Grading Riviera, Applying the Hedge and The Luck O’ The Celtic Double Down

Upon entering the World Famous Riviera hotel/casino, I saw the poster promoting a mock stage performance entitled, “Barbra & Frank, The Concert That Never Was,” featuring Sinatra and Streisand impressionists, respectively.

Five hours and two NBA playoff games later, as I made my way out of the venue, I couldn’t help but consider who performed with silky smooth grace and excellence likened to the immortal Sinatra. While in contrast, with all due respect to Ms. Streisand, which NBA’er played, well, like a girl on Friday night.

Performed like “The Chairman”

Example 1: Paul Pierce, Boston

Love him or hate him, Paul Pierce is one heck of a basketball player-and an even better performer on the Big Stage. He will never be mentioned amongst the firmament of NBA elites such as Kobe, Wade, LeBron, Melo, Howard and Durant, but he has one important thing in common with the aforementioned six-pack; the former Jayhawk can make any shot, at any time. Sure he’s made more acrobatic field goals throughout his career, but last night’s off the dribble, fall away shot from the right elbow as the clock expired is just as transfixing as the rest.

Furthermore, the Pierce buzzerbeater could prove to be the shot that grants us access to another playoff semifinal showdown of Boston versus LeBron and Cleveland. The last time these two Eastern Conference juggernauts met in the second round, the Celtics prevailed in seven games en route to winning the 2008 league title.

I already had a bet placed on the C’s to win the series, and on Friday I took Boston to win game three, which in theory, proved to be a successful, time-honored, Vegas double-down.

Example 2: Paul Milsap, Utah

Wait! Google him later.

The rest of the Jazz were shooting the ball in the first quarter (17%) like they had some sort of hangover resulting from partaking in Jerry Sloan’s latest mandatory motivational technique, SeeSaw Bullfighting, on their day off. Milsap, however, came off the bench to make his first nine baskets, finishing with a playoff career-high 22 points, to go along with 19 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals.

Who Played Like a “Barbra” on Friday:

Example 1: Kendrick Perkins, Celtics

The blocky, boggy Celtic pivot Perkins performed inanimately, on the offensive side of the court anyways, or as if he had Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens, to name a few of his favorite things, on his mind. But it sure didn’t appear to be basketball.

In 31 minutes, Perkins made as many baskets, free throws including, as Stephen Hawking has netted in his entire life. Perkins managed to commit five turnovers-the ball itself headed into his direction only 10 times. Maybe his dog bit him before the game or a bee stung him, we’ll never know. Thank goodness the Celtics “Big 4” of Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo were able to generate rhythm and overcome their center’s outward display of offensive terminal psychosis.

Example 2: Denver Nuggets, Team

I called 17 different sports books throughout Vegas Saturday, curiously to know if any fishheads were still gaga enough to bet on the Denver Nuggets to win the NBA title after last night’s Clipper-like performance against the Utah Jazz. There were actually two beatniks who still believe. One in particular, came by way of Binion’s Horseshoe down on Fremont St. (Old Vegas), who happened to be wearing a “Who Farted?” baseball cap. The crux is, the ticket writer couldn’t actually distinguish whether or not it was a man or woman.

“So we’ll just say an ‘It,’ then?” I joked.

“Yeah, well the thing is, I carded the…person, too. And even the state issued ID left the Male/Female option blank. Can you believe that? Someone at the DMV was actually afraid to ask about the gender? I’ve never seen anything like it. It was one of those moments that will have me forever thinking twice before callously speaking of Reno…or hell even Barstow ever again.”

“How much did ‘It’ bet?”

“Forty Dollars.”

“Did you at least give ‘It’ a complementary drink card?”

“Oh yeah, and I even threw in a voucher for a free hat or t-shirt at the gift shop. Which ‘It’ appeared a little put off about.”

In a game three embarrassing loss (105-93) to the hands of the Utah Jazz, the Nuggets totaled more third quarter turnovers than field goals made. True story.

And Where there’s a Will There’s a Way…

Hedge (definition): Betting the opposite team or side of your original wager in order to either try and “middle” the game or to reduce the size of the original wager.

I took the Jazz -2.5 last night based on a simple formula: they are coming off a win + they are playing at home where they ALWAYS play like they are energized with some sort of covert Great Salt Lake infused Electric Kool-Aid + they had a day off for which they didn’t have to experience time zone acclimation or Jet Lag (536 miles from Denver).

It turned out to work as a win-win for me. At the beginning of the playoffs, as you may recall, I bet on Denver to win the series. Well that parlay of sorts would have only paid somewhere around $3, along with the $5 I wagered. In case the ibogaine swigging patron with the “Who Farted?” hat proved to be correct, for this series anyways, I’ll end up winning eight dollars. And with the Jazz winning last night, at the very least I drew even once the series is complete.

