Monday, March 31, 2014

New York: The State of Online Poker – A Personal Perspective

News sources concerned with gambling issues announced over the weekend that a bill has been introduced into the New York State Senate to push for the legalization of online poker. According to sources (Chris Grove of the Online Poker Report @OPReport among the first to break the story) State Sen. John Bonacic (R-42nd District) introduced a bill that would amend the state’s gaming and racing regulations to allow for online poker games.

It’s about time! I’ve said this in other posts and I will continue to say it – New York has the aura of a front-runner but rarely deserves the title. As a life-long New Yorker, criticizing my state, I believe, is one of my rights and as far as gambling is concerned, New York is easily criticized.

Long the home of harness racing tracks, flats, simulcasting, and pari-mutuel betting, New York lags behind more future oriented states than most are aware of. New Yorkers sat back and watched helplessly while New Jersey became the first state on the Eastern seaboard to allow casino gambling. When Connecticut followed a few years later with one then two enormous Native American casinos, New York was clearly on the sidelines.

Lotteries notwithstanding, New York arrived very late at the gambling party. At this time there are Indian casinos in upstate New York and racinos scattered around the state. The Indian casinos offer a full array of casino type games including poker rooms in many of them. The racinos are restricted to electronic games so that slot machines rule the day with a small number of roulette, craps, and baccarat tables available for those not too wary of technology.

The racinos are located in or close to very populated areas of New York – the Empire City casino in Yonkers, minutes from New York City and Resorts World casino at Aqueduct Racetrack, a stone’s throw from JFK airport. The full service Indian casinos are located in parts of the state that are far from the large urban centers of New York and other states.

Last year the legislature and the public approved the establishment of four privately owned full service casinos in upstate semi-rural areas. Bids and proposals are being prepared and approvals are slated for this coming autumn. The rationale for placing these first four casinos away from any large urban area is the hope that their presence will stimulate economic development in those areas. I don’t believe that will come to pass. The driving distance to any of these new establishments will be at least the same as a jaunt to a venue in New Jersey, Connecticut, or Pennsylvania, a recent addition to the scene. Past experiences in other states indicate that many of the construction employees and permanent workers at these casinos will come from elsewhere rather than the immediate economically challenged areas in which they are likely to be built.

Online poker, along with a loosening of these short-sighted casino proposals, is a way to seriously impact the tax revenue that New York so sorely needs.  Morality aside, and it should be put aside since many agree it is a non-issue for the vast majority of players, the future health of government entities may depend largely on revenue garnered from entertainment vehicles like gambling. What better way to reach the entire state, and hopefully other states and countries as well eventually, with a quality online poker product that not only delights New Yorkers but attracts players from other states, than a knock-your-socks-off online poker site or two?

I’m on board and keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


The atmosphere inside the walls of a casino is unreal, at times surreal. Very few casinos, especially older casinos, have windows that allow day light in and none have clocks in view. The idea is to block out reality and allow patrons to forget whether it’s night or day, or what time of the night or day it is.

And the tinkering with reality doesn’t stop there. Gambling in a casino means turning in your real currency for a time and using a substitute currency while you are there. What we call chips or checks/cheques or even tokens date back to the early 19th century and there a many reasons why they are still used today. Most of the reasons are for the casino’s benefit, of course.

The primary characteristic of the casino chip is its uniformity. While each casino may emblazon their chips with their own distinct decoration, (casino name, location, emblem, or logo) they all are mostly of uniform shape (round), size (about the size of an old half-dollar), and weight (lighter than a silver coin but heavier than a modern one). Clearly stamped on each chip is its denomination - $1, $5, $25, and $100 – for the vast majority of chips in play. Other higher denominations are available and the highest values may even be larger or in a completely different shape than the common ones.

Chip uniformity includes color and casinos basically all agree in this area - $1 chips are white, $5 chips are red, $25 are green, and $100 chips are black. Values above these can be varying shades of yellow and pink according to each particular casino’s whim.

