With a quiet day in Kraken-world, this seemed like a good time to address the giant elephant in the room … the leagues, networks, and certain celebrities embrace of sports gambling.
Let’s be very clear: They’re not bombarding you with ad’s and promotions for you to have a good time, they’re bombarding you with ad’s and promotions to take your money. That’s it. It’s a giant industry, it was mostly illegal, and now they’ve found another way to have the throngs of North American sports fans hand over a whole lot of cash.
Remember, most fans will lose. Period. Ever stepped foot inside a casino?
A small percentage will win, an equal percentage will lie and say they won, for pride, to save face and not get in trouble with family, while most will come out in the red.
I wasn’t addicted, but I was chronic. I explain the reasons of why I got in and when I got out of the wagering scene … $100,000 later. (Note: that’s in US dollars — I’m a dual citizen of the US and Canada)
This is an excerpt from my book “No Heavy Lifting – Globetrotting Adventures of a Sports Media Guy”. If you have any interest in reading the other happy, crazy and unusual tales, you can see details at https://ecwpress.com/products/no-heavy-lifting?_pos=1&_sid=17fffc271&_ss=r.
It is actually for fun. Thank you.
In the meantime, I think you may find some valuable lessons here, a chapter completed in Toronto about 2017:
Chapter 4 – The Gambler
I paid my bookie Lon about $110,000 in losses over a ten-year period. In year eleven, when I went up eight-grand, he never paid me, he still hasn’t. That’s when I quit. It was 2006.
During that decade I did what many do who gamble on sports – let’s face it, there’s plenty of us, illegal sports betting in the United States has been estimated to do hundreds of billions of dollars in annual business – I screamed at football officials on the television, I constantly went back and forth to my computer or phone checking scores, whether I was out to dinner, walking the dog, or home watching TV, and utterly rearranged my financial life so that I could pay off my losses.
Annually flushing ten-grand down the toilet takes it toll, especially during a time period when I was only making between forty and 110-K a year. Of course, with all the other costs of life, house, car, wife, kid, taxes, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But I was compulsive.
I wouldn’t refer to myself as an addict. I could go periods of time without making bets, skip parts of seasons, but being what my (then) common law wife refers to as a lifelong “jock” comes with its disadvantages. We often hear about the dilemma professional athletes go through when they have to retire from their game, the struggle to adjust to a different life. Well what about amateur athletes, those of us who played soccer, hockey, baseball and/or pick-up basketball their whole lives and are no less competitive mentally than any pro athlete. One part of the urge to gamble is an extension of the competition, the need to win. The rest was the adrenaline-rush of actually winning and of course the thought of cashing in.
The losing cost me a couple of investments and a ton of unnecessary stress. The winning is what galled me to quit. The scumbag I had honorably paid faithfully all of those years decided in the end, once the amount got a bit too large, that he wasn’t going to honor his commitment back. More accurately, he took my winnings from the service in Costa Rica he worked for, and kept it himself. Apparently he was spending my money to bet on the horses in San Diego.
See, if I lost, I’d send the money to him, he’d take his cut and then send the rest to the big boys “offshore”. If I won he was supposed to forward the money to me. He took his cut all those years, and when it came time to pass along a significant win, he pocketed it instead. He was the go between who handled certain accounts, the actual bets were made on an 800-number. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I quit while I worked on TV covering the Boston Bruins. Again, in my virtuous good-sportsmanship mind, I refused to bet on any Bruins game, felt it wouldn’t be sporting. But I did bet on NHL games and I killed it. Once I decided to bet on hockey, I was nailing three-team or four-team parlays on an every-other-day or every third day basis. It was ridiculous. And at the end I was throwing down and often making $200 to $400 on my straight-ups.
[In a parlay, instead of making just a straight up bet, as in Detroit over Chicago, you make three, four or more picks all on one bet, and you have to get them all correct. Being that it’s more difficult to predict multiple outcomes instead of just one on a bet, your odds and your payout go up accordingly. So instead of winning $20-bucks on $20-bucks in a straight up bet, in a three-team parlay I’d risk $20 to win a 6-to-1 return, as in $120-dollars. It’s bad for the bookie when a very confident gambler starts routinely winning 10-to-1 four-team parlays when they’re betting $100 a click.]
By the way, a gambler who wagers big money, thousands and tens of thousands of dollars, and mostly loses, is known as “a whale”. Bookies adore them and have no problem accepting their money, life savings or not. But then again, that applies to losers from any socio-economic stratus, bookies and casinos are very, very, happy to take your money.
When I didn’t get paid for those winnings, I finally said enough was enough. I haven’t placed a bet on any kind of game since. I was so disgusted, so disinterested in re-entering the “market” with another potential scumbag, I bowed out completely. No counseling, no group therapy, no hesitation, I just quit the “game” cold turkey. I logically and emotionally realized, like my conscious decision to quit wasting my time watching television, that there were many more productive and enlightening ways to spend my time.