Now leading the series 2-1, with homecourt advantage, the shorthanded Jazz have developed a seven-man brigade in taking control of the series. Big surprise coming from a Jerry Sloan coached team, eh?

Rating “Crazy Leroy’s Sports Book” located in the Riviera

No sports book is complete without a framed picture of the incomparable Max Montoya.

Pros:

1. Unassuming, diverse, and somewhat impressive array of décor/sports memorabilia.

2. Draft Beer –Why not have better tasting beer when you can have better tasting beer? $3 for a 16. Oz Bud Heavy.

3. Sports Bar/lounge – Located just behind the main spectator quarters, the bar itself can be seen as a double-edged sword; as no cocktail waitress will prompt you for a drink every 15 minutes, but if the bar itself attracts a crowd, the volume of the game itself will be completely drowned out.

4. I don’t think more than 15 people in Vegas actually knows this sports book exists. At one point I almost felt like I had the place to myself.

5. Large, comfortable seats fit for a King.

My view at Riviera during a GREAT night for sports. Does the Sports World ever take a break anymore?

Cons:

1.Presumably no MLB package-don’t hold me to it, though. The only baseball displayed was the “Live Look-In” limited MLB channel.

2. No cocktail waitresses patrolling area-a con for those who are used to the convenience of not having to get out of your seat and walk 10 feet for a spirit or beer.

3. Though they are all in HD, there is no plasma television over 42”. Wow, it just occurred to me how White I am.

(To maximize viewing pleasure, sit in the front row, as far to the left as possible. At one point last night, I was viewing an NBA game, the NFL Draft on both ESPN and the NFL Network, respectively, a Stanley Cup Playoff game, and Greyhound racing from Palm Beach-don’t underestimate the hypnotizing power of dog racing, you can get hooked. Notable canines included: Pants on The Ground, LC’s JiggyWithIt, and Bohemian Jim-Jam.)

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NBA Playoff Preview, Raul Playoff Picks of the Week

Thankfully gone are the Stephon Marburys, J.R. Riders, Stevie “Franchises,” Latrell Sprewells, Antoine Walkers, Derrick Colemans, Vin Bakers, Glenn Robinsons and the rest of the NBA’s once-decorated-world-of-pseudo-stars. After nearly a decade of professional basketball that got me about as excited as the thought of having the Two & A Half Men chime stuck in my head (or watching an episode of the sitcom for that matter), the 2010 NBA playoffs look to become the zenith of a renaissance period that may threaten to compete with the sneaker/poster/NBA on NBC epoch that is greatly responsible for my baptism into general fandom (i.e., Jordan, Bird, Magic, Isaiah, Dominique, Ewing, Olajuwon, Barkley, Stockton & Malone era). The modern era’s worth will forever be buttressed with influential artists named LeBron, Kobe, Melo, Wade, Howard, Paul, Nash, Nowitzki, Kidd, Roy, Deron Williams, Durant, Gasol, Pierce, Rondo, Bosh, Curry, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Rose, and Noah.

Will this prove to be the last shot the Cavs own at winning a title with LeBron James?

NBA Championship Outlook

Vegas says: Cleveland -140 or 8/5

Raul says: “Cleveland all the way.”

The question consuming everyone’s attention going into these playoffs: Is this the year LeBron James finally wins the title? Well this year perhaps more than any other, Cleveland’s prize-fighting competitors have all the muscles and flexibility necessary to go the distance as well. Dwight Howard and the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Magic, having added swingman Vince Carter, are a better team this season. Kobe Bryant and the reigning NBA Champion Lakers, assuming center Andrew Bynum is ready to punch in on Sunday, are a better team in 2010 as well. One thing that Cleveland has going for them perhaps more than any other team is the fact that nobody can guard their franchise, LeBron James, one-on-one. You’d have to have a player with the combination of Shaq’s strength, Gary Payton’s hips and feet, Jordan’s hubris and tenacity, Pippen’s length and Stockton’s defensive I.Q. to make the reigning MVP ineffective.

The key to the Cavs winning The Finals will depend heavily on quality performances from the trunk-load of role players James will disseminate the pumpkin to in Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Sideshow Bob Varejao, Delonte West and Shaquille O’Neal.

5 Day First Round Feature: Boston vs Miami

Vegas says: That Portland (75/1) has a better chance to win the Bill Russell trophy without star shooting guard Brandon Roy than Miami (90/1) does with future hall of famer Dwyane Wade.

Raul says: Boston in six.

Rondo is the only player on the Celtics who still gets carded for the purchase of Black & Milds.

