Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

 Aug. 18, 2003

I left my heart in San Francisco (and my wallet in Las Vegas)

So-called "gaming" is the leading industry in this country right now, both in the number of participants and the amount of money being tossed around.

We are now going at a clip of over $700 billion a year and still growing. This doesn't mean that the industry makes $700 billion a year.

The best estimates are that the industry only makes about 10 percent or $70 billion gross revenue a year. The upkeep of Las Vegas casinos, let's say, eats up some of the revenue, but as a friend of mine once told me, "When you go to Las Vegas and you look at all those lights, ask yourself, 'Who's paying the light bill?'"

About 80 percent of us like to gamble. I know I do. I consider gambling to be playing games and, in fact, that's the politically correct term the industry itself likes to use, gaming. Not gambling, mind you. Shhh!

Gambling's a naughty word, although the Catholic churches in Las Vegas cheerfully accept casino chips in the collection plate, right along with the food stamps.

There is no Catholic church in Las Vegas named for St. Cayetano, though. He is the patron saint for gamblers and, no, he wasn't Italian.

I think God wants us to have fun, including playing games.

Think of it this way: Every eight seconds, when you spin a slot machine, you are playing a game, not really "gambling," which implies risk taking.

You don't have to spin every eight seconds but that's the average. eight seconds is how long you have to stay on the wild bull in a rodeo, or on a wild horse, in order to win.

In other words 8 seconds isn't a very long time, but you can win at the slot machine easier than you can win on the back of a bucking bronco or wild bull. Both animals want to kill you, not just take your money.

Slot machines are different from video poker, because we seem to have a choice in video poker. We gamblers are up against some clever electronic mechanics who are very good at math whether we are playing the one armed bandits or video poker.

In slot machines, the only choice we have is whether or not to play.

Video poker is interactive. You can draw to the five cards and discard anything you want. If you are smart at video poker, you will always go for four of a kind, but the first thing to do is to compare the video poker machines and look at what the payoffs are.

Six-to-one for a full house is pretty good. I have never gotten a royal flush at video poker. I think if I ever did I would be smart enough to quit but if I was really smart I wouldn't be playing in the first place.

Bu,t there is no such thing as a smart gambler. I have been hooked on games from childhood when we played poker at home with match sticks, and I remember how much fun it was to watch retired farmers slap down their cards in the booths at Joe Decker's or Joe Stifter's establishments playing Euchre or Sheephead (Schaukopf).

I was playing Norwegian Whist by the time I was 9 years old, not knowing back then that the game of Bridge evolved from it. I don't remember playing for money.

If you want to make money, table games are your best bet. Among the table games, blackjack is your best bet with the odds so player friendly that lots of casinos won't even allow the space for blackjack.

Blackjack dealers are almost always friendly, and so are the other players unless you are playing at a $25 table where the players are understandably quite serious dudes.

In blackjack, watch the cards and don't play on hunches. Always split aces and eights, never take a hit when the dealer shows a bust card but don't double down unless the dealer is showing a bust card.

It can be a streaky game, but superstition doesn't belong in blackjack. Every new hand gives you the same odds for the dealer to bust and for you to win, no matter if it seems to the players that the dealer is "hot."

It's easy to lose your head at roulette because there is so much money to be won. Since there are 36 numbers, plus zero and double zero on the wheel, the odds of betting on one number are 38 to 1.

Hitting a number will pay you 35-to-one, but that is a risky bet compared to the red or black bet, which is 50-50 except for hitting the one green slot. The temptation is to throw money at the board. Don't. Play the odds.

It's hard not to have fun in a casino unless you are betting your rent money, but the best thing about a visit to Las Vegas are the people who work there: the bus drivers, the dealers, the cleanup crews, the bartenders, maids, and waitpersons.

They are all underpaid and under-tipped, they are always shrewd observers of human nature, and they always seem willing to talk and tell you their fascinating stories.

They have seen it all, as they say. They have met people from all over the world, day after day. You could write a good story if you just ask them how they happened to move to Las Vegas.

My first impression of the working class of Las Vegas was formed when the van driver from the airport stopped at a semaphore and a homeless man approached the driver's open window with his hand out. The driver took $2 from his tip box and handed it out to him.

Just after that, I saw a barmaid wave off an old man who wanted another free drink. She did so with humor, compassion, and friendliness. She made the old man go away not ashamed but looking forward to coming back after he had sobered up a bit. He smiled at me as he left.

I wonder what became of him.

I wonder what became of all of them, these children of God playing their hearts out, trying to forget.

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