This doesn’t make me special. I’m no different or better off than my acquaintances and friends I’ve known over the years who did require some outside help. We’re all victims. Of what ultimately, I don’t know. I will say this, the fact that TV sports networks and radio talk shows routinely tout their picks and the betting lines, and everything that goes with it, isn’t helping. I had one good friend drink himself to death because of his gambling losses.
It didn’t help that I was a sportscaster. Sportscasters are privy to a lot of facts and numbers and are surrounded by other so-called experts. TV, radio and newspaper sports guys, it would be safe to say, gamble in much higher numbers per capita, than the general public. Trust me when I tell you that major sports network “newsrooms” could just as easily be referred to as “gambling dens”.
It’s starts out harmlessly enough. I was making ten or twenty dollar bets on college football games with an occasional two-team parlay (returns about 2.5 to 1 odds) and two-team teasers. In football, teasers allow you to add six points to any line in either direction on two different selections, and you have to get both predictions correct to win. It’s a straight up bet financially, twenty bucks to win twenty bucks. But let’s say the line on the Green Bay – Detroit game was Packers minus-5. Meaning if you bet on the Packers straight up they would have to beat the Lions by more than five points for you to win the bet. In a teaser, instead of betting 20-bucks for Green Bay to beat Detroit by 5, I could give myself six points, making the bet Detroit minus-1. I’d take Green Bay. I’d then have to include a second similar selection and get that correct as well. Maybe if the Patriots were a four-point favorite over the Jets, I’d make it New England by ten, and take the Jets plus the points. So the Jets could lose, but they’d have to lose by less than ten. If I got both halves of the teaser correct I’d win the bet. It’s called a gimmick.
Gimmicks make it more fun. Gamblers like it, bookies love it. Bookies also count on you gradually betting more and more as time goes by.
In 1994 I might have been betting twenty to fifty dollars a game. In 2004 I was betting 100 to 400-dollars a game. Not “insane” but getting there.
I also sought outside advice. Not to quit, but to win. At one point for a few football seasons I actually subscribed to a pick newsletter and phone service run by Phil Steele. Simple: you pay for him to pick winners, which he provided via newsletter and on subscription phone recordings. He’s a big business with a very large willing customer base. By the end of our three or four year business relationship I was referring to him as Phil “Steal”. After the third consecutive exclusive, ultimate “5-star pick” failed one college football season, and I had to listen to Phil grimly and remorsefully apologize for letting us down on his voice recorded follow-up message, I quit him. He can brag all he wants about his winning percentages and being a genius, the dude definitely does massive research, but a loss is a loss and the gambler is ultimately the one paying for it while also paying Phil for his pick service. No hard feelings, I was a willing customer.
It’s crazy that I still remember gambling moments. Early in my “career”, sitting in a sports bar in Hawaii, I was one out away from winning a three-team parlay worth about $225-bucks. That was rare and a lot of dough at that early stage of my efforts. I was betting on baseball playoff games and had nailed the first two parts of a three-team parlay. It was October 4, 1995. The Colorado Rockies led the Atlanta Braves 4-to-3 in the 9th inning of Game two of the National League Divisional Series. All I needed was Rockies second baseman Eric Young, after fielding a routine grounder, to throw the ball to first base for the final out of the game. That was it: Rockies win, I win. Instead, Young threw the ball away for his second error of the game, the Braves went on to score four runs in the inning and win the game 7-to-4. It took me awhile to get over that one and to not hate Eric Young.
August 30, 2002, I’m watching the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes versus Oklahoma Sooners game on ESPN. The Sooners were ranked number-one in the country in college football. Tulsa ends up losing 37 to nothing. No surprise there. But the line must have been 39 or 40 and I must have taken Oklahoma to cover that spread, because when an official on the sideline missed a call that went against the Sooners late in the game, I went ballistic. Replays showed an Oklahoma receiver had caught the ball and moved well up the field for a first down. The linesman blew the call; he thought the player went out of bounds to make the catch when he really didn’t. The official’s call nullified what would have been a large gain by Oklahoma, setting them up for another score, and thus allowing them to cover the spread. His decision ended the Sooner’s drive. Oklahoma punted, while me and countless others on the wrong side of the bet were shit out of luck.
By the way, I don’t recall, it may have actually been an over/under bet and I had taken the over. Over/under is when you predict whether the total number of points scored in a game will be over or under a number set by the bookies. If the Las Vegas line on the over/under was 41, and only 37 points were scored, the “under” would win. If more than 41 points were scored, the “over” would win. In this case it would have been the under that won, and I may have taken the over.