Uniformity leads to convenience, especially when it comes to counting chips. Chips are stacked in piles of twenty, each of the same denomination. In a blackjack table “rack” every twenty chip stack is separated by a clear marker. A security guard or a pit boss can easily tally the worth of the chips on any given table – stacks of $1s equal $20, stacks of $5s equal $100, stacks of $25 chips equal $500, and a stack of black $100 chips equals $2000. Higher chip values are generally separated out, kept to the center of the rack and counted separately.

One of the advantages of this uniformity among gambling chips is that players can easily determine the worth of the chips in their neighbor’s stacks. At a poker table, especially a tournament poker table, players are cautioned to display the stacks of their larger denomination chips so that others can easily determine the value of their stacks.

Of course, casino chips are not valued for their intrinsic worth along – they make great toys! Watch just about any experienced gambler fiddle with his/her chip stack and you will see a demonstration of some of the best digital acrobats ever imagined. And, learning chip tricks is fun.

But, the main reason for using chips instead of legal tender is that research has proven that people gamble more freely with substitute money than they do with real money. Not much different than playing with Monopoly money, is it?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Must Read . . . continued

The continuation of Eddie Harari's excellent article on cyber safety, cheating, and collusion as it relates to online poker.

Read it here . . .


I normally sit and gloat about all the wonderful things we have here in New York that those of you who live outside the Empire State do not have but today I feel like playing poker and I can't so I'm not doing any gloating.

I do not live in upstate NY near the Turning Stone casino which has a more than adequate poker room. Anything else in NY is even further away than that - Turning Stone is a four hour drive from the NYC area and Niagara Falls is a seven hour drive.

The Connecticut casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, are about two hours away and Atlantic City is three hours away. The closest Pennsylvania casinos are somewhere in between. Getting to these venues is not normally a big deal; driving home after a bad day gets to be depressing though.

New York tends to be a very paternal state although I do not think that we have that reputation elsewhere. We allow same-sex marriage; we allow women to choose to have a baby or not; we are on the brink of approving regulations to allow for medical marijuana; and, we allow gambling! Certain kinds of gambling, that is.

New York is the home of many successful, world renowned race tracks and harness tracks, Belmont and Saratoga topping that list. We participate in the two largest USA lotteries, Mega Millions and Power Ball. You can play Bingo at just about any church hall upstate or downstate any day of the week. And, you can dump money into an electronic slot machine all over the state including the Empire City Casino, a racino attached to Yonkers Raceway, which is a mere five minute drive from my house. But, you cannot legally play poker anywhere near here.

When it was easy enough, I played poker online like so many other people did. There was an element of "sinister" to that since no one was really sure if it was legal or not. That all stopped on Black Friday. Now that online poker is again legal in some areas you have to be lucky enough to find yourself in Nevada, Delaware, or New Jersey to take advantage. Otherwise you are just an on-looker or you risk being cheated or scammed out of your money by unscrupulous off-shore poker sites that are totally unregulated in this country.

What so many people fail to realize is that for the vast majority of players, poker is entertainment. The percentage of players who call themselves professionals is small, very small. The percentage of pros who are making a decent living at it and it alone is minuscule. The rest of us just enjoy playing. If we take a $100 or two to a small stakes limit table and blow it all in a few hours, that's the price of enjoyment. If we win a few bucks, even better. I am not denying that some people are going to gamble habitually and to the detriment of themselves and their families but most of us will not. Most of us just want a simple, no hassle way to play a little poker every once in a while. That's all.

So, what I'm really thinking while I'm sitting here in New York without a convenient, legal way to play poker is that I want the government to stop deciding what I can do and what I can't do. I have an inalienable right to "pursue happiness" and I don't need or want a bunch of legislators telling me how I can pursue it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Must Read

It's not often that I read something that I believe everyone else should read but this is one of those times. An article from last year by Eddie Harari reported on Twitter today by Robbie Strazynski about cyber-security is a must read for anyone playing online poker or anyone planning to play online poker. It's not so much that you can do much of anything about these things but it certainly makes sense to me to be aware of them.

Please read:

Thursday, March 20, 2014



I have been seeing a lot of food pics posted on twitter lately and, frankly, they get me hungry. These days when I am hungry, I feel guilty since so many foods have been maligned for this or that reason lately - too much fat, too much sugar, will clog your arteries, and on and on. From time to time I allow my denial to kick in and eat whatever I want. Maybe you are like that too sometimes.

