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Monday, July 31, 2006
How to spot Casino Trash

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Editor's note: This article originally ran on November 19, 2001.

When you spend six consecutive days in Vegas gambling at various blackjack, craps and poker tables, people start getting on your nerves. Believe me. Without further ado, here's one man's list of the most annoying people in a casino:

20. The condescending guy who can't believe you outwitted him in poker
Whenever I sit down at a poker table, the lifers see dollar signs and a neon "Fresh Fish" sign pulsating from my forehead. Maybe it's because of the "Here comes the college boy who does well in his games with his buddies at the country club and suddenly thinks he can step in with the big boys" vibe that I'm sending them (and it's intentional).

So when I start holding my own and even winning a few hands, there's always one guy who can't accept it and starts making excuses like, "Can I have his seat when he leaves?" or "Wasn't that your third flush in a row?" Just insulting. Apparently, you can't succeed at poker unless you're chain-smoking, missing teeth and wearing clothes that don't match.

19. The guy playing poker and eating dinner at the same time
They should put this trait in that "Signs You May Have a Gambling Problem" booklet, along with "Do you suffer from sleeplessness and depression?" "Do you borrow or steal to gamble?" "Do you lie about the amount of time you gamble?" and "Did you play sports at Boston College?" I mean, do you really need to gamble that badly that you can't break for 15 minutes to eat a sandwich?

(And then there's the whole health issue: I don't even like sharing oxygen with some of the people who play poker in this country, much less touching cards and chips that they touched when they were eating. Yuk.)

18. The over-excited guy in the sports book who's cheering and applauding every play in a basketball game even though it's only the first quarter
COME ON, LAKERS! YEAHHHHHHH!!!!! LET'S GO!!!! COME ON!!!!!! Hit this, Kobe... YEAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YEAHHHHH, BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Announcer: "And the Lakers take an 8-5 lead...")

17. The guy who tries to pretend he's important
You find these people in Vegas during major events (fights or concerts), usually agents, lawyers, PR people, promoters and so on, none of whom are even one-tenth as important as they want you to believe.

For instance, this weekend at Mandalay Bay, I was playing poker with someone who was wearing am ostentatious "All-Access" pass around his neck for the Rahman-Lewis fight that said "Promoter" on it. Since he was bilingual (Spanish and English) and kept leaving the table to take cell phone calls (arggggh!) and making a general spectacle of himself, some of the morons at our table decided that he was important and started treating him deferentially. Eventually, we found out that he promoted one of the fighters on the Rahman-Lewis undercard.

  Poker players are like coyotes. You know those Discovery Channel shows where the coyotes gang up on the wounded buffalo and eventually bring him down? That's what poker is like, especially in a place like Vegas, where 99 percent of the players know what they're doing. They sit there all day waiting for buffalos to sit down, so they can rip them to shreds and steal their money.  
  

Unfortunately for him, I recognized the name of his fighter -- it was one of the people fighting on the under-undercard, one of the "dark fights" that happen before the pay-per-view telecast even starts (when there are 100 people in the stands and 98 of them are related to one of the two fighters). Let's just say that you won't see this guy and Don King sharing a limo any time soon.

(The lesson, as always: Never believe anyone when you're in Vegas.)

16. The guy who undergoes a personality change as soon as a cute girl sits down at the table
This usually goes down one of three ways:

A. In a desperate attempt to impress our young maiden, this guy basically starts performing a "Night at the Apollo" nightclub routine, bombing miserably in the process. I just flew into Vegas and -- my God -- my arms are tired. Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week!

B. He starts working it so hard that it's painful to watch, pumping her with questions, over-laughing at her jokes, getting a little too excited when she wins ... you don't know whether to give him a hug or try to stab him to death with the jack of hearts.

C. He clams up, starts gambling tentatively and even gets the "Nick Anderson after blowing Game One of the '95 Finals" Face going (the deer-in-the-headlights look crossed with the nervous smile).

