game was Butler’s shooting percentage: 40%. But they made the ones that counted in crunch time, none better than Willie Veasley’s shot that pinball danced the rim before falling through-and so did the prospects of me enjoying a celebratory hot dog.

A dejected "Class of '89!" Syracuse fist-pumping alumnus yesterday at Red Rock. Syracuse fans were in the vast majority here. They are very passionate about SU hoops, often shouting the "C'MON!" and the soliloquy "Put a foot in their Ass!" a lot.

House $25, Unemployed Journalist $0.

So Mr. President, when exactly would I become fully covered for anti-anxiety meds?

**$5-A-Day Overall Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 6 @ $30

Total winnings: N/A

Total balance versus house: -$25

Outstanding Bet: Kentucky (-160) To Win East Regional (ticket would pay $8.10)

Next $5 Bet: March 26 or 27

Here’s some of the highlights I’d like to share from last Saturday (the day Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh became the unofficial mayor of  Cedar Falls, IA), where I viewed second round action from the Red Rock Casino sports book:

If you don't let the Hammer into your party, then maybe you shouldn't be throwing one.

*Hammerin’ Hank Goldberg, a former assistant to Jimmy The Greek and current ESPN pro football prognosticator, was sitting at his VIP cubicle, well within my line of sight, all day Saturday. “Is that The Hammer?” was thrown out there by a passing fan every so often. I couldn’t help but check in on his personal television every 10 minutes. He apparently wanted nothing to do with March Madness. I watched a variation of four games in four hours, while the Hammer was glued to nothing but horseracing. Talk about an incurable romantic of the horseracing world. The Hammer will be remembered as my first A list celebrity sighting as a resident of Vegas. (I sat close to Dog The Bounty Hunter at the Bellagio while on my first visit.) The Hammer may fly under the radar to most,  but don’t kid yourself, he is an A-lister. The guy has more stories than a Tijuana detective. Case in point:

http://espn.go.com/espnradio/player?rd=1#/podcenter/?id=4890518&autoplay=1&callsign=ESPNRADIO

*When Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh boldly shot and sank that three point shot with a minute to play in a memorable upset against top overall seed Kansas, the crowd at Red Rock burst at the scene with an ambiguous medley of reactions. Imagine what it would sound like if 300 people (half of which not only had to go to the bathroom for the last twenty minutes, but switched from $1 beers to well drinks 40 minutes back once realizing the Jayhawks were in for a serious challenge) all lost money and/or their bracket at the same time. Yet, everyone who is human loves an underdog. There were oohs, aahhs, cheers, and jeers. The southern guy behind me burrs, “Far-rock-muhammed? God Damn Al-Qaeda! They’re even shooting jumpers now!” When the clock finally wound down to 0.00, the majority of the crowd issued a golf clap.

*I met a Northern Iowa alumnus while I was on my way to the bathroom once that thriller concluded. I told him congrats. He was literally speechless.

*Couldn’t make it up because this is Vegas moment: once I finished taking care of business in the men’s room, I head to the sink to wash my hands when a West Virginia fan shamelessly heads straight toward the urinals with a full bottle of beer in each hand. Unless there’s a Kevin Trudeau book out there that explains the hands free human tricks the government doesn’t want you to know about, that guy had to sit those bottles down on the floor.

$5-A-Day Genesis: March Madness Under the Big Top

Do not misinterpret this question for a riddle: Where and when is it common to see white guys, black guys, and Latin guys- alcohol and/or caffeine induced-all go bananas in the same room upon witnessing a clutch victory by the Brigham Young University men’s basketball team?

Vegas in March it is!

The first set of games in the opening round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament tipped off at 9:30ish AM Vegas time yesterday, while I had the responsibility to place the inaugural bets for $5 A Day Parlay. I didn’t get close to the strip until 8:30, and by the time I approached The Stratosphere my patience was quickly dissolving. Soon enough, I saw the World Famous Circus Circus Casino.

I thought, “Nobody who isn’t already staying there has that sports book in particular at the top of their list like so many do with Lagase Stadium, Caesar’s, or MGM Grand to name a few. If it was good enough for the late, great Hunter Thompson in the 60’s, its definitely good enough for this scribe in 2010.”

Not five minutes after walking out the elevator and moseying into the main casino, I was fortunate enough to walk past a lucky gambler who is chatting with one of the old silver security guards when he exclaims, “I just won $1,400 but my ‘ol lady went to the room to sleep so she’s only going to know about $500 of it!”

Maybe you had to be there to see the guy’s stache, jean shorts, ankle socks, bandana patterned baseball cap, and Ohio State Buckeye tank top to truly eat the quote up like I did. Either way, his mood was infectious, I was instantly loving The Circus Circus vibe, and was certainly ready to begin beating the house from that point on.

