By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003
No other vice lured me into violence as much as gambling. I If don’t pay my bookie, I get my ass kicked. The rules are simple. Same goes for the casinos. Behave like a gentleman, or else. Sometimes, when my bets are not going the way I’d like, my patience evaporates and my Buddhist mannerisms towards people disappear, and I’m usually within seconds of dropping my fists on the first asshole that sets me off. And if I’m drinking and gambling, I’ll definitely get myself into trouble.
I bet heavily on Syracuse (the only time in the tournament) and was slurping down vodka tonics. The guy in front of me had $50 on Auburn. Syracuse blew a 17 point lead, and every time Auburn did something right, he would celebrate like he just won the lottery and got a blow job from Britney Spears in the same afternoon, which would inch me closer and closer to pummeling his ass. At one point I raised my leg, ready to kick him in the head with my boot if he jumped up one more time. Luckily for him, he remained seated. Or luckily for me, I should say. Behavior like that… random acts of violence towards jubilant tourists are not taken lightly in Las Vegas. Similar incidents get you blacklisted and banned from all gaming areas in the state of Nevada. I would have immediately been dragged off by the casino lumberjacks, the visible security force with pressed shirts, shiny shoes and black walkie talkies. They drag you downstairs to a room with no windows, and hand you over to thugs named "Nine Fingered" Vito and "Fat" Jimmy, who may or may not remove your eyeballs with rusty ice picks.
A group of unruly, rowdy, drunken frat boys from Michigan State nearly caused a small riot as they sat in the front row of the sports book. Michigan State was the underdog for most of the tournament, and a lot of people lost large sums of cash when they played. One frat boy in particular was bumping chests and taunting the bettors who wagered on Maryland. I held myself back from running up there and crashing an empty Corona bottle across his sun burned face. I wanted to fight, but I reminded myself about the cameras all over the casino that watched my every move. Instead, after a Maryland player missed a wide open dunk, I got up and walked away. Derek and Senor thought I was just kidding. But I was serious. I wanted to leave immediately. With more than half the game not over, I walked out of the Mandalay Bay Casino in a solemn retreat, with my head down, and chiding myself for losing all the money I won earlier in the day.
Derek had a similar situation. This one involved a beautiful blonde from Kansas. She showed up just before the game started to watch her team play and could not find a seat for her sorority girlfriends. We had been sitting in the last row of the sports book for almost four or five hours when she arrived and we ended up stuck with her standing right behind us. To say that she was annoying would be polite. Within a half hour, Derek wanted to get up and punch her.
"I don’t care if she’s hot," he muttered.
Kansas was beating up on Arizona in the first half. It was ugly. When Kansas did well, you heard the blonde squeal and let everyone in the state of Nevada know that "her boys" were kicking ass. Sometimes overhearing the conversations with her friends killed me, which was slightly more pleasurable than having my testicles scraped by a cheese grater.
"Who’s cuter? Nicky or Kirk?" she asked one of her sisters.
My brother rolled his eyes. "Collison and Hienrich are two of the ugliest white dudes I ever seen. What the fuck is she talking about?"
"Come on Nicky! Thatta boy, Kirk!"
She kept rambling on, drawing the ire of the ninety percent of the guys who bet against Kansas. They sat and stewed in anger, like drunken pigeons ready to shit on the next thing that moved, as Kansas whooped on Arizona.
I wanted to get up and say something to our Kansas Blonde like, "Listen up Princess Dorothy, you’re pissing us off. Here’s $100. Why don’t you take the Barbies and head on over to the bar over there, get really drunk, and watch the game as far away from me as you can? In the meanwhile y’all can debate which one of you lovely girls will eat each other out on video tonight for this next year’s DVD mega hit, Sorority Girls Gone Wild in Vegas."