15. The guy who asks for a new deck of cards in poker because he keeps losing
Yup ... it's the cards' fault.

14. The guy who tries to ingratiate himself with you and your buddies
This happens to me and the Sports Guy Posse every year. Whenever we play blackjack together, we're always cracking jokes and making fun of each other ... within a few hours, three or four running jokes emerge that take precedent for the rest of our trip.

Honorable mention, part 1
  • The guy who keeps throwing the dice off the table in craps.

  • The over-aggressive guy at the poker table who bids up every pot and then folds by sixth street.

  • The guy who places chips on practically every roulette number.

  • The guy who plays two blackjack hands at once even when it's Friday night and people are walking around looking for an open table

  • The guy who leaves his cell phone on at the poker table.

  • The guy who only bets in craps when it's his turn to throw the dice.
  • For instance, this year we started comparing blackjack dealers to baseball pitchers. Have you ever noticed how the pit boss will always send over his most unfriendly, non-American dealer whenever the entire table is winning? It's uncanny. Anyway, within a few hours on Friday, we started calling this dealer the "closer"; by Sunday, it had evolved to the point that we would win a few hands in a row and start making jokes of the "Uh-oh, the pit boss just started warming up Mariano Rivera in the Asian Gaming Room" variety.

    Anyway, whenever this happens, there's always some sad sack at the table who starts giving off those "I wish I was friends with you guys" vibes and starts trying to make those same jokes. Just go away. Please.

    13. The guy who's just a wuss
    Four signs you might be a wuss:
  • You fold every poker hand before the first bet (unless you have either a pair or three cards in the same suit).

  • You don't back your "Come" bet in craps after you establish your point unless it's a "6" or an "8."

  • You won't double down on "11" in blackjack unless the dealer is showing a "6" or lower ... and even then, you're not too sure about the whole thing.

  • (And this is the biggie) You take the dealer's offer of "Even Money" for blackjack if the dealer has an "ace" showing and hasn't checked his hand for blackjack. That's like signing a confession in front of everyone else at the table that tells them, "I'm hung like a field mouse."

    12. The stubborn guy who refuses to admit that it's not his day
    In blackjack, he's moaning and whining and saying stuff like, "Well, I guess I have to double down, but every time I've gotten a crappy card" and "That's the 11th time she's dealt herself twenty-one in the last hour!" And yet he keeps sitting there, giving away his chips and bringing everyone else down with his negative karma.

    (Just for the record, it takes me roughly 4.32 minutes to spot this guy, recognize his routine and immediately move to another table.)

    Poker works a little differently: You hope this guy stays at your table as long as possible. Poker players are like coyotes. You know those Discovery Channel shows where the coyotes gang up on the wounded buffalo and eventually bring him down? That's what poker is like, especially in a place like Vegas, where 99 percent of the players know what they're doing. They sit there all day waiting for buffalos to sit down, so they can rip them to shreds and steal their money.

    (Very pleasant game. Fun for the whole family.)

    11. The buddy who keeps track of how much he's up/down at the blackjack table and keeps giving you a running update
    My buddy Mikey used to suffer from this problem until we enrolled him in Annoying Gamblers Anonymous ... now he can play for extended stretches (sometimes 20 or 25 minutes at a time) without saying something like, "Dude, after that blackjack, I'm up $78 tonight," or "If I hit this double down, I'm only down three hunnies for the trip."

    10. The drunk guy trying to play blackjack
    He's taking 15-20 seconds to make every decision, he's looking at his cards like they're written in hieroglyphics, he has knocked over three drinks and he's honing in on No. 4, he's staring at the dealer with "I might stalk you after you get off this shift" vigor, he has a giant soda stain on his pants, he's betting $10 a hand, he has lost roughly $900,000 over the past two hours, he almost lit himself on fire trying to light a Marlboro Light ... and now he just tried to split "5"'s against a "7." Hey, it's the drunk guy!