If so here's a really simple, really sinful procedure, it's not really a recipe, for making an old standard. I hope you enjoy these kinds of foods as much as I do.

Bacon & Eggs

Healthy food is all the rage and that’s the way things should be. Eating healthy equals living longer and that should be everyone’s goal. Unfortunately many people are just as dysfunctional at eating well as they are at eating poorly. The extremes that healthy “foodies” go to can sometimes be, well, extreme.

If we take healthy eating out of the equation, we are left with those who spend meal times at fast food joints. We know what direction they are moving in, girth-wise at least. It tastes good and who’s to say that stopping by for a Big Mac or a Big Gulp once in a great while is a secret pleasure that we should all eliminate from our lives.

Everything, including food, in moderation is my motto with a tilt of my cap to Aristotle.

So, a guilty pleasure once in a while is not a bad thing in my book. And that brings me to what to eat for dinner when wifey is away!

Like so many couples who have just about, emphasis on “just about,” seen their children off and on their own, we try to eat together at home as regularly as our busy schedules allow. On average we sit down around our kitchen table three or four nights a week. We are learning to cook “two-person” quantities so that there aren’t many leftovers. As annoying as this may be to some people we throw whatever is left into the trash, having seen the futility of saving leftovers in the frig for a given period of time and then throwing them out. On weekends we often eat only twice a day and our main meal is frequently in one of our three or four favorite restaurants. When we do eat at home together we gravitate toward chicken or fish but sometimes splurge on a steak. Lately we have cut down on pasta, to the chagrin of both of us, since we realize that at our ages putting weight on is about ten times easier than taking it off. We treat it as a delicacy and relish the times we prepare pasta.

So what to do on those weekday evenings when my wife is coming home late and catches a bite out. Cooking for one generally stinks unless the goal is something special and maybe even sinful!

Keep in mind that what is coming next is in the spirit of moderation. I do not recommend preparing this outlandishly delectable meal more than once in a great while. If you abide by that simple dictum, your arteries will thank you and you can still consider yourself an overall healthy eater.

Bacon is a spiritual food. Its aroma permeates whatever space it’s being prepared in rousing the attention of both man and beast (by that I mean my dogs who hover very close to the stove whenever bacon is sizzling in the pan). I once read a story about the origin of “cooking food” which I am not sure is true. The way it went was that somewhere in very ancient China at a time when everyone ate everything raw, a villager’s hut caught fire and for some unknown reason one of his pigs ran inside only to be toasted to a crisp. You can imagine the aromas emanating from that blazing hut and the villager was no dope so he discovered roast pork - probably bacon too! True or not the aroma of cooking bacon is almost as good as eating it.

Eggs are so natural it’s not even funny. As long as you don’t patronize chickens that are fed food chock full of antibiotics or amply treated with pesticides, eggs are close to a perfect food. Lately there is a movement back to older, simpler times, and, if the local ordinances permit, many people keep a few chickens of their own, not so much for the meat but for the fresh, delivered daily eggs. Full of protein and vitamins and low in carbs, there isn’t anything bad about eggs. Contrary to the movement against eggs a few years ago, the cholesterol in eggs is not what causes high cholesterol in humans. That, sadly, must be blamed on processed foods, sugars and fats, all found in abundance on the shelves of your local supermarket, not in a barnyard.

I am not personally aware of who put these two foods together for the first time but it’s a marriage made in heaven - although the knot was probably tied on a farm!

When my wife isn’t coming home and I feel like I can risk eating something devilishly divine, I make bacon & eggs.

Here’s my recipe (not so much a “recipe” but preparation guidelines for optimal gustatory ecstasy).


10 slices of bacon (not the thick cut variety)
3 eggs (I prefer jumbos)
Seasonings (salt, black pepper)
Crusty bread

This is just about as minimalist as you can get. You will need a large, 11 inch diameter minimum sturdy skillet. Cast iron skillets are perfect. Heavy chef type frying pans are good. Teflon light weights just won’t cut it.

* Place the skillet on the stove over a moderately high flame and once it is heated lay in 10 (no more even though you may be greedy) strips of bacon. Get them sizzling and turn down the flame so they cook slowly and evenly. You’ll have to turn them a few times but try not to crinkle them up. They will crinkle on their own as they brown.