Either way, I just remember thinking I needed to find out the name of that football official so I could write him, or the Western Athletic Conference, or whoever, a letter. Or even for a few seconds, threaten him. That’s the mindset of a gambler.
There’s a reason at least one college or professional football game is on TV seven days a week from late August through December and there’s one reason why those games get viewers every single night of the week. Gambling.
I knew one tragic gambling victim personally.
I don’t have his kids’ permission, nor do I want it, nor do I want to share his misfortune by name. Let’s call him Ernie. Ernie was a sweetheart, the proverbial man’s man, great guy to hang out with, most of the conversation about women and football. Drink beer, laugh our asses off, watch sports.
Ernie hung out with our little group of fans, commentators and low-level gamblers. We’d get together and create PGA pools for the major golf tournaments. It was during a era when randomly getting the first overall pick in the draft by drawing numbers out of a cap, meant taking Tiger Woods, which essentially meant you’d already won. Didn’t matter, it was an excuse for the fellas to get together four times a spring and summer, throw a little money on the table and drink beer.
Gradually, unbeknownst to us, Ernie was betting more and more and losing more and more. To deal with it he was drinking more and more, as in, smelly breath on a daily basis at lunchtime type drinking. This wasn’t the Ernie we had known. Ernie lost a lot wagering on his alma mater, a football program that had flared for a decade as a powerhouse, only to fizzle out. He lost to the point of having to get a total of four different mortgages/lines of credit on his home. How did he pull that off? He was a widely respected member of the community, he was a legit business guy, and most of all, he was just Ernie.
It was in that home that Ernie drank himself to death. Bled his liver. A crown and coke in his clutches while sitting at his desk, a gallon-drum of empty half gallons sitting in the garage. While hiding behind sunglasses, I cried like a child at his memorial service, looking at photos of Ernie as a kid riding a horse or with his kids floating the river. Fighting the lump in the throat was actually painful. Mostly, it was completely unnecessary. Gambling had beaten him literally into the ground.
Other friends I know didn’t take it that far, they just went bankrupt, or short of that, joined a support group and quit with the help of peers. One buddy I have has been going to a group for almost two decades. Not only has it kept him from placing a wager, it’s also brought him another group of close friends to hang out with and … not gamble.
I’ve known a few small time bookies and one big time bookie. He just smiled as he backpacked around the big city collecting thousands from businessmen who blew wads of cash over the weekend. When they win, he also smiles, cordially handing over their winnings into excited hands. He knows he’ll be back.
When a “player” wins a $100 bet, he wins $100. When he loses, he loses $110 dollars. This is called the “juice”. Add ten percent to all of your losing wagers. That’s how it works, and how the house money adds up. For the big bookmakers, the ones who control the betting lines, or one’s below that who modify their lines based on the wagers from their clientele, the idea is to get half the gamblers to bet one way and the other half to bet the opposite. That’s why lines change during the week. If it’s Kentucky 6 points over Purdue, and everyone is betting Purdue, then as the days go by leading up to the game the line might move to Kentucky by 4. The idea is to entice more people to bet on Kentucky. In the perfect world, if $100,000 is bet on Kentucky, and $100,000 is bet on Purdue, the bookie knows the bet is a wash for them, or a break even. But they still make the $10,000 in juice from the side that lost.
Naturally, it would be rare to see almost the exact amount bet on each side, but the closer they can get to half and half on a specific wager, the more the juice is worth. Then multiply that times sixty college games and 15 or 16 pro games every week, and you get volume. Some estimate as much as 400-billion dollars year changing hands, mostly out of the hands of the gamblers.
For an individual bettor, the juice adds up. Five dollars on fifty dollars doesn’t sound like a lot, but amateur gamblers tend to always bet a handful of games. It’s more fun that way. So if they bet eight games at $50 bucks each, and go four and four, they’ve broken even on the wagers but lost $20 on juice. If they go five wins and three losses, they’d win $100, minus the $15 dollars juice on the losses, and end up winning $85.
I never think about it. It’s water under the bridge. I can’t get it back. It’s done. If you’re someone who is in the middle of a struggle like this one, quit now and don’t look back. Don’t think you’ll win it back either. That’s the mentality of a man or woman sitting in a casino at a blackjack table who keeps getting free drinks and buying chips. Forget it. Talk about it with someone if you need to and move on. Learn the guitar, teach yourself French, spend more time with your kid(s). You’ll be glad you did.
Don’t ruin your family, don’t kill yourself, and don’t be so freaking selfish. If you’re trying to make a quick buck, don’t. Work, and make a bunch of slow ones.
Editor’s Note: All just food for thought, because it’s never going away.
Problem with gambling? Find help 24/7 in the US, Canada and the US Virgin Islands at 1-800-522-4700.
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