By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
A recent poll by Nevada’s largest marketing-research group shows that only 17 percent of people coming to Vegas say they plan to gamble. That compares with 38 percent who say they are coming primarily for sightseeing. But what sights? Evidently, the casinos. The same poll says this same average tourist will visit eight casinos while here. And in the end, say Vegas tourist authorities, regardless of what they tell their spouses, children, office mates, or marketing pollsters for that matter, a whopping 87 percent of all tourists will spend an average of four hours a day gambling. I’m one of them. Though tonight, I wish I weren’t. Or do I?
The decision I now have to make is the juice of gambling. It’s the buzz. And this one’s a no-brainer. The double-down bet is the smart bet, the right bet, the strategic bet. Out of my pocket comes another Ben Frank. Ziggy flattens it out on the table for the benefit of the all-seeing Eye-in-the-Sky cameras. Then he holds it up briefly to the light and runs his fingers expertly over the bill’s texture. “Change — one hundred,” he calls out to the pit boss, a pudgy, balding middle-aged man with drooping eyelids who, no doubt, is wishing everyone here, including me, would lose as quickly as possible and let him go home maybe a half-hour early.
With his left hand, Ziggy stuffs the $100 bill into the slotted mouth of the table and shoves it all the way down with his plastic plunger. With his right, he scoops four quarter chips from his tray, loudly clacks two of them down next to my upturned seven-four, doubling my bet, and seamlessly slides the remaining two chips toward me. Ziggy straightens his back, which is always tormenting him, wishes me good luck, and with sharp-angled military precision pulls a single card from the dealer’s shoe, snapping it face-down and perfectly perpendicular to my other two cards. In an effortlessly swift move he mastered long ago over his 27 years of dealing experience, he uses his upturned card, the red jack, to shovel over his down card. Another red jack who seems to be smirking. Shit. Ziggy’s got a pair of jakes, a daunting 20.
My stomach knots as he reaches to turn over the one card I’ve bought for an additional 50 bucks. In this game players can’t touch the cards. They can only slap money onto the table. If my double-down card that Ziggy turns over is a nine, we push, tying each other with a 20. Any other card, except a face card or a ten, and I’m down yet another hundred in the middle of the night.
The card Ziggy flips for me is a hefty black ten, a hand-winning 21 in total. I’ve survived another hand.
Ziggy pays me off with a single, black $100 chip, an unspoken invitation to play it. I accept, pulling back my four quarter checks and leaving the black one hundred on the betting line. Ziggy deals me out two eights — a 16. He’s showing a six up. It’s the dealer’s worst card, one he breaks on more than half the time.
My only option is to split the eights into two hands, at twice the price. You always split eights, even against a dealer’s ace. With a dealer showing a stiff six, double eights can be a real moneymaker. I split them into two hands, tossing down the additional four quarter chips I just pulled back next to one of the eights. Now I’ve got $200 in play, but I’m in excellent position. Excellent if I win. Meanwhile, this friendly $25-a-hand game has escalated into a $200-a-shot stomach twister.
Video poker: Fun game with
attractive odds or the crack
cocaine of gambling?
Ziggy flips another card face-up on my first eight. A three, totaling 11, and he smiles, knowing that only a fool wouldn’t double down again. I cash another hundred, and this time the whole amount reinforces the bet on that single hand — $200. I ask Ziggy to toss me the one extra card face-up. I get a six, giving me a 17.
“It’s what we call a mother-in-law,” quips Ziggy. “You’d like to get rid of it, but you can’t.” Now I’m in for $700.
Seventeen on the first hand is not very reassuring. I’ve got to play the other hand and hope for something better. Call it the best or the worst of luck, but Ziggy fishes me out yet another eight. He doesn’t even wait for my nod as he moves the new card to the side of its twin, knowing full well I’m going to split those eights as well for yet another hundred bucks.
The card Ziggy throws on top of my second eight is a two. We both break out laughing. Scratch that idea about a 7.0 earthquake. This is a 9-plus on the Richter scale. With the cards breaking this way, we both know that I’m trapped in the middle of a tsunami-size wave of luck — we just don’t know if I’m surfing the crest of it or if I’m about to get sucked away in its merciless tube. My ten against his six is another double down. When I buy that black chip to match what’s already there, I’m in for $900 this evening. The bet made, my next card is a five! A fucking 15, a hand that beats nothing. It makes my mother-in-law 17 hand look like Cameron Diaz.
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