Boston Keys: By now, we know the Celtics are a bunch of Codgers. But are they truly dispirited codgers as well? I don’t believe it. I know the 2008 version of Kevin Garnett is gone forever, but I still think this squad has just enough loose change to make a drive thru run in these playoffs, even if that only means one series win. You can dissect the stats in Miami’s favor all you want, but the C’s have what the Heat are lacking in this series: Control. If the Celtics choose to put a postseason run together, they can. Something tells me this team has been playing some sort of twisted Wiley Veteran Possum all season.

Miami Keys: Dwyane Wade showing no clemency towards the Celtic defense. We should expect nothing less than vintage Wade in this series because Boston has nobody that will make Flash think twice about entering the key. So the question for Miami is this: Who will assist Wade in making Miami’s offense perform poetically against a vulnerable Celtic defense?

Why I bet on the Celtics: Boston pumps up their home crowd with anthem “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” by Dropkick Murphys, while Miami will open up game three at home with “Conga” by Gloria Estefan.

San Antonio vs Dallas

Vegas says: Spurs +140

Raul says: Spurs in six.

Summary: This is one of the more compelling, ‘What if?’ charged NBA series I can remember since the Sega Genesis brought us Knicks vs Bulls. Artists are omnipresent here as well: Kidd, Nowitzki, Duncan, Ginobili, Parker. And if the mood shall strike you-Butler, Marion, Terry, Jefferson, Blair & McDyess.

Here we have two teams from Texas who came into the season fully expecting to come away with a title, only to find themselves playing each other in the opening round. From a spectators standpoint, what more could you ask for in a first round series? I am anticipating the one and only “upset,” in terms of seeding, in the playoffs. If San Antonio is as healthy as all the pundits say they are, and the court really becomes smaller as a result of emphasizing constructive possessions and care of the basketball, I can’t think of another trio I’d rather bestow more trust in my money with than Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker-for a first round series anyways.

Denver vs Utah

Vegas Says: Denver (-190)

Raul Says: Denver in six

Summary: Much like his Exalted Artist contemporaries in Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James; Carmelo Anthony can carry a team on his back offensively in the fourth quarter of close games. Fortunately for Melo, who has one of the better supporting casts in the league, he won’t be relied on too heavily against a Jazz team that will be outmatched athletically as well as outnumbered thanks to injuries to forwards Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer. Boozer will attempt to play with an oblique injury while Kirilenko, Utah’s best defender as well as best hope to neutralize Anthony, is expected to miss the series (calf). Even with Kirilenko, Utah hadn’t given up less than 100 points in a game since last month when they beat the Knicks in Salt Lake, 103-98.

Raul on the subway brushing up on some West Coast NBA box scores.

Raul’s BIO

Country of Origin: Mexico

Currently Resides: NYC

Age Moved to the USA/New York City: 14

First job in New York: Delivery Boy, downtown University Deli (“Many Slim Jims, Marlboros and Diet Rite to Wall St.”)

Favorite Food: Beer

Favorite Beer: Corona

Celebrity Most Commonly Mistaken For, But Signs Autograph Anyways: Chuy, co-star of popular television show “Chelsea Lately”

******************************************************************************

$5-A-Day Running Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 21 @ $110

Overall balance versus house: -$43.90

Outstanding Bet(s): Cleveland NBA Champs, Entire Series bets: Boston over Miami, Denver over Utah, San Ant. over Dallas 

Raul’s NBA Pick of the Week record: 2-0

When The Fun Stops: The Harry Caray Experience

The legendary Harry Caray.

For me, the baseball fun did not stop when swill merchant politicians of all people began playing moralists by initiating the process of policing the way players should be conditioning themselves. In turn; it began the process of sucking the life out of the Hanz and Franz culture that allegedly produced the likes of The Bash Brothers, Nails Dykstra, Barry Bonds and a cult phenomenon known as Red Sox Nation.

Actually, for myself, a baseball romantic you could say, a great deal of the fun actually stopped when longtime Cubs and WGN television play-by-play announcer Harry Caray’s life and career ended simultaneously in 1998. Say what you want about Harry because he was a lot of things, but mundane was not one of them. Harry made baseball fun to watch, even when the Expos were in town. Harry could make weed pulling or polishing silverware fun to watch. I know few people in this On Demand/ADHD era we live in that can actually watch a nine inning game without getting bored.

Today was the 95th Chicago Cubs home opener, and the last thirteen of which have been televised in syndication on WGN without Harry. But it feels like 30 years ago, and I long for some Harry. So I decided to put down $5 on the Cubs, check out the game on WGN and rekindle some of his spirit for old times sake.

MLB officially started the 2010 season from Fenway Park on Easter Sunday night, with opening day playing out the following afternoon. But lets face it baseball fans-and anyone who has ever sat in the bleachers at Wrigley Field could attest to this-the major league baseball season unofficially gets underway when the stadium on the North Side of The Windy City opens its doors for the first matinee in April. I promise you, speaking within the context of the standard American sports experience, it doesn’t get much better than attending a Wrigley matinee.