* Cook the bacon to your desired crispiness. I do not recommend charring it although some people like it that way. Once the bacon is done pour off most, but not all of the bacon grease. Leave about 1/4 of the grease in the pan and return it to the stove.

* Once the skillet is heated again push the bacon to the edges and crack the three eggs, one at a time, into the middle of the pan. The pan should be hot enough for the egg whites to begin cooking immediately. I prefer them “sunny-side” up but you can flip them at the end if you like. The eggs will merge with the bacon and at some point you will have one shiny mass of meat and egg whites and yolks.

* Salt and pepper to taste.

* Remove from the skillet and place on a dish. Eat with pieces of crusty bread (avoid the temptation to make a sandwich out of this delicacy although you can do that some other time!) dunked in yolk if you like.

You’ll need plenty of napkins. Being alone for this meal you may opt to grab a magazine or a newspaper to read while eating. I definitely advise against this. Before you know it you will have gorged yourself on this treat without having savored its taste.

A variation on this, and not one that often presents itself, is doing the exact same things as above but over an open camp fire in the fresh air on a cool morning. That is an experience you will not soon forget.

So, there it is. Promise you will not prepare this meal too often but savor it when you do.

Friday, March 14, 2014


So many people love them but I am not among them. I really don't like slot machines and never have. There was a time when you could make a steady income from going back to the same machine over and over again but these days casinos can reset them, move them, or change the way they pay out with a few mouse clicks. Nevertheless, they are the big earners of the gambling world.

Here's a story about a very unique machine. I've never seen one like it before or since!

The Best Slot Machine Ever

Slot machines have evolved over time from the low tech, cherries and lemons one-armed bandits of the 1960s to the glitzy, multireel, computer generated noise-makers of today. Regardless of the time or the place, a sensible player always reads the instructions beforehand. A sensible player does, not everyone!

Older machines had a little label posted on the front detailing the payouts for each winning combination of symbols. Today’s machines have video page after page of payout information as well as instruction screens that hardly anyone bothers to read – think the “Terms and Conditions” pages you so quickly “agree” to that come with every computer download! Walk up, put your coins in, pull the handle; walk up, stick your green back in the slot, push the button. Things really do not change much.

A long while ago, in the early 1980s, I stopped off at a small Reno hotel/casino while driving to San Francisco. In those days Las Vegas was the big beautiful sister and Reno was the grungy little brother of the casino family. Nevertheless, it was a quaint and pleasant town. In the lobby of the hotel I chose to stay in for the night, there was a huge slot machine with traditional looking reels and a handle but with a high glass back sort of like a pin ball machine. Every time someone put in a dollar (actually steel gaming coins) one line would light up indicating 1 pull. The lines went up and up, ten in all. As I checked in I watched a few people walk up to the machine, put in a few coins, pull and leave. Sometime they won a few dollars, most times not. No big deal.

Off to the right of the machine there was a middle aged woman sitting with a young girl child on her lap. Every once in a while the woman got up, walked over to the machine, put in a few dollars one at a time, pulled the handle, collected and went back to her seat. She was calm, patient and well, smart.

You see, no one else ever read the machine instructions. Like all slot machines located in public areas, people readily dumped the few extra coins they had in their pockets into it to try their luck. But this machine guaranteed that on every tenth pull, marked by the illuminated lines going up and up, the player would get back 5 silver dollars. The patient woman waited eagerly until at least the 6th or 7th line was lit and then she went over, put in 3, 4, or fewer of her own coins and got back 5 every time. She didn’t need to hope for jackpots and bars; she made her living a few dollars at a time. Reading is fundamental and profitable.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Missing the "Old" Las Vegas

There have been plenty of news articles detailing the newly started construction of the "Cromwell" on the corner of the Strip opposite Caesars. I'm sure it will find many devotees and loyal customers after it opens. For me, I'll always remember what was there before - the Barbary Coast, Bill's Saloon and Gambling Hall. I'm not one to dwell on the past but nostalgia does have its place.

