I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Steve Fezzik

Football season is here so time to talk once again with expert handicapper Steve Fezzik.
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Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview with T Dane author of Behind The Black Dome

T Dane is the author of Behind The Black Dome: An Advantage Player’s Guide to Casino Surveillance. The book is new, and can be purchased at T Dane has been working in the casino industry for a dozen years. For ten of those years he has been in casino surveillance.  He has worked as a surveillance operator, lead, and supervisor in joints big and small, and everything in between. Because he has also been an advantage player himself, he has special insight into the concerns of card counters, and other advantage gamblers.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Richard Munchkin

Guest this week is Richard Munchkin.  We discuss theft by team mates and other blackjack concerns.
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Friday, August 17, 2012

I Get Paid For This - book review.

I just finished, I Get Paid for This: Kicking Ass and Taking Notes in Vegas, by Rick Lax. Okay, it isn't a gambling book, but it is about Vegas. Rick Lax works at The Las Vegas Weekly, and most of the material in the book appeared as articles in that paper. Rick does what he calls "stunt journalism." When George Plimpton joined training camp with the Detroit Lions football team, or when Hunter Thompson rode with the Hells Angels, that was stunt journalism. This? Not so much.

When I started the book Lax talked about being known for his piece about Town Square. Town Square is a shopping area in Vegas that sounds sort of like Stepford Land. Everything there is perfect, and the grass is always greener (because it's Astro Turf). People would stop Lax sometimes and say things like, "You're the guy who lived in the bathroom." His stunt journalism idea was that Town Square was so perfect he would move into a bathroom and live there. Good idea for a story right? Well he lasted all of about 10 minutes in the bathroom before being escorted out by security. You want living in a bathroom try reading, The Man With the $100,000 Breasts And Other Gambling Stories. Brian Zembic actually lived in a bathroom for a month to win a bet. And the guy who bet him was sending large men with gastric problems into the bathroom to try to stink him out.

Some of his other stunts include wearing a suit that makes him look like he is a huge body builder, getting elevator shoes, and stealing one of those pads in the urinals at Wynn to see if they actually prevented urine from bouncing back at you. They were all mildly entertaining, but very little substance. Urine pads are just for jokes, but I think he definitely could have gotten more depth out of how people treated him differently when he was 3 inches taller, or when people thought he was a huge body builder. By the way, this body builder suit looks really good under clothes, and professional Advantage Players may want to consider it.  A couple people have tried fat suits, so why not this?

One article that caught my eye was Casino Executive for a Day in which Lax got to follow around Felix Rappaport, president of The Mirage. Periodically Rappaport has a meeting with people representing all the different departments to listen to concerns, complaints, ideas etc. This is a great idea, and business school 101, but often executives don't take the time or don't listen. In the meeting Lax brings up the fact that he plays poker at The Mirage.  If he plays table games someone is always asking for a players card, and if the player doesn't have one they offer to get him one.  When he plays poker they ask for a card, and when he doesn't have one they tell him he should go get one. He points out that the last thing a poker player wants after waiting to get a seat is to leave the table, and go hunt down some player's club booth. Someone in the poker room should do this for him. I thought this was a really good point.  It has probably been a year since this meeting took place, and I would love to know if this policy has been implemented at the Mirage.  Any poker players out there? Also, to employees at The Mirage - Did the espresso machine in the employee dining room ever get fixed?

I don't want to offend Rick Lax, but there is one piece in this book that is actually a kick-ass piece of investigative journalism. A guy named Scott Ashjian ran for senate in 2010 as the candidate for The Tea Party of Nevada.  I found the article online so you can read it here - article. But what is truly amazing about this is that in Nevada you can make up a name of a party, and get on the ballot for senate, and all it requires is 250 signatures. Man, I may have a future in politics with the Mom, Apple Pie, and the Flag party. And for those of you with a larcenous bent, did you notice that no one knows anything about where his campaign contributions went?

I hope I haven't given you the impression that I didn't like this book. It is perfect bathroom material, each article the perfect length for taking a healthy dump. The stories are light, and airy, and many read like Facebook posts, which I think some of them were. There is one really annoying feature in this book.*

It is riddled with footnotes in a tiny font, for no reason.*

And sometimes there are footnotes within footnotes. Do you see any reason why all of this couldn't have just been part of the preceding paragraph?