Rapper Gerry Gee (forefront) and I at the Cubs home opener in 2008.

(That reminds me: I’ve always said the perfect woman is one I could drink a beer and watch a ballgame with. Female Cubs fan fits the mold, and more often than not, fits comfortably in size 28-30″ jeans as well.)

Harry Caray and broadcast partner Steve Stone.

Here’s a short recap of how the game went, assuming Harry Caray and Steve Stone were broadcasting partners for WGN:

1st Inning

Cubs starting pitcher Ryan Dempster gets Brewers leadoff man Rickie Weeks to fly out to Alfonso Soriano just in front of the warning track in left field. In the process Harry gets his first “It Might be, It Could be,” flawed homerun call out of the way with the very first batter of the game. I’m guessing the Vegas prop writers would have handicapped that kind of call, with time of game in mind, at a -850 moneyline, which is comparable to betting on the UConn women’s basketball team to win against Arkansas-Little Rock.

Steve Stone then provides color on Soriano’s catch by recalling the former All-Star’s recent drop of a routine fly ball in Cincinnati. That’s when Harry, disregarding his game notes that clearly say to leave his opinion alone until at the first dull inning, decides to weigh in on the recent Soriano drop:

“Steve, I just will never understand how a guy, who grows up in the Dominican Republic, where the sun shines 365 days a year, can drop a ball…because of the sun! I just don’t get it and I never will.”

Steve Stone, dumbfounded by Harry’s ingenious remark, lets that one breathe.

Alfonso Soriano was subject to boos on Monday.

2nd Inning

Steve Stone exposes his trademark in-game lack of apathy earlier than usual. As we go from commercial ending to shot of pitcher throwing warm ups, the color man issues the first public awareness briefing of the day, “We’d like to take this time share with you an important message…When the Fun Stops…If you or someone you know is experiencing the fear, frustration, or anger due to a gambling problem, you are not alone…if you are unsure if someone you care about has a gambling problem, here are some warning signs: selling or pawning personal possessions to get money to gamble, gambling more money in an attempt to win back losses-otherwise known as “chasing”, and when gambling terminology is often substituted for regular adjectives in everyday dialogue-examples include: trifecta, parlay, exacta, scratch, chalk, dime, hedging, double-down, longshot, wise guy, maiden, morning line…call The Council on Problem Gambling and the number shown at 1-800-522-4700…When the fun stops, help is just a phone call away.”

Seconds later, as Dempster begins to start his windup for the first pitch of the inning, Harry inquires, “Say Steve, did you ever know anyone with a gambling problem?”

Steve responds with, “Sad to say, far too many, Harry. You have to remember I played Major League Baseball for 10 seasons. We had a lot of young, naive men making more money than they could ever dream of with too much free time on their hands.”

Harry, “Pittsburgh leads Houston 3-2 and St. Louis is out in front of Philadelphia 2-0…

“…and I’m pleased to welcome a new Cubs fan to the world: Teddy Hodge from Gary, Indiana. Teddy is a healthy 8 pounds and 5 oz.”

3rd Inning

“It might be, it could be, it is….outta here! Holllllllllly Cow!”

Harry fervor is displayed with practicality for the first time today, as Xavier Nady and Jeff Baker hit Cub homeruns, respectively.

4th inning

Just before Cub first baseman Derrick Lee singles in teammate Ryan Theriot, Harry indirectly informs us that he’s still an avid Jumbles participant via the Chicago Tribune, “Lee’s last name pronounced backwards is: eel.”

Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, or "Eel."

5th inning

Harry presumably forgets to hold down his mic’s “sneeze” button for the first time, as we get to listen in on him ask the production assistant for his usual Rich & Rare in a Dixie Cup. “And beerback it with one of those ‘big-man’ cans of Budweiser, will ya amigo?”

6th inning

I think Harry is afraid to take a crack at thoroughly pronouncing first year Cub Xavier Nady. He’s not sure if the “X” is a typo on the scorecard or not. To this point Harry has just delivered a genuflect “Here’s Mr. Nady,” as if the former Yankee was currently every Cubs fans’ own milkman.

7th inning, CUBS 9 – BREWERS 5


First year Cubs owner Tom Ricketts duets “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with Harry, who proceeded to punctuate the song with, “Let’s get some more runs!”

During the bottom of the inning, on this overcast Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Milwaukee catcher Gregg Zaun runs out to the mound to chat with his pitcher. The broadcast cuts to a shot of a voluptuous, bosomy blonde Cubs fan in her mid to early 30’s. This had all the earmarks of a time-honored, hook-line-and sinker setup by the WGN crew on Harry. The camera shot must have been focused in on this gorgeous woman for 20 minutes if it was five seconds when Harry decides to throw sprinkles on the sundae by modestly stating, “What a day for a ballgame.”