Circus Circus Evaluation


Service/Cocktail Waitresses: A-

You didn’t have to go more than 15 minutes without being offered a drink. Waitress Betsy from Fresno, CA even accommodated me with a Maverick cigarette to go along with my coffee. If she were wearing anything other than Siberian Fir Tree scented perfume, I would have graded this crew with a perfect score.

If you get hungry like I did, there is an above average lunch buffet in the casino that will only cost you $13 after tax. Three plates took care of me for nearly 24 hours. The only catch is that, in all likelihood, you end up giving up your seat for the game. But really, how long can you stay inside and weather the film in the air laced by USA Gold ciggys? Some guys managed to sit in the lounge, located in front of the pictured desk area below, ALL day.

Atmosphere/Ambience: A-

I would like to think of Circus Circus as a great place to take a gal on a first date for post-dinner entertainment. The second floor above the main casino comprises of a slew of high quality carnival games (i.e., speaking within the boundaries of the culture itself) as well as arcade style gaming.

Disclaimer to guys: Unless you are attracted to ladies with upside down beehive hairdos or grenade tattoos on the left arm as opposed to the waistline, you will not be rating any female you see with a “10” as long as you plan to watch the games at Circus Circus. All the “10” chicks are with their Dude-Bro boyfriends at the heart of the strip. In fact, you won’t see one female patron in the sports book at Circus Circus…just sayin’. But if you want to watch a guy name Jimmer (BYU guard) and you don’t mind SITTING next to a guy named Jimmer, go off the beaten path to places like Circus Circus.

Betting and overall quality of the sports book: B-

Here's what it looked like yesterday during first round action, from Circus Circus.

Circus Circus, which is owned and operated by MGM Mirage, uncommonly offers Super Teaser cards where ties win. From what locals are telling me, you have to travel miles off the strip to find a deal like that.

Here’s a condensed version of how the super teaser works: For the NCAA tournament, beginning Thursday, there are obviously 64 teams participating. The card will offer an individual point spread for each team in their first round game. For instance: If you choose to bet Duke, they stand at -18 versus Arkansas Pine Bluff. But if you choose Pine Bluff, they get +29. And there you have a tease. Every single game has a tempting offer. The rule is that you must bet at least two games on each card. The more bets you place, the better the payout.

As far as the overall quality of the sports book itself is concerned, Circus Circus simply cannot hold a candle to the rest of the big boys. The gaming white dry-erase board looks like something pawned off from a UNLV lecture hall. So its not exactly as easy to read as the modern day digital board incorporated just about every where else.

A look at Circus Circus' version of the big board.

There is only one largest television screen, which is surrounded by around 15 other sets. However, during tournament action, you are permitted to use the mini screens at the individual racing desk. You will have access to every single game being played simultaneously.

Remember to get in the sports book an hour before the first tip off. You will secure your choice of a seat and be taken care of for the duration.

This is Ken and Faylene Wallace, of Finley, WA, indulging themselves at the oxygen bar. I was ready to join them during the nail biter that was #2 seed Villanova vs. #15 seed Robert Morris. I have $5 emotionally invested in Villanova to reach the Final Four.

My Bets for the tournament:

East Regional winner-Kentucky (-160) @ $5 total wager, win 4.15

West Regional winner-Syracuse (-120) @ $5 total wager, win $3.10

Midwest Regional winner-Kansas (-150) @ $5 total wager, win $3.35

South Regional winner-Villanova (+180) @ $5 total wager, win $9

Ties Win Super Teaser Parlay/Prop Bet ($5 total wager, max win $7.50)**:

Morgan St. +24

Ark. Pine Bluff +29

Houston +15

Wofford +16

Oakland +16

** (I have been informed by a salty six-year Vegas veteran, whose opinion I value, to never play the teaser again. To paraphrase, he described the teaser as, “The Uneducated Dumbdick bet.”

And I understand that. As I write this column I already lost the very first game, as Morgan State, which shot out to a 10-0 run on West Virginia, ended up losing by 27.) Since every game on a teaser card must be won in order to collect winnings, mark a victory for the house.

Lesson(s) learned today: always root for the underdog, but don’t always bet on them.

Sobering reminder that I am now a local: We always want what we can’t have. The sight of a 1 pm pina colada of all things yesterday had me thirsty like Pavlov’s dog. My internal dialogue was reminding me, “You’re not on vacation. You’re not on vacation. You’re not on vacation.”

$5 A Day Overall Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 5 @ $25

Total winnings: N/A

Total balance versus house: -$15

Next $5 Bet: March 23-March 25