Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty made a movie several decades ago that didn't make much impact at the box office, but it remains one of my favorite gambling movies of all time. The title did not accurately reflect the plot -- Liz plays a showgirl in Las Vegas who falls in love with Beatty, a musician who is addicted to dice. But their portrayals give an accurate picture of the emotions that control winners and losers in the gaming mecca of the world which, of course, is Las Vegas.
I lived in Las Vegas for a couple of years and got a good look at what makes the 'City that Never Sleeps' tick. There are no clocks in a casino. The management doesn't want you to know the time. If you happened to spot a wall clock, you might think, 'Darn, I have a dinner date' or 'I have to make that appointment.' You would pick up your chips, cash in, head out the door and the casino would have lost a paying customer.
Whether you play slot machines, shoot dice as Beatty did in the movie with Taylor, play baccarat like Frank Sinatra, try your luck at roulette or blackjack, or play poker, you are always on the lookout for the best game and the best casino to increase your available cash.
If you feel a casino is bad for your bankroll or the vibrations aren't right, no problem. You just head for another casino across the street. You have your choice of where you want to take your action, and Las Vegas gives you more options than any other city or geographic area in the world.
Psychologically, the atmosphere in a casino does have an effect on your bank account. At least for me it does. When I play poker at Sam's Town on Boulder Highway, I get countrified. The country music by a live band helps, as do the comely cocktail waitresses in their short dresses, ever present smiles and the wild abandon that always prevails at Sam's Town.
The slot machines at Sam's Town have always treated me well. The only jackpot I ever won on a poker machine happened at that casino. I hit a royal flush on a quarter machine one night after going partners with a photographer friend and his mother. Unfortunately, I had only put two coins into the machine. Instead of sharing $1,000, we cut $187.50 three ways. The looks they gave me for not making the maximum bet stayed with me for weeks afterward.
There was a small casino, the Silver Slipper, on Las Vegas Boulevard that always seemed to treat me well when I played blackjack. The dealers were friendly and they seemed to want you to win. In those days, they dealt from one or two decks, not the six or eight-deck shoes that most casinos utilize today to frustrate card counters.
Yes, I was a card counter. I had devoured Ed Thorpe's best-selling book, 'Beat The Dealer,' which gives 21 or blackjack players the best advice ever compiled on how to win at blackjack. All the other systems books created by authors were based on Thorpe's research. 'Beat The Dealer' works because the book is genuine, and you can still get a small edge on the House if you use Dr. Thorpe's principles relating to 10's, aces, card-counting, splits and doubling down.
When I worked for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the early 1970s, I played in card rooms in Commerce, Gardena and northern California. There the games seemed a bit more vicious than Las Vegas, which is really a friendly town. The cutthroat poker games at clubs like the Normandie, the Commerce or the Bicycle Club could destroy your bankroll faster than an armed robber. All the California card rooms were 24-hour operations and they had a bar in close proximity so you could lessen the pain of losing by plying yourself with alcohol, a tactic that made the card room management smile. In those days I was a drinker, and willingly accepted the oblivion that enough alcohol can give a losing gambler.
A gambler friend once told me about a card room he had frequented somewhere in Oklahoma. or Texas. It was an illegal operation that offered slots, poker, dice and a couple of other games. He told me the club employed cheating dealers and attractive female hostesses that were always available at the bar to soothe a player who had just lost his cash and needed to write a check or hit the ATM.
'It was a bust-out joint, pure and simple,' he said bitterly. 'They used everything including a velvet blackjack to relieve you of your cash.'
Mildly, I said, 'Then why did you play there?'
He shrugged. 'It was the only game in town.'