8th inning

More vintage Harry; As we come back from commercial, overjoyed with being just six outs away from an opening day win, he kicks off the inning with a classic three-attempt-at-pronouncing-last-name-bungle-job when former Notre Dame All-American wide receiver Jeff Samardzija has entered to pitch the eighth inning for Chicago:

“Welcome back! There has been a pitching change for the Cubs, his name is…Jeff…Sam-ard-zzz….Jeff….Samard-zzzgrrr….Jeff Samard…zzz-did-ya?

9th inning, CUBS 9 – Brewers 5

The game ends on an exciting 6-4 double play that moves too fast for Harry to articulate at his age, as we are left with five seconds of dead air (once the play develops and a befuddled Harry has been given the “game over” sign from his producer) finally capped by the signature call: “Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!”

**$5-A-Day Running Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 17 @ $90

Overall balance versus house: -$43.90

Last Bet(s): Cubs (-160) to beat Milwaukee

Next $5 Bet: Raul’s NBA Pick of the Week

Raul’s NBA Pick of the Week record: 2-0

Cautionary Tale From The Crypt of Casinos

Donka Shain.

So you want to be an out-of-work sports gambling blogger? Consider this my commencement speech.

Two NBA bets, two NBA losses. Two job interviews this week, two no call backs. Throw in a $5 loss in The Masters and Thursday, April 8th could be described as a bad day for me; I average about three a year.

I was competing for one of two part time openings at a “Fresh & Easy”, a regional grocery chain, with two other finalists. My interview on Tuesday went great; I showed up 10 minutes early, asked questions, described in detail what I liked about the store, and expressed that I was a “team guy” even before the character quality itself was revealed by the manager as highly valued or revered within the company.

“I’d like to hire you, but I have two more interviews to conduct for the two positions available,” the manager explained. “We’ll be calling with an offer no later than Thursday.”

Let’s skip ahead to the moment of absolute truth, on Thursday:

Just before I enter Vegas Sports Booking Purgatory, a.k.a., Leroy’s Horse & Sports Place pitted in a forlorn corner of the strip at the World Famous Tropicana Casino, I notice that its only 4:36 p.m. Raul’s NBA Pick of the Week, the Cleveland Cavaliers (+2) at the Chicago Bulls doesn’t tip off for another 30 minutes or so. I have time to place this bet; and one should always wait until the last 10 minutes before tip-off anyways.

The rest of the Tropicana is undergoing renovation; hopfully the sports book will too.

So I decide I have time to give the “Fresh & Easy” manager a follow-up call. We’ll call him Gerry. Here’s how it went:

Gerry: This is Gerry, how may I help you?

Me: Hey, Gerry, this is Ryan McCord.

Gerry: Ohhhh!…..hey Ryan.

Me: I hope all is well. Just wanted to follow up with you in regards to my status at Fresh & Easy.

Gerry: It was close Ryan, but I regret to inform you that you fell a little short of what we were looking for.

Me: Oh, okay. Well could you mind telling me what I need to do to improve on, for future use?

Gerry: No, no, it wasn’t anything you did wrong, you see, the other guys just stood out.

Me: Oh, care to enlighten me?

Gerry: You shoulda seen it. One of the other applicants walked in here, then asked me where the stage was!

Me: Oh, right, the stage!(?)

Gerry: Since the title “Fresh & Easy” in this town can be a little misleading, I guess our Craigslist ad some how forayed down into the Strip Club avenue of the help wanted section. (Snicker.)

But after getting to know her a little more, getting a sense of what her vision was like…well lets just say it was divine intervention.

Me: (speechless from consternation followed with a sudden inkling for an Anti-Freeze infused Martini)

Gerry: You there?

Me: Yeah, I was just cutting out a cereal coupon here. So what about the other one? A go-getter, huh?

Gerry: You know Ryan, the other applicant just embodied the essence of what we encourage for our employees here at Fresh & Easy.

Me: He told everyone on staff he looked forward to working with them? Unbridled displays of diplomacy, right?

Gerry: I’m not sure, maybe. Let’s just say he had me at hello. He had the audacity to come to an interview displaying a pink Mohawk. See others may perceive or judge a Mohawk as a developmental delay, but I–

Me: (Click.)

So now its 4:39 p.m., but I’m feeling a little adrift and disoriented. Sinatra’s version of “Send in the Clowns” can now be heard throughout the casino. I had to do something to feel better fast. I could go outside for a breath of fresh air, or head to the restroom and splash some cold water on my face, or hurry to the sports desk and bet that $5 on Cleveland.

"Give me $40 on the Yankees and do you want to play hangman on the white board while we're waiting?"

But as I approach the desk itself, the ticket writer is erasing Chicago’s original spread from -2 to -6.

He then states, “Something’s up there!”

