Showin’ off for the home folks!

Jan 3, 2006 12:29 AM

Can you remember how you first perceived those who said they were going to a casino for a vacation or for even a weekend of gambling?

It was all so clear back then: Gambling was questionable, and the people who became involved with it were surely flirting with trouble.

Of course, after having been on the other side of the fence for so long, none of that seems real. Today, I often wonder how anyone could have ever thought so negatively about it all.

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to relive my past, to look at it from the "other side."

Being from New England, I was raised in a non-gambling family in a very conservative setting. None of us can figure it out for certain, but because of my years of working and living overseas before becoming a professional gambler, we’ve never gotten all together for a family vacation.

Because of the good fortune I’ve had with my video poker profession over the last nine years, I decided to put this lack of being together all behind us. I devised an agenda in which I flew them and their families out to meet myself, my wife and my family in Las Vegas, then we’d spend a day in Phoenix, five days (including Christmas) in Hawaii, and finally everyone would return home from there — all on me. It was really the reunion of a lifetime, and something that I was and am very thankful for being able to do.

But I also had it starting out with a bang, because I knew exactly how each of them felt about my dropping out of Corporate America years ago to become a pro gambler. To them I was simply involved in a degenerate activity these days — although they did wonder how it was that I continue to live so comfortably. It was time to indoctrinate them into what I do and how I do it, and finally have them judge me fairly.

As our small caravan arrived in Las Vegas, we stopped at four separate hotels (Rio, Sam’s Town, Monte Carlo and Mandalay Bay) where everyone stayed in rooms that I was granted free of charge. That alone brought puzzling stares, but this of course was only the beginning.

My wife and my penthouse suite at Mandalay Bay dropped their jaws — although it was hardly the best room I’ve had in Nevada hotels over the years. And, all meals we all ate in the hotels during our stay had some amount of comps associated with them. It was truly an eye-opening experience for people who have never been involved in casino activity.

All of this was intriguing and fun to watch as various levels of bewilderment popped up on their faces, but nothing compares to their witnessing me play video poker. I wanted them to see how I make my living, and why there’s absolutely no degeneracy involved with the way I do it. I know it was somewhat risky in that I could lose in front of them, but I win almost 90% of the time when I play my strategies. Historical odds were on my side.

It’s not easy when there’s a small crowd watching me play, and there’s a reason why I never do it publicly — distractions. My playing strategy is very complex and requires a great amount of continuing concentration, because it operates on attaining numerous goals and changing some holds to accommodate that aspect of it. But convincing my family in a private-type setting was more important than anything.

If you’ve never heard a concert of harmonious OOHS and AAHS, try pulling out a wad of $10,000 in front of people who have trouble pulling out a twenty at the local convenience store — and then stuffing a few thousand into a bill feeder. Comments such as "What I could do with THAT!" and "Oh, what a waste!" or simply watching heads shake in disbelief made me a bit uncomfortable, even though I had prepared for it. But I was trying to win these people over, and it only made it tougher.

I chose to play a variation of my Romp-Thru-Town strategy because I couldn’t find any 50¡ or $2 video poker machines at Mandalay Bay. It was 25¡/$1/$5/$10 — which in itself was a really good progression spread. I also decided to play less than max credits at times to help others understand the game better.

My win goal was five $500 sessions — or $2,500 overall. Or I would lose and quit or call it done if my audience got bored or just didn’t want to watch any longer. At any rate, I broke up the play into five mini-sessions over two days.

Even for an experienced player as myself, I never stop being amazed at the variety of ways these machines can treat anyone at anytime. I played only Bonus Poker, and I received four aces only one time — on dollars — but I held one ace and king of hearts to get it. However, although none of my other quads were special, they were all on $5 and $10, and EACH of the three $10 quads came with four credits played. In other words, I won the overall session totaling over $2900, and not one W2G had to be issued. A first for me.

How did all this affect those who watched? Well, they weren’t tuned into the oddity of what I was experiencing, but they all lit up as they saw me make cash-out after cash-out in the hundreds of dollars. It was satisfying for me to have a successful session in front of them, and mind-changing for a few.

Afterwards I was asked to train, which is the ultimate compliment. But I declined, as none of them have the fortunate circumstances I have to be able to do what I do, and I know they’d all be better off away from casinos anyway. I’m just glad I had the chance to show them that not everyone who gambles is a compulsive degenerate.