I wrote a piece a while ago for an internet site about places to find surprisingly good food in LV for under gourmet prices. The Barbary Coast/Bill's was on the top of my list.


Hidden Delights – Chinese at Bill’s Saloon

Over the years the food situation in Las Vegas has changed dramatically. Not too long ago one of the highlights of a junket (you don’t hear that word anymore!) to Vegas was the inexpensive breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets at just about every Strip casino. Ranging in price from a few dollars to almost $10 at posh venues like Caesars, the buffets were adequate at most.

All of that changed when Vegas went through a major rejuvenation starting with Steve Wynn’s high end Mirage and Bellagio. As time passed these exclusive venues too became more ordinary, giving way to Wynn’s newest palaces, the Wynn and Encore. The latest Strip developers brought us the Cosmopolitan and Aria. There’s more to come even though the economy is still in the toilet and practically flushed as far as Vegas is concerned.

Anyway, with the newer, fancier hotels came better and more expensive eating. From a place with cheap, decent food, Las Vegas has become a haven for TV personality chefs and very high-end, gourmet type restaurants.

There remain, however, a few hidden gems for those who enjoy exceptional food at a reasonable cost.

Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon, the former Barbary Coast Hotel/Casino, on one of the corners of possibly the busiest intersection in the world, is the home of one of those treasures. At the rear of the small casino floor is a place called Our Victorian Room that is a 24/7 cafĂ©. It boasts daily prime rib specials and an occasional steak deal. The waiters are experienced and business like. For dinner you may have to make a reservation at the door and wait (you can make one on the phone if you’re staying there) which is generally just an excuse to get you to the tables for half an hour more. They’ll call you over the loudspeaker when your table is ready.

What hardly anyone knows is that Bill’s has one of the best Chinese menus in town – and the quality and preparation of these menu items have been consistent for years. Same chef? Same family of chefs? I’m not sure but they’re doing something right!

If you go, order the Spare Ribs and the Chicken Chow Mein. The spare ribs are short ribs barbecued to perfection and sprinkled with sesame seeds; the chow mein comes with hefty, thick egg noodles that will remind you more of homemade pasta than Chinese food. Sound pedestrian? You’ll be surprised and you’ll leave a minimum 20% tip because you are!


This might be easier to read if you alter all the tenses - change "is" to "was;" "has" to "have." In another 20 years there will be another venue on this corner. That's just how things are.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Becoming a Pro (Professional Poker Player, that is)

So You Want To Be a Professional Poker Player: 5 Things You Should Know

Although the game of poker has been around for a while, at least as far back as the early 1800s, its popularity is a fairly new phenomenon. Some would attribute its fame and notoriety to the World Series of Poker but in actuality the WSOP has been around since 1970 and for close to 30 years only a very few hard core gamblers participated.
Doyle Brunson

The lure of modern poker can be traced back only a few years to the 2003 WSOP, won by aptly named Chris Moneymaker, and the introduction of the World Poker Tour on TV. Helping its rise to almost universal acclaim was the introduction of high stakes poker tournaments and especially online poker.

Poker is a game of skill. How do I know that? Two reasons – one, I’ve played it myself for years and know that the skilled players are the ones who win out in the long run over time and two, a Federal District Court judge in the Eastern District of New York State said so! That’s good enough for me.

Anybody can win at poker but only a few can win consistently over time and for me that would be the definition of a “professional” poker player. Luck and chance come into play on any given hand in any given game but skill is what makes the difference.

Everyone wants to be a professional poker player but few have what it takes. From the numbers of online players winning big prominent tournaments these days, you would think that anyone can accomplish this feat. The odds are against you! For every major tournament winner who honed their skills on the internet, there are literally tens of thousands more who never make it to a final table.
Puggy Pearson

What should you know before you decide to be a professional poker player? Consider these thoughts:

  1. You will need to have anywhere from a year to three years of consistent profitable winning under your belt before you can consider yourself a pro. You not only have to hold onto your grub stake but you have to increase it to cover all your expenses.

  1. You have to study! Poker studies take place in the game and outside the game. Reading some of the many good books out there about the game is essential. When you finish reading a book, read it again. Study also takes place at the table or on your computer. You will have to be an excellent judge of human nature to make it as a pro.