I then turn to one of the seven 25” tube televisions all playing the same channel. (The ticket writer would later promote that “the T.V. with the dials” was purchased the same day the final episode of ALF aired.)

“The Hue knob doesn’t work anymore, though. Other than that she’s been good to us,” he assured me.

It didn’t help that ESPN was fixated on 24/7 Tiger coverage, either. Just what was going on in the Cleveland game? It has to have something to do with LeBron, right? I was going to assume that LeBron was out and doubly assume Raul would have picked Chicago with the MVP dressed in Diamonds and Furs. This was essentially a playoff game for the Bulls, who were half a game behind Toronto for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference. The thought of the Bulls playing the Cavs without LeBron, in Chicago, almost sounded more attractive than actually seeing Halle Berry in HD.

Then as I turn my attention to the window, a crow is picking at something on the outer sill. I can’t take this place anymore! But if I walk over to the neighboring MGM Grand’s sports book, it’s possible that I may not make it in time to place the bet.

“Well I guess I have no choice. I’ll place five on the Bulls, straight up,” I tell the ticket writer. “I’m going to wait on LA and Denver.”

With the ticket in hand (Chicago, -6), I fled from what might be the worst sports book in Vegas (the cocktail waitresses won’t go within 15 yards of it), to one of the better ones; the 60+ television equipped MGM Grand(e).

Ahhh! The MGM Grand.

Three hours later…

The moment Ron Artest gets stiff-armed by the rim on a breakaway layup in the second quarter, I decide one man can only absorb so much doom & gloom in one three hour span. It was time to call it a day.

I ended up going with the Lakers, who were getting two points in Denver, but without Kobe Bryant. Of course, nobody but the Lakers organization knew Kobe wasn’t playing. Not any one of the Crackberry-heads sitting next to me said a word. Nor did the obnoxiously drunk Canadian## who kept yelling these three lines during the Penguins vs. Islanders hockey game, “Golden Goal by Sid The Kid!..Toronto Maple Leafs Rule!…Baseball needs a salary cap!”

##(Caution to someone looking to enjoy an NBA double header at a Vegas sports book, but unwillingly must do so with a drunk Canuck: don’t make eye contact. For the poor people who did, it must have compared to watching the game with a Hammered Billy Madison.)

If there is anything more annoying than a drunk American sports nut, its a drunk Canadian one!

Nobody on TNT reported that Kobe wasn’t playing until the actual game coverage began. And if Vegas knew all along, then why didn’t they change the point spread?

Vegas was angry that day, my friends.  As much as I look forward to gambling, I equally look forward to watching elite athletes like LeBron, Kobe, and Tiger. (I also bet $5 on Tiger to birdie his first hole at the Masters. He parred.) So in essence, I lost a lot on Thursday. I drove home from the casino asking myself, “How can I do this for an entire year?”

Well there is a key to overcoming a “Stunk Worse Than Burnt Hair” day like I had: utilizing your release valve. Some people have the driving range, some have the shrink’s chair, some have fishing, some people have a hot tub, some jog, some people have Facebook or OK! magazine.

For the four of you reading, this here is catharsis for me. And the undertow known as yesterday now feels like a dream. Because in a city as uncompromising and off-color as Vegas can be, a city where you can never have too many friends, its your hobby and God’s will rolled into one that prove to be your best friend.

Just remember all that if you ever want to become an out-of-work sports gambling blogger.

**$5-A-Day Running Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 16 @ $85

Overall balance versus house: -$47.30

Last Bet(s): Chicago (-6) vs Cleveland, LA Lakers (+2) at Denver, Tiger to Birdie First Hole At Masters (13/5)

Next $5 Bet: Cubs Home Opener: Remembering Harry Caray

Raul’s NBA Pick of the Week record: 2-0



Final Four School of Thought

“Nonresistance, non-judgment, and nonattachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.” –Eckhart Tolle, best selling author/spiritual counselor.

If I had only read that quote before the NCAA tournament.

The only No. 1 seed I resisted to gamble on, and therefore misjudged, in terms of making it to Indianapolis, was Duke. Theoretically, minutes before the tournament actually began, I became emotionally attached to four teams at separate ends of the big bracket when I placed bets on them to make it all the way to the Final Four.

You never completely dismiss Duke in this tourney, but I undervalued Coack K. and Co. by treating them like a “has been.” It was like I walked into a bar, and at one end saw Megan Fox (in this scenario represented by Villanova-who ran circles around Duke in the ’09 tourney) then at the opposite end, there’s Betty White (or Duke, who hasn’t won a bracket seemingly since “The Golden Girls” was on NBC primetime). Conventional compulsion says to go for Fox, so I did. Sure Fox is the “it” girl, but the wisest of men would be more compelled to enjoy a glass of Johnny Walker with White. After a lively conversation, White could have gotten me tickets to Saturday Night Live (in which she will host in May), while Meghan Fox could have told me about Transformers 3 .

