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Why I'm not a gambler

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I'll tell you about the honesty of one casino: how my Keno ticket was worth a thousand dollars more than I thought, and how they went out of their way to upgrade my ticket and pay me every dollar due to me.

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In addition to all this, I want to assure you that I'm not a compulsive gambler.

I've never been to a race track. I agree with legendary gambler Nick the Greek: Never bet on anything that eats.

I don't buy lottery tickets—though I've collected lottery money prizes five times in my life, including a $1300 Lotto ticket! But more about that later.

I don't play poker with the boys.

I shy away from office baseball and football pools.

I've only bet once at OTB (Off-Track Betting) in New York, and I quit winners.

I didn't even pitch pennies with the kids in grade school.

But yes, I do gamble at the casinos, and I've been doing it for four decades. When I first went to the Las Vegas Sands in 1960, I was wide-eyed and hell-bent to break the bank. The one who ended up broke was me, and I was lucky to have enough left for cab fare back from the airport to my apartment. Parenthetically, in New York, before the days of the lotteries, the East Coast casinos and OTB, the race tracks were the serious gambler's only refuge. There are stories about horseplayers that lost their shirts at the track who had the foresight to put a nickel—subways were a nickel then— in a rented ten-cent locker to insure having the fare for the return trip home.

Today I go to the casinos with an entirely different mind-set. No, I don't want to clean out their cashier cages, or take home their chandeliers, I only want to nibble away at them. Hit and run—Lyle Stuart taught it to me—and that's the only way I know to beat the casinos. Years ago, during a weekend at Caesars Palace, I was strolling over to the elevator when I saw a heavy-set man sitting—yes, sitting—at the end of a craps table. In front of him, piled on the racks and on the table itself, was the highest mountain of chips I have ever seen in front of one player. He appeared to be playing almost everything on the table—all the numbers, proposition bets, the field—the works. I watched for a few minutes and then went to my room for some shut-eye. Six hours later I returned to the casino. The fellow was still there, sitting in front of his chips . . . only now there was no mountain—it was barely a molehill—a lot fewer chips there than there were the night before. Here was a man who should have hit and run hours ago.

In his book on gambling, John Scarne tells the lesson-to-be-learned classic story of the busboy from a Strip casino who took his paycheck downtown to the Fremont Street casinos. Lady Luck smiled on him as he gambled through the night and miraculously worked his meager bankroll up to $50,000. Toward dawn his luck turned sour and—you guessed it—he lost it all, sadly drag-assing himself at 9:00 A.M. back to his menial busboy job on the Strip. Scarne then astutely noted that, even if the busboy had run up his bankroll to $75,000 or even $100,000 or more, he would have doggedly stayed at the tables until he was completely tapped out. I read it years ago, and never forgot the lesson I learned there. I hope you'll always remember it too.

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