This is not the Phi Delt house and we ain’t nowhere near fucking Kansas. She should realize where she is, cheering mindlessly and incessantly like Cheri O’Teri’s Saturday Night Live cheerleader jacked up on Sea Breezes and cocaine. It’s like a narc walking into a Hell’s Angels bar and making fun of their motorcycles by pissing all over them. You’re either dumb as shit, or you’re looking to get empty whiskey bottles shoved up your orifices. Either way, Arizona’s appalling play wasn’t helping the situation. There’s over a million dollars lost that I can see in the miserable faces as I scan the room… gloomy frat boys from San Diego, pathetic compulsive gamblers from Reno, disconsolate dentists from Minnesota, cheating husbands from South Florida whose wives have no clue they lost $500 on lowly Arizona… they all stared in despair and endured the ball squeezing, triumphant echoes of the Kansas Blonde every few seconds.
The irritated guy sitting next to Derek was also pissed. He got up and left after Derek told him how much she bet on Kansas.
"$5? Five fuckin’ dollars? All this for five fucking bucks?!!"
The guy stormed away in anger. If he was going to loose $3300, he didn’t want to be in front of that blonde when Kansas won.
After we dropped over a thousand dollars in one day at the sports book in Mandalay Bay we headed to the Old Strip on Fremont Street, hoping that the change in scene would bring us better luck. We wandered into a casino I never heard of before called The Golden Gate Casino, a small shit hole, with a cheesey California theme. Derek and Senor sat at a Black Jack table where Derek started winning right away. An hour later I joined them after I quickly lost $100 on an adjacent table where I was getting cold cards and I didn’t like the unfriendly dealer.
Instantly, I got hot cards to the dismay of Derek. I sat next to him and was drawing the cards he would have got if I wasn’t there. When I doubled down (doubled my bet), I got amazing cards. Within minutes, I went on a quick run to get back all the money I lost. Derek kept sliding away slowly losing his chips, and Senor in the far corner of the table was holding his own. There were two other guys at the table, a couple of wiry and happy minor league hockey players from Saskatchewan that were drunk, gambling, hilarious mad men. They had a couple of days off and flew into Vegas to party. Before I sat down, they would pull $20 bills out of their pockets, get chips and lose it all within two hands, only to repeat the process. Upon my arrival I brought them good luck.
"Yes!! I love this guy!" the goalie shouted every time he looked at his cards and won a hand.
"Yeah Corsey! Get him to cut the cards this time," his teammate yelled.
We were playing at a table using two decks of cards and the dealer let you touch your cards. This table felt more intimate which was perfect for my tastes since I count cards. Most tables in casinos use five or six decks, but we were using two decks, and that meant the dealer had to shuffle every few minutes. The dealer picked the person who gets to cut the cards after he finished shuffling. It rotated around the table. Normally you got to cut the cards once or twice an hour. But the hockey players were insisting that the dealer allow me cut the cards every time. I wasn’t doing anything different. Somehow, the Canucks thought I was the reason for their good fortune. Hockey players are a superstitious breed of athletes.
"Hey Corsey, we gotta send him tickets, eh?"
"Of course. I love this guy!"
The hockey players had a nice run and won a lot of money that they lost before I got there. At one point they left the casino and returned five minutes later.
"We went across the street, lost $20 and said, ‘Let’s go back to the table with McGrupp! He’s good luck!’ So here we are."
They sat back down and a waitress came over.
"Cocktails? Gentlemen, cocktails anyone?"
Corsey, the goalie, called the waitress over and he looked at me.
"Yes, I want a drink. A gin and wait… I’ll have what he’s having!" he proudly exclaimed, pointing at me, with his voice booming throughout the crowded, yet small casino.
"What are you drinking sir?" she asked.
"A Becks," I said holding up the beer as if it were a trophy.
A fucking Becks. And I didn’t even want one. I don’t even like Becks. I asked for a Heineken ten minutes earlier and the waitress brought me a Beck’s because they ran out of Heinekens. But Corsey had no clue. He didn’t care. He was a drunk Canuck winning money in Vegas.
"I love this guy," he reminded my brother as the cards were dealt as he eyed his cards, another Black Jack.
Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.