Remember the one when they had no heat in July?

So when the Final Four matchups were set, my immediate instincts foresaw a Butler vs. Duke championship game. But losing can really weigh on your conscious, causing you to go for long walks alongside Charleston Blvd. or seeking comfort by laughing at poor George Constanza’s indiscretions during Seinfeld reruns.

That was when another quote hit me: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”-Jerry Seinfeld to friend George Costanza, who happened to be bald, unemployed and living with his parents at this time of the popular sitcom.

Not only did Costanza chose not to shake Steinbrenner's hand, but immediately proceeds to chew him out, and as a result, gets hired on the spot. I chose not to shake Duke's hand in the Final Four and fall further behind The House.

I had always wanted to give the “Opposite Theory of Daily Living” a shot, just so long as it was initially analyzed with a sampling under what I deem an appropriate context. I just figured that I wouldn’t be desperate enough to actually apply the theory as a means to win on sporting events in Vegas until the top end of the calendar began to thicken a little more.

As previously stated, I liked Butler and Duke so I go ahead and bet $5 each on Michigan State and West Virginia, respectively.

By now, you know the results.

The man who played Costanza, Jason Alexander, once claimed that he knew people who “prospered over a considerable period of time” in applying this M.O. as a religion of sorts to life in general. Well I’d be willing to bet that not one of them thrived by betting opposites on major sporting events in Vegas.

Final Four '10: The day "The Opposite" backfired on me.

By now I am willing to try just about anything to end the NCAA tourney on a high note. The thing is, I’ve just been so rotten that even hindsight itself appears to have poor judgment. Hindsight has said to me, “If Ray Charles were still alive-I would have just copied his ESPN-celebrity bracket. At least he would still have a Final Four team around.” Hindsight has even said, “You should’ve taken that pre-tourney issue of Cosmo more seriously while at the newsstand three weeks ago. You know, the one with the article teaser on the cover that stated, ‘64 Ways to Pleasure Your Man In March’?” (Four of which were not grime induced, but actual Final Four picks, including Duke, Michigan St., and West Virginia, respectively).

So which team did I decide to go with in the Championship Game? With the help of a coin flip-just kidding-I chose Butler (+7 ½). I just felt like the point spread was comparable to UConn women laying 23 to Baylor. How’d that go? And the last time Duke played a team who really played gritty, overachieving team defense, like Butler, was Purdue in the Sweet 16 round. But Purdue’s inability to make uncontested shots (including 4-16 from three and 13-21 from the foul line) throughout the game helped an otherwise frustrated Duke offense stay in the game until pulling away in the end.

I think we tend to forget what Butler, who hasn’t lost since the days when Tiger was covertly texting Flying J hot-rack attendants, has done in this tournament to get here in beating Syracuse, Kansas St., and Michigan State.

I also love the fact that Butler is playing a home game. And with the Final Four jitters assumed to be out of the way, I’m betting the Bulldogs keep it close-instinctively speaking, of course.

**$5-A-Day Running Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 13 @ $70

Overall balance versus house: -$32.30

Last Bet: Butler +7.5 vs. Duke

Next $5 Bet: NBA Thursday

NBA Thursday, Aria Indeed Has Juice, And Guest “Celebrity” Pick

Aria, located in City Center.

Watching the NBA on TNT on a 30’ HD TV last night at Aria’s sports book/lounge just about had a “better than sex” appeal. Dwight Howard must have been seven feet tall. One could actually tell when Vince Carter began to sweat (third quarter). I know that could make me sound like I haven’t been exposed to a great deal of trendy boob tube technology; but after all, I did legally have money riding on the outcome, which naturally provides breadth to the viewing experience.

King-Sized HD also allows you to accurately decode up to 15% of what exactly it is the tattoo-fixated athletes like J.R. Smith of the Nuggets and Matt Barnes of the Magic have coated all over their arms and/or jugular. My attention was divided during the whole second half of Denver vs. Portland as I was internally debating which one of Mr. Smith’s tattoos I would like to show off to the ladies: the Transformer logo above his Adam’s Apple, or the red New York Yankee “NY” logo he had adjacent to Optimus Prime. I couldn’t help but wonder what Smith, or Barnes, or Carmelo Anthony-or anyone else who decides to have 99.9% of their arm skin permanently scribbled on-opens the dialogue with in the tattoo parlor.

I’m guessing its gotta go something like this:

Player: “You know what Harley, I can’t stand having blank spots on my arm anymore. It’s so unattractive. Do you have any sample blueprints drawn out that I can look at for decorating extremities as a whole?”

Tattoo Artist: “No I don’t.”

Player: “Well what did you do for guys like Dennis Rodman?”

