By Andy "Coach" Cotton, Fri., May 1, 1998
Sleaze and sin, the longtime signature of Vegas, are now most politically incorrect - analogous to finding the Barton Creek salamander on the Jeffrey's appetizer menu. Families and good, clean fun are the order of the day. These days, a hardened gambler has to share every long elevator ride down to the casino floor with tiny twins in a pram, sullen teenagers with nose rings, and grandmas in from Duluth for cousin Bobby's wedding. The sidewalks on Las Vegas Boulevard are, at all times of day or night, as packed with families as Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.
Yet despite the white tigers, exploding volcanoes, and elaborately staged pirate ship battles happening for free right out on the street, the sole and relentlessly single-minded intention of every brick in the town is to separate, in a friendly but utterly ruthless way, a visitor from his money. At this they are most effective. Vegas can turn a supportive, life-long fan of a team into a snarling and bitter man. And that's when his team wins.
The first lesson any gambler is supposed to learn is this: never, ever bet with your heart. The reasoning is simple and sound: A heart makes stupid decisions. A heart can break. A broken-hearted person will tend to wallow in self-pity, uncharacteristically wanting - nay demanding - revenge on a team he loves. All because of a lousy $20 wager gone bad. Here's a real-time example. A certain Bulls fan forgets his father's first admonition. Feeling that he intimately knows the rhythms and flows of his team, he confidently and boisterously puts $20 down on his team to cover a large 13-point spread against New Jersey. Further, he puts another $20 on the over/under. He quickly talks his girlfriend into following his lead. Within minutes of the opening tip-off, he's involved in a nasty quarrel with the girlfriend, caused because a bad start might cost us both a crummy forty. With only five minutes gone in a game we'd been waiting all day to watch, she angrily refuses to watch any more, and begins aggressively channel surfing - and we're not talking only during commercials. Sullenly, the fan hurries down to the sports book. He burrows for himself a tiny place amidst the filth and flotsam, mangled racing forms, cigar butts, crumbled, losing betting slips, half-eaten hot dogs, and six-hour-old gin and tonics in plastic cups. Females can picture a sports book as all the worst things imaginable in a guy's long-uncleaned living room.
A Vegas sports book, though in many ways resembling your neighborhood sports bar, is a very different place. The normal sports bar will contain normal fans. The cheering is from the heart and fairly good-natured. This is not the case at Bally's Sports Book. Oh, yes, there's cheering and booing... but not of the good-natured sort. Everyone in a sports book is a fucking mercenary. When a fan bitterly jeers another missed Pippen free throw, that "fan" just lost a thousand bucks. On the other end of the spectrum are wild, hysterical whoops of joy when a team, down by 10, scores a meaningless basket as the buzzer sounds. That basket just made someone $10,000.
Our hero is no longer a Bulls fan enjoying a good basketball game. He didn't give a shit anymore about his team winning. They had to win by 13. He finds himself cheering missed shots by both teams to protect his under-bet. As an unexpectedly tense game winds down, the heretofore rabid fan no longer cares if the Bulls win. Fuck 'em, they didn't cover the spread. And when he howls as if he's been castrated when Jordan misses a free throw, which would've given the Bulls a one-point lead with only a few seconds to go, it has nothing to do with winning or losing. An overtime would, for sure, wipe out the under-wager. He hoped (he's now embarrassed to admit) a last-second shot by New Jersey would go in. Feeling pissed off and betrayed, he walks out before the overtime even begins. The angry girlfriend is asked whether she would rather win the under-bet, even if it meant the Bulls lost the game. She hesitates only momentarily. "The bet," she says. This tells all. Betting with your heart is a very, very bad thing.
Vegas is a cold, merciless town, with no pity for losers. To assuage his bad feelings, he decides, while on the way back up to the room, to, "play a little blackjack." Within, I swear to God, less than 60 seconds, the Bulls fan has lost three hands and $60. This too, the bitter man blames on his team.