    Two mitigating factors here:

    A. There are those rare occasions when the drunken guy doubles as the "Drunken/ Belligerent/Sarcastic Guy" and actually brings something to the table (like my buddy Hopper, who has been playing this role for years, to rave reviews). Doesn't happen often, but when it happens, it's a beautiful thing. Nothing brings out belligerent, drunken sarcasm quite like blackjack.

    B. Whenever somebody makes dumb decisions at a blackjack table and keeps screwing up the cards, the table invariably ends up getting killed. And yet sometimes this doesn't apply to the Drunk Guy. His actions usually don't affect anyone else ... unless he's throwing up on them.

    (By the way, it goes without saying that one of the cable networks needs to create some sort of "Altered Olympics"-type show -- drunk people competing against stoned people in everyday tasks like "Playing Blackjack," "Grocery Shopping," "Pumping Gas," "Ordering McDonald's in a Drive-Thru Line," "Making French Bread Pizza," "Trying to Figure Out the Tip on a Dinner Check" and "Renting a Video at Blockbuster." Can somebody get HBO on the phone, please?)

    9. The guy who gets angry after you crap out
    Like you did it intentionally. I never understand this one.

    (Note: On Thursday night, I crapped out at Treasure Island and noticed a guy across the table who was swearing and glaring at me. Since I thought he was going to climb onto the table like Macho Man Savage and give me a flying elbow smash, I told him, "Sorry 'bout that!" He still looked pissed though. The casino is a strange place, I'm tellin' ya.)

    8. The whipped guy playing blackjack and trying to attend to his pissed-off girlfriend at the same time
    She's standing behind him, arms crossed, looking like somebody just gave her a Brazilian bikini wax and clearly infuriated that her boyfriend either A) dragged her to a casino, B) lied when he said they were leaving at 9 o'clock, or C) is losing money at when he could be spending it on her.

    Meanwhile, the boyfriend has the full-fledged Troy Aikman Face going: losing money hand over fist, trying to provide her with shoulder rubs between every hand and looking so tight that you keep waiting for one of his eyeballs to fly out of his head.

    (The lesson here, as always: Women ruin everything.)

      I believe all blackjack players should be required to pass competency tests and obtain actual licenses. Shouldn't we treat gambling the same way we treat driver's licenses, pilot's licenses, the license to operate heavy machinery and everything else, given how much money is at stake? Doesn't this make sense or am I crazy? 
      

    7. The envious lady who can't stand the fact that you keep getting blackjack
    And she lets you know about it, with a variety of comments along "Jeez! Again?" and "Save some for the rest of us!" lines. Absolute karma-killer.

    (I've said it before, I'll say it again: You can only win at a blackjack table when people are cracking jokes, pulling for one another and giving off a generally pleasant vibe. Blackjack tables are like baseball clubhouses -- it only takes one bad apple to turn the place upside down. It's the Carl Everett Corollary. I feel very strongly about this.)

    6. The guy who keeps betting the "Don't Come" sign in craps against everyone else
    If blackjack tables are like baseball clubhouses, craps tables are like football clubhouses -- you're always better off when everyone is getting along, but there are times when the offense and defense can co-exist, even if they don't like one another.

    And that's what happens in craps. Some people enjoy betting the "Don't Come" line against the shooter; in other words, they're betting that the shooter (the person rolling the dice) will crap out (throw a "7") before hitting their point (when you roll the same number twice before rolling that dreaded "7"). Translation: Some people at a craps table are rooting for the shooter to fail. Not good for team chemistry.

    But since it's an established practice, nobody takes it too personally ... unless the person betting the "Don't Come" line is doing so with particular relish or panache. For instance, last Thursday night, my buddy Geoff and I were playing craps at Treasure Island and bombing worse than Sly Stallone in "Rhinestone." After a few disastrous excursions, we noticed that the person standing across the table had been wagering against us ($100 a shoot) and celebrating our failures with smiles and fist pumps (a la Eckersley in the late-'80s).