If I lived in Vegas, and had access to the Las Vegas Weekly I would turn to Lax's articles first. He's a bit of a smart ass, and writes about the quirky side of Vegas. (Is there a non-quirky side of Vegas?)  See Rick, parenthesis, not footnotes. I give the book... 3 aces.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Buddy Frank

The guest this week is Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations at Pechanga Casino in Temecula California.
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Friday, August 10, 2012

Hack Writing

Arnold Snyder is one of blackjack's best known, and most prolific writers.  He has a new blog called Write-aholic, which is not about gambling, but is about writing and book reviews.  I read a post today on his early days of hack writing.  You can read it here - Hack Writing. This brought back many memories of my own hack writing, although my writing was not in the trenches of porn; it was the low budget world of action, and martial arts movies.

My friend Joe owned a low-budget film company called PM Entertainment. I went to his office one day, we sit, he says,



"Kickboxing.  It's very hot right now.  Have you seen Kickboxer with Jean-Claude Van Damme?"

"Uhm, no havn't seen that yet."

"I want you to do a movie for us. Kickboxing. We start shooting in February."

Wow, this was December so there were only 2 months to prepare. "I'd really like to do it, but that isn't a lot of time. Can I read the script?"

"Right, you have two months.  You better start writing."

Two months is not a lot of time to write a script, let alone, write it, cast it, and do everything necessary for preproduction. I called my brother Jake in Chicago, and told him I would be home in a week. He should rent every kickboxing movie he could find, and we had two weeks to write a script. I said, "With only two weeks we need a story that works. We'll steal from the best. Romeo and Juliet... with kickboxing!"

In writing porn, Arnold talks about the "flip strength." The flip strength means that a buyer has to pick up the book and flip to any page and find sex. Film producer Joel Silver had the equivalent for action films. "You have to have a whammo every 10 minutes. An explosion, a car chase, a fight scene, to keep the audience interested." At PM Entertainment we thought 10 minutes was far too long to wait. More fighting, less talk.

Some day I'll write much more about Ring of Fire, but we did write it in two weeks, shoot it in February, and screen it in June of that year. My favorite review was from a smart-ass critic who wrote, "What foot through yonder window breaks."

What happens next in the film world is the owners take their films to market. Film markets are just like fish markets. You tell the buyers how fresh yours is, they say they want a bigger fish or a different kind, you tell them why yours is better, and eventually you haggle out a price. Joe and George (the head of marketing) went to the big market in Milan, Italy where the buyers are there to buy the rights to films for their country.   These buyers offer helpful advice for your future films.

The French: More sex, less violence.
The Japanese: More violence, less sex.
The Korean buyer: Dreams are very important to my people. Especially the dream of Dragons.
The Scandinavian buyer: Many people die from bullets. Maybe you could kill someone with a harpoon, or bicycle pump.

Joe and George come back from the market, and now we have a meeting that is like entering the Twilight zone.

JOE: We have to rewrite the script.  It needs more sex and less violence.
GEORGE: Yes, and much more action, but not too much sex.
JOE: We're going to do it in Las Vegas and have a big stunt in the beginning like LETHAL WEAPON.
GEORGE: Yes, yes, and maybe our star could kill somebody by taping his mouth to his exhaust pipe and the guy fills with gas and his body explodes.
JOE: Right, but the fumes from the gas make him have a dream about a dragon.

Like porn - no jokes allowed. What is funny to us is not funny in Korea or Germany. It's only the meetings that are funny. But when you watch a low budget movie in the future, and you say to yourself, "Why does that cab driver have a scuba tank and spear gun in his taxi?" You can bet that some bad guy is getting shot through the eye with the spear gun, and someone's cab will explode when that scuba tank gets hit.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Anne Fried-Lefton

The guest this week is  Anne Fried-Lefton, a tax accountant who has made herself knowledgeable about the tax situations of gamblers.
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Risk Intelligence

For those of you not familiar with TED, it is a group dedicated to "Ideas Worth Spreading." They hold various events where people give a 15 minute lecture about... well almost anything. Here is a TED Talk about risk intelligence given by Dylan Evans. Dylan is the author of Risk Intelligence, and his thesis is that professional gamblers do not think the same way that other people do. My wife could have told you that.

