Teachers wanted for Gambling’s ABCs

Jul 29, 2003 7:39 AM

ON BUYING A ROUNDTRIP TICKET! With all the concern about preventing our kiddies from testing Lady Luck, my mind floated back to a loftier time. I remember reading once that John D. Rockefeller passed on his wisdom to one of his sons. JD never attempted to stop his children from playing the ponies. The only advice was to warn his son to buy a roundtrip ticket when taking the train to the racetrack.

At an early age, I dabbled with gambling. Horses, cards, dice, betting sports . . . you name it! There was plenty to learn. And the only place to learn was on the streets.

For me, rolling dice against the wall on the streets of Philadelphia was probably my primer. I’m not sure. It could have been clocking all the interesting adults who tiptoed into the neighborhood cigar store with a slip of paper and a wad of money. Curiosity boiled. However, the grownups ”” including the man collecting the money ”” would shoo us kiddies away. They weren’t about to smarten us up. But, in spite of them, we learned ”” the hard way.

Playing poker and gin rummy came at about the same time. It didn’t take long to realize that the more I knew about the games, the better my chances to win. I had plenty of adventure and a pittance of money. It armed me well and my scholarly efforts improved. As my mind expanded, I discovered the Daily Racing Form. We used to call it the Telly (Morning Telegraph). Now there was a challenge! Reading all that small print reminded me of the New York City phone book: a lot of names and plenty of numbers. But gradually I was able to see clearly. I understood that speed horses stand out in races where there is little early lick. Also, certain trainers used certain jockeys when the money was down.

Early on, I was taught never to bet the hard way when rolling the bones. They were sucker bets. And if there were anything my gambling pals and I were not, it was suckers. Don’t get me wrong. We seldom won. But we always gave ourselves a chance to win, mainly because we knew the games.

The thirst for knowledge told me much about risk and reward and what role they play in life. Memories of testing Lady Luck at an early age are fond ones.

But then again, maybe I was deprived. I never did drugs. I never robbed stores. I never killed anyone. I respected my parents and elders. I worked several jobs for betting money. I had respect (and fear) for policemen. All along the way there were no schools teaching me (or any of us) not to gamble. We were told it wasn’t right. But that was about the extent of the lesson.

Now, everywhere we look, people are trying to come up with ways to prevent our youth from gambling. Earlier this year, Arizona even voted to raise the gambling age from 18 to 21! I’m sure they mean well. But times have changed. Gambling is now considered entertainment. So why aren’t we teaching the teenieboppers how to best enjoy the entertainment of betting on winners?

Instead, our lawmakers are trying to drum up ways to prevent our youth from gambling. I’d say it’s too late for that. Gambling is not only here to stay; it’s getting bigger all the time. In my opinion, there are highly successful businessmen who learned how to manage their money wisely rolling dice, playing cards, pitching coins or whatever else that today might be considered taboo.

It seems the focus is on the minority of gamblers who get lost along the way. What about all of us who learn value by testing Lady Luck? The majority of us stayed the course. We learned to stretch our dollars to last. We learned to equate the reward and the risk to see if it was worth it.

I saw a great quote in Johnny Hale’s poker column three weeks ago: Johnny quoted a great poker player and sports bettor, Jack ”˜Treetop’ Straus, who said, "If God had wanted you to hold on to your money, he would have made it with handles on it."

So far, I haven’t found any fifty’s with handles on them. As kids, we got our kicks cashing a bet every now and then ”” and lest I forget, we had the wisdom of buying a roundtrip ticket when going to the races. Thus, we were ensured of always coming back home.