Tattoo Artist: “For a guide I usually just take an old picture I have of a Briar Patch on my Grandpa’s farm in Nampa, Idaho, then shoot up whatever the house narcotic happens to be at the time, throw on some Skynyrd, and hope for the best.”

Rating the Aria

RU kidding? This place made the Circus Circus sports book look like Freddy Kreuger’s garage. I told my roomy that I now know what I want my dream home to look like. In a Perfect World, I would build it in Manhattan, replicating the entire layout–décor included–and television for television. Just add a hot tub somewhere in the middle, hire two cocktail waitresses, throw in a pool table or two, place my bed in one corner, a fireplace anywhere, and a kegerator-equipped kitchen in another corner.

This is the scene yesterday at my Man Cave, Aria's sports book (or lounge).

In other words, it’s A’s across the board for Aria.

Reggie and Marvelous on a 30' HD screen.

As for the actual gambling results…

I wagered $5 on the Magic of Orlando (-2) at Dallas.

Remember the Seinfeld episode when Kramer was betting on plane arrivals from the Diplomat’s club at LaGuardia? Well if I was that foolish, i.e., if I had a gambling problem, I would have bet at least $100 on Orlando to win and cover as opposed to the humble $5 that I actually wagered. I was that sure.

"Nobody Hustles Earl Haffler!"

To echo problematic gamblers everywhere, “It’s a lllllock!”

My premise for choosing Orlando was simple: Dallas is old. Orlando is young.

Looking back on the notes I wrote throughout the first half, I reminded myself that Jason Kidd, the Mavs’ 37-year-old point guard, still has game. Then came the second stanza, where Kidd made like Jeff Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, in the first concert scene of the film “Crazy Heart.” He just disappeared in the middle of a song (though I doubt Kidd was puking in the parking lot from drinking too much McClure’s whiskey, but you get the picture). Bad Blake and Jason Kidd just can’t hang with the youngsters like they used to.

The Mavericks played on the road Wednesday night, winning in overtime, versus Memphis. Orlando had Wednesday off, and on top of that, Dwight Howard and Co. were looking to get even after Dallas waxed them in their previous matchup in Florida.

If I was one of those Handicapping “Experts” you see on TV in Vegas, I would have tried to sell you on a particular stat that resonated with me the most: until last night, Orlando had Zero road wins this season against Western Conference teams currently in playoff contention. Zero! For a team looking to make a consecutive run to the NBA Finals in 2010 (which is a month away) the Magic had to get a respectable win out of the way.

And sometimes in the world of gambling, you have to pay attention to the “due” factor. Just never rely on it (you blackjack dude-bro’s).

Featuring the Raul of NYC Pick of the Week

Raul and I worked together in a Manhattan restaurant during the six months prior to my present day relocation to Vegas. Often times, as a means to neutralize the stiff aroma of tediousness that so often comes with working in a restaurant, we would grab the Daily News and bet on a host of NBA games. If there were 12 games on the schedule, we each got to pick six teams. The wager? Five dollars, of course. Raul can do three things really well: work, talk trash in Spanish, and predict NBA outcomes. At least he beat me more than I beat him.

So I bet $5 on Denver (-5) to beat Portland at home.

Why Denver on Wednesday, Raul? “Carmelo. Too Much.” In the fourth quarter Carmelo Anthony proved Raul a prophet, as the All-Star forward scored 13 of his 25 points in helping Denver win by 17.

Here's Raul catching up on some west coast NBA box scores while riding the subway.

Raul’s BIO

Country of Origin: Mexico

Age Moved to the USA/New York City: 14

First job in New York: Delivery Boy, downtown University Deli (“Many Slim Jims, Marlboros and Diet Rite to Wall St.”)

Favorite Food: Beer

Favorite Beer: Corona

Memorable lines most often recalled amongst co-workers:

-Despite the fact that the #1 subway line in Manhattan is a local line (more stops than say its cousin, the “A” express line), Raul contends to a self-constructed theory that the line itself is actually the speediest the Metropolitan Transit Authority has to offer-in terms of getting from one end of Manhattan to another-based solely on the merit of number itself. “It’s the Number One!”

-During a slow lunch hour in December, a waiter asked Raul what Santa Claus was bringing to his kids this year. In response, Raul lowers his eyebrows, waves his hand towards the floor and attests, “I don’t believe in that s*it.”

His sources tell him: LeBron is NOT coming to the Knicks.

Favorite part about March: It’s national (March Madness) Mustache Awareness Month

Celebrity most commonly mistaken for (but signs the autograph regardless): Chuy, co-star of the “Chelsea Lately” show.

Six-year-old fan at The Garden: "Chuy! Chuy! Mr. Chuy can you sign this?"

**$5-A-Day Running Tally:

Total Bets, Wagered: 10 @ $55

Overall balance versus house: -$26.80

Outstanding Bets: N/A

Next $5 Bet: Final Four