When I talk to civilians about professional gambling, they often equate gambling to alcoholism. Dylan says that in psychology most psychologists study gambling as a disease, and they use the same alcoholism analogy, but leave no room for the person who studies and appreciates fine wine. I believe my analogy is better.  I tell civilians that I am not like an alcoholic, I am like a guy who owns a brewery.  Every bottle that goes down that conveyor belt is dollars and cents of profit to me. Yes, bottles may fall and get broken, I could have a truck hijacked and lose the load, but the more bottles that run down that conveyor belt, the more money I eventually make.

If you would like to test your own risk intelligence, you can take the test here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Blackjack Life book review

I am always eager to read new gambling books, especially books about blackjack, so I was happy to see the new release The Blackjack Life by Nathaniel Tilton. The book chronicles the blackjack life of Nathaniel who is the epitome of the modern card counter.  These are the players that got hooked on blackjack from reading Ben Mezrich's book, Bringing Down the House , or seeing 21, the movie taken from Mezrich's book.   Nathaniel gets hooked on Mezrich's tale of the MIT blackjack team, and the follow-up book, Busting Vegas . He decided to pony up $500 for a blackjack class led by Semyon Dukach. Semyon is the Ken Uston of the last decade, meaning that he aspires to be the world's most famous blackjack player. At the class  Nathaniel meets D,A. his future partner. The class sinks the hook deeper, and  Nathaniel and D.A. begin their training. They meet frequently to slog their way through learning basic strategy, then to count, how to adjust for the true count, bet sizing, and on and on all with a serious commitment to excellence.

I have met two kinds of card counters over my career.  I will call them Alan and Peter. When I first moved to Vegas I met Alan, a counter from Australia, who also happened to play backgammon.  At the time Alan had a medium sized blackjack team, and I, and two of my backgammon friends were playing on our own for nickles. After about a week of daily backgammon parties in a suite at the DI where we ate lots of comped room service Alan offered to bankroll the 3 of us to play blackjack for higher stakes.  But first we had to pass a test. A few days later we met for the test, and the only one who did not pass it was Alan. Alan's feeling was - as long as you bet more money with an advantage, that was all that was important. Years later friends would joke that when a Quantas jet would land from Australia people would line up outside the plane yelling, "1 and 1 is 2," and Alan would step out and yell, "You're hired!"

Peter was the opposite of Alan.  At this time Peter also had a medium sized team, and both teams would often get together to party. At one of these parties Peter was having a heated argument with one of his players, Malcolm.  Peter had been watching Malcolm play at Caesars.  They were betting a $250 unit, and Malcolm had bet $425 with a running count of 6 with 2 1/4 decks left, and Peter was arguing that he should have bet $400. Their bankroll was over $100,000, and they were arguing over a $25 difference in a wager!

I would say that  Nathaniel, and D.A. definitely would fall into the "Peter" school of thought. There is nothing wrong with this, it is just a difference in personality type.  The really important thing is that you know which of these types you are. Do not team up with the opposite type.  You will drive each other nuts. An example of this would be when Peter teamed up with Ken Uston in Atlantic City.  You can read more about Alan and Peter in Gambling Wizards.

Nathaniel and D.A. appear to be a perfect fit.  They put in long hours, and a lot of effort, and became really good card counters. They used a combined set of techniques, wonging, big player call in, gorilla BP, and started winning money.  Anyone who has counted in a serious way will recognize many of the pitfalls and mistakes they run into:

  • team mates that are not as competent
  • team mates that are obnoxious and may have stolen from them
  • They get barred when  Nathaniel sees what he is sure is heat, but doesn't pull the play because he doesn't want to seem paranoid, and doesn't want his partner to think he is a wimp.
  • Dating a pit boss and having that awkward situation of lying about what you do. (Or dating a dealer who calls you Bob when your name is Richard, and keeps asking you about that import business you told a boss you own. Really honey, it was years before I met you.)
They persevere, and are successful, but eventually it all take a toll. They find that making money counting cards is an incredible grind, and eventually decide to give it up.  And just like Michael Corleone, "Just when I thought I was out..."  It is really hard to stay away. Trust me. My first retirement from blackjack was in 1983.

This is a really good book for someone learning to count cards.  It doesn't teach you how to count, but it will teach you exactly what to expect from the counting life.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Richard Munchkin

This week the guys discuss game shows. The Monty Hall problem, Deal or No Deal, and Jeopardy.
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