Hitting it big ... then giving it back

Hitting it big ... then giving it back

February 28, 2019 3:00 AM
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When I think back to when I was in my late teens and early twenties, it makes me really appreciate where I am now, and what I have today. 

Years ago, I hung around with a lot of gambling degenerates. (Which I guess made me a degenerate too... lol). In those days, we lived for gambling. I cannot tell you how many times we went to one gambling establishment, only for it to turn into a two-or-three day bender. 

There were many times when the end result was so bad that I would wake up the next day and say to myself “that was a dream right? That really didn’t happen?”

I specifically remember one such bender, which started with a simple trip to Monmouth Park because my friend Vito had a tip on a horse. 

Vito’s uncle was an assistant trainer, and he really liked one of his horses’ chances that day. There were five of us packed in my car, which was a gift that my great uncle Benny had just left to me in his will. 

That car was a 1972 Chrysler New Yorker 440 V-8. Now, even though it was 1986, my 90 year old uncle had hardly ever used the car, and it only had 25,000 original miles on it. My uncle never even used the back seats and the plastic was still on them when I got the car.

Amazingly, the horse won the race and paid $15. All of us made a nice score, so we decided to go down to Atlantic City. I remember when going to any gambling establishment, we always had Sinatra music playing the car. In fact, to this day, I still have the old cassette tape version of Sinatra’s Greatest Hits. 

While on our way to Atlantic City, for whatever reason, someone came up with the stupid idea to first make a stop at the Atlantic City Race Course to catch a few races. We lost a few bucks there, and then headed to the original Golden Nugget on the boardwalk, on the way, of course, listening to The Summer Wind. 

All of us in that crowd thought we were big shots back then, so where else would we go but to the Steve Wynn-owned Golden Nugget, where Frank performed all the time. 

So here we are, five Jewish/Italian/Irish kids getting a round of Jack & Coke’s (Frank’s choice) as a salute to Sinatra and winning some money. My friends and I did not really even like to drink. We obtained our highs from winning money, so we were one-and-done. 

The only real game back in those days was blackjack; so we battled for hours and until they called “last shoe.” In those days, the casinos all closed at 4 a.m. and didn’t re-open till 10 a.m.. Therefore, they basically threw you out at 4 a.m. 

We all lost a few bucks, however, we still were not fully satisfied. We left the casino and decided to drive to NYC to an after-hours joint that one of my buddies knew about. This place was basically a gambling den that was full of guys that drove directly to NYC from AC when it closed. 

While driving to New York that morning, two of my buddies decided to take a nap in the car; and the other three of us had our second wind. We were playing blackjack; after approximately an hour passed, we ran into my friend Bumper, who I played poker with at a pool hall in Elizabeth, NJ. 

Bumper told me about a big 9-ball pool match which was going to take place later on that day. The match was to be between two of the best players in the Tri-state area; one of the players was known for playing much better under pressure when money was at stake. 

He also said the other guy had a big backer and was taking on all comers; therefore, it would be easy money if we wanted a piece. 

At the time, all I had in my head were visions of the horse race being easy money, and this would probably be easy money too. I Immediately stopped my friends from gambling and told them about this opportunity we had. 

Then we planned the rest of the day out. We pooled our money together and altogether had $2,800 to bet on the pool match. We decided to grab a cheap hotel room so we could all take showers and hang in the city for the day. 

You can probably guess that, of course, one of the boys spotted an OTB (off track betting parlor) on the block, and since we didn’t already have enough action in the last 24 hours, we went to catch a few races before the pool match. 

My friend Bumper held the money for the pool match because he knew the guys in charge of the gambling at the pool hall better than the rest of us. 

The match was at Julian’s Pool Hall on 14th. The building was an old-school, 1930’s smoke-and-hoodlum-filled pool hall right out of a James Cagney film. In fact, Cagney went to high school right around the block from Julian’s. 

Everything was going just as planned, we were on the good side of a race to 10 (which means whoever wins 10 9-ball games first gets the money).

We were up nine games to four, with only the winning shot on the 9 ball remaining, when my friend Bumper leans over to me, whispers in my ear and says “I’m a friggin genius” as the kid shoots at the 9 ball and it rattles and hangs in the corner. 

This flustered our guy so much that I do not think he made another good shot for the rest of the match, and we lost 10-9.

Even until this day, I still hold Bumper, who I remain lifelong friends with, accountable for opening his mouth before the match was over. 

I remember after the match was over, Bumper verbally abused the kid so much; he kept calling him a “bag dropper.” 

None of us knew what that term meant. I later found out that it was a story about a guy that robbed a bank, he put the bags of money on the floor when he opened the door to get out; then he ran out the door and forgot the bags of money on the floor. That is basically what this kid did in the pool match. 

The ride back to Jersey that day was terrible. We visited a half-dozen gambling joints in 30 hours with no sleep, and more importantly, no money left. Sadly, this feeling was all too familiar... 

Unfortunately, I remember many times leaving Atlantic City on that long two-hour drive back to North Jersey, literally scraping the ash tray in the car for change on the expressway. I would be so deep in thought of how dumb that was, not only did Sinatra not get listened to, I did not even turn the radio on. 

However, I did this many times, as I’m sure millions of other people did.  

I am so happy to have learned and experienced what I did in order to become an advantage gambler. You need to know about losing in order to be a winner. I think to myself now “how could I have been so stupid betting horses with a 25 percent house edge and casino games not even knowing the best strategy?” 

My brain is just wired so differently today. I guess that is all a part of the growing-up and learning process. Also, never count anything as a “lock” or a “win” till your paid. 

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