  1. Professional poker players make most of their money in high-stakes side games and they garner most of their fame at tournaments. You will need to do both to succeed. The former big names in poker, the “old-timers” whose fame and notoriety precede the TV fascination with poker, now make most of their money in endorsements and sponsorships. Fame is important.

Stu Ungar
  1. You cannot do it part time. Your apprenticeship cannot be half-hearted. Save up an initial stake – enough to live on for a designated period of time, pay entrance fees, and cover losses – and take the plunge. You will have to travel although there are ample poker games around so you can limit yourself to the east coast or the west coast of the US or a bunch of European countries. Poker must be your life for this trial period. “Do or die,” as they say!

  1. Last but not least, know when you are done! Some of us, most of us, in fact, are not destined to make a living at playing poker. If you can’t make it through a trial period you can’t make it. Admit it! Be honest! Relegate your poker playing to the status of “hobby” and enjoy yourself. No sense in “kicking a dead horse,” as they say too.

There’s also a litmus test for figuring out if you have the “cojones” for a life of playing poker. Answer these two questions? Would you take odds on how long a fly was going to sit on an over ripe orange in a fruit bin? Do you consider money as a valuable commodity? If you answered “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second, don’t quit your day job. If your answers were the opposite you may be the next Titanic Thompson, Johnny Moss, or Stuey Ungar.


I wrote the piece you just read about 3 years ago. I just re-read it and my views haven't changed but I have added a #6 to the list. At the risk of alienating some very nice people here is my sixth requirement:

6. No Obligations To Hold You Down. The many people, especially young people, making a go at living the life of a poker professional, have few if any life obligations to hold them down or to create undue pressure for them. I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people exploring this life-style today have no children, no mortgages, minor car payments, few college loans that must be paid off in a finite period of time, and scant emotional ties to anyone outside the poker community. I'm not judging, but playing poker comes with a major dose of guilt all its own - losing a sizable entrance fee, letting down backers, the general over-all feeling of being a loser when things go bad. Why exacerbate the feelings that are inherent in the game with obligations and restrictions that will make you feel worse. If you already have a family and other goods that need maintaining, maybe being a poker pro is not the life you should pursue. Of course, if you have all of those things and just sold off your $2 billion software business, by all means try becoming a professional and keeping all those obligation balls in the air at the same time. Possibly you can do that!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Life Lessons - Gambling

Kids in this new century are being treated a lot better than in the mid-1990s and before. Parents go out of their way to protect them, coddle them and shelter them from so many things that today's children run the risk of being totally unprepared for the real world. Years ago, junk food was a staple, helmets were for fighter pilots not kids on bicycles, and playing out in front of the house or down the block was a daily routine. Mothers kicked the kids out of the house to "go play" instead of piling them all in the van and driving them to soccer practice.

I never was nor will I ever be a person who tells others what to do with their kids but a little useful experience is something parents ought to think about imparting to their kids instead of pushing them to be the next $20 million pitcher or the next movie star.

And that brings me back to gambling. Should kids be taught to gamble? You decide.

Here's an essay I wrote a while ago on that topic. My two cents on the subject.

Teaching Your Kids to Gamble: Good or Bad?

With the advent of and temporary demise of internet poker sites, the reports of kids gambling have cropped up all over. Kids are gambling in school, after school, on the weekends and, frankly, things like this can get out of control. Nevertheless, for parents who have a good handle on what their kids are doing, who they are doing it with and where they are going, knowing about gambling need not be a problem.

Gambling, especially card playing and betting on horses, was a part of my upbringing and, consequently, part of our kids’ upbringings. We never hid the fact from them that we enjoyed gambling and we never sugar coated the realities of putting money at risk.

Holidays in our family were a time of gifts, food (lots of food) and often, card games after the table was cleared. Stakes were low (nickels and dimes) and everyone who could count was allowed to participate. The youngest learned about winning and losing very quickly; they also learned lessons in risk vs. reward. Not much different than the lessons I learned as a child.

