Thirty years ago, I had a very bad week betting sports.
I started wagering on games in fall 1983. A friend with whom I worked at the Washington Post directed me to his bookie, who also worked at the Post; back in the glory days of print, you almost always could find a bookie on the property, usually on the composing room floor.
Chuck the bookie was a part-time gambling entrepreneur – he only took bets weekdays between 5 and 6 p.m. and weekends between 11 a.m. and noon. We would “settle” on Mondays, one of us handing the other the appropriate cash owed in an envelope.
I would bet between $25 and $100 per game, most often $50.
For those of you unfamiliar with this robust area of our underground economy, you have to “lay” 10 percent to the bookie. So to win $100, you must risk $110; to win $50, you must risk $55. Naturally, this gives the bookie the edge and enables him to drive a better car than you do.
I started by betting mostly on the NFL, with some college football. In the winter, I transitioned to the NBA and college basketball – I never bet hockey; how stupid do I look? – and, in the spring, I switched to baseball.
(I am reminded of an old gambling yarn: Bookie has a great client – every weekend he bets a ton of football games and every weekend he loses. With football season ending, the bookie feared his loss of revenue stream, so he tells his sucker client he’ll take his hockey action. “Hockey?” the fella says. “What do I know about hockey?”)
My daily routine became a combination of obsession and deceit:
After waking up, I’d check the point spreads in the newspaper, then, on and off the rest of the day, think about which game or two I might wager on. It became difficult to do work; almost every hour, my mind would wander to TD-INT ratios or pitching matchups.
Meanwhile, I’d just gotten engaged – my first time! – and decided it was best to hide my activity from my fiancée. In part, I was embarrassed and, in part, I didn’t want her to think she was marrying, you know, a gambling degenerate.
Of course, being hooked – gambling habits can be quite addictive – I wanted to follow my money each night, but this was pre-cable and pre-Internet. Thankfully, there was “SportsPhone,” 60 seconds of scores updated every 10 minutes. On many occasions when I went out to dinner with my fiancée, I would excuse myself two or three times, rush to the restaurant’s payphone, pluck in three quarters and anxiously listen for my recorded fate.
This was my life: Thinking about what bets to make by day, following those bets by night.
I tried not to bet too many games – the larger your volume, the greater your chances of losing – and over a 10-month period, I had built a modest profit of $800 or so.
(I half-expected Warren Buffett to call me for Knicks-76ers tips.)
Then, one June Tuesday, I bet $25 on a baseball game, and lost. The next night, I bet another $25, and lost. On Thursday, to get my money back, I decided to double my bet to $50, and lost. On Friday, I doubled it again to $100, and lost. On Saturday, I bet $200 on a game, and lost.
On Sunday, in a last attempt to recoup the week’s losses, I bet $400 on the Orioles against the Blue Jays. This broke one of my rules – never bet on Baltimore, because I’m a fan of the team.
That afternoon, my fiancée and I strolled through Georgetown on a picture-perfect day. When we got back to the car, I clicked on the radio, just in time to hear Tim Stoddard allow a grand-slam homer to turn a 2-0 Orioles lead into a 4-2 defeat. I lost.
With one swing of the bat – and six straight losing wagers – my Wall Street sports-betting market had crashed.
I don’t recall which was the worse feeling – withdrawing $885 out of my meager bank account or handing over that $885 in an envelope to Chuck.
Anyway, I ended up getting married, and she divorced me several years later, but, I can proudly say, gambling was not one of the seven or eight reasons she left.
Because that bad week led to the best result possible:
Going on 30 years now, I’ve never made another sports bet.
Ask The Slouch
Q. David Blatt is the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I hate to be rude, but who is he? (Christopher Lee; Indianapolis)
A. I don’t think his credentials are critical – he’s just holding down the fort until they rehire Mike Brown.
Q. You seem to favor PBR in a can and watching bowling on TV. If opposites attract, what does that say about Toni, a.k.a. She Is The One (And Then Some)? (Steve Thompson; Atlanta)
A. Indeed, Toni prefers PBR in a bottle and listening to bowling on radio.
Q. What do World Cup soccer players and World Series of Poker players have in common? (Jack O’Brien; Fairfax, Va.)
A. Both see a lot of flops.
Q. If Redskins owner Daniel Snyder doesn’t understand the writing on the wall regarding the offensiveness of his team’s name, would smoke signals help? (Bill Holmes; Alexandria, Va.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.