    Now ...

    First of all, you don't do that. Ever. Second of all, you don't do that to Geoff and me, two of the most spiteful, competitive people currently living on this planet. So we devoted the rest of our night to running this jerk off the table.

    We kicked off by tossing him a curveball -- when we were throwing the dice, we bet the "Don't Come" line against ourselves as well, meaning we were betting with the Jerk. That seemed to throw him off. When we crapped out, won our bets and high-fived, he seemed a little confused. Then when he started throwing the dice, we loaded up on the "Don't Come" line against him and did everything short of performing the "Super Bowl Shuffle" when he crapped out.

    Honorable mention, part 2
  • The guy who feels the need to give you a blackjack lesson during the game.

  • The guy who interrupts the middle of a blackjack shoe by sitting down at the table, then takes five minutes to find his wallet and decide how much money he's betting.

  • The ladies playing blackjack together who don't speak English and may or may not be bitching about you.

  • The guy who thinks he's bluffing you in poker and ends up being a worse actor than Billy from "Melrose Place."

  • The drunken, belligerent guy who can't stop winning.

  • The guy making 35 different small bets at a sports book five minutes before deadline, even though there's a line of people behind him and the 1 o'clock NFL games are about to kick off.

  • The loquacious guy who won't leave you alone during a poker game.
  • Now we were in his head. He seemed rattled. Geoff grabbed the dice and proceeded to pull a Pedro -- painting the corners, nailing his points and basically putting on a show -- and the Jerk was going down in flames. Best of all, we were celebrating every winner with extended theatrics, chest bumps, shouting, the whole shebang. We cleaned this guy out in 15 minutes. No lie. My second-greatest gambling highlight of the entire week.

    (As for Gambling Highlight No, 1, we're saving that story for the right time. It's a good one.)

    5. The guy who doesn't care that his cigarette is blowing right in your face
    The level of rudeness in this country never ceases to amaze me. Imagine if you were sitting next to somebody at a poker table and decided to fart right in their face for five straight minutes. And it was so much fun that, 30 minutes later, you decided to do it again. And there was nothing that person could do about it -- because they weren't sitting at a "No Farting" table.

    Well ... what's the difference between that and blowing cigarette smoke in everyone's face? Does second-hand flatuence give people cancer? Of course not. And yet, if you farted in someone's face at a poker table, you would get booted out of the casino. Go figure.

    4. The hostile guy who blames the dealer for bad cards
    Yup ... it's the dealer's fault.

    3. The buddy who keeps pulling a "Mush" on you
    First, the definition of "Mush": Remember the guy from the "Bronx Tale" who had such bad luck that Sonny (the mob boss) locked him in the bathroom so he wouldn't jinx the little kid (Calogero) when they were playing craps? That guy's name was Mush. Need I say more?

    Your buddies can "Mush" you on a blackjack table in one of two ways:

    A. You're going on a mini-run, piling up chips, building little rows with them, having a grand old time, and all of your buddies are too preoccupied to notice -- until one of them looks over and says something like, "Hey, look at (insert your name here) piling up those chips over there! You're doing well, huh?" Boom. You've been "Mush"-ed. They might as well throw a black cat on the table.

    B. This usually happens after everybody in your group splits up. You drift over to another table and start winning big -- a streak of good fortune -- until that dreadful moment when you feel somebody's hand slapping your back and saying, "Hey, there you are, we were looking for you! Whoa! Look at you! You're doing awesome, huh?"

    And suddenly your buddies are standing behind you, watching every hand, commenting on every decision ... and this happens right around the same time that the pit boss just summoned Mariano Rivera from the bullpen. And you're as good as done.

    Never, ever, ever underestimate the power of the "Mush."

    2. The fidgety guy who can't stop playing with his chips
    Maybe my No. 1 all-time pet peeve -- the guy who incessantly