When I was young we spent Christmas Day at my father’s mother’s apartment, a railroad-type arrangement with the large kitchen in the rear and the bedrooms lined up along a corridor with the living room facing the street in the front of the building. The main table was crowded with adults and the kids sat at various makeshift tables around the room. It was noisy, the food was delicious, and the atmosphere was festive, interspersed at times with vigorous arguments on a variety of issues.

As a family we never all played cards at these gatherings but after the dishes were cleaned and dried my Aunt Carmen, my boisterous, lusty, hearty Aunt Carmen would gather all the kids together away from everyone else for a poker game. She knew that our pockets were full of the quarters, nickels and dimes we had been given by other aunts and uncles and if we only had dollar bills she happily changed them for us.

After an hour or so she usually had separated all of us from our coins and dollars. But, if we won, we won fair and square! We learned to play poker fast. We learned about life – that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. A few dollars disappearing into Aunt Carmen’s house dress pockets was a small price to pay for lessons that have lasted a life time.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Seniors (as in Senior Citizens) - BET SMART!

This past January an article I wrote appeared in Senior Living Magazine, a Canadian publication aimed at active, vibrant senior citizens. Although the article is tilted toward a Canadian audience there is plenty here for everyone.

This is by no means an article for advanced gamblers, but rather a primer for those dipping a toe into these sometimes dangerous waters.

The link is below:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I wish I knew exactly when I wrote the piece printed below. Reading it over today it sounds a little dated and it probably is. Things change quickly these days. I do know it was written after Jim McManus' "Positively, Fifth Street" started the poker renaissance and before "Black Friday" made playing poker online a game for Americans living in exile. Casino floors have changed since then as well with new games being introduced regularly. Yet, the lesson to be learned is still a good one. Know the odds and you'll at least go down with your eyes open.

Know the Odds

Good gamblers are lucky; great gamblers are smart! It’s that simple. The greatest gamblers either know they have a decisive edge or know how much they can risk in relation to the odds. For the best gamblers it’s not about luck.

Titanic Thompson, an iconic gambling figure of the 1920s, never made a bet he couldn’t win. Legend has it that he bet Arnold Rothstein, financier, gangster, and crook, that he could throw a peanut across Times Square. He did, of course, winning the bet after filling the peanut with lead bird shot. Thompson frequently scammed unsuspecting marks out of their paychecks betting on “license plate poker” after he pre-arranged with an associate to drive by in a car with a plate that had 333 on it. The odds were in his favor because he set them up. Trips were usually plenty to collect on this grift. Luck played no part in Titanic’s wagers!

Casinos these days are businesses and they have a difficult time meeting expenses if they only have the food and entertainment intake to rely upon. For casinos, wagering is an industry with the odds tilted in their favor. Casinos these days, both brick and mortar establishments and online operations, are not run by gangsters and crooks but by college graduates with MBAs and a long print out of statistics and formulas.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from enjoying a day of cards or slots. Everyone can have a lucky roll or a lucky spin. That’s why we play! What I do mean to get across is that good gamblers always know the odds.

The games available to you on a casino floor are all designed to favor the house, but in varying degrees. Smart players gravitate to those games that are the lesser evils – the games where the house has the least edge.

If you believe in this philosophy your playing will be limited to blackjack (provided you know the rules of play), Baccarat (bet the bank) or craps (playing the pass line and taking the maximum odds behind). These games give the casino the least advantage over you – all less than 1.4% (meaning for every $100 you wager the house is expected to win $1.40 and you are expected to leave with $98.60).

Roulette will skin you for more than $5 of every $100 you put at risk; the same for Caribbean Stud. Most of the other “designer” games you’ll find in the casino (Let-It-Ride, Casino War, Spanish 21, etc.) all have better odds IN FAVOR of the casino. Avoid them. Keno, a thought-to-be easy way of turning $1 into thousands, will allow the casino to keep $25 of every $100 you wager. Steer clear of Keno unless you can drink more money in free casino beer than you are betting. All those $1.40s and $5 bills add up over time and that’s how Caesars and all the other casinos pay the rent.

The smartest gamblers of all play poker. If you are even half way competent at Texas Hold ‘em you can overcome the “drop” or whatever surcharge the casino assesses you to play in a tournament. In poker you are playing against other gamblers. Much better odds of winning.

Know the odds and you’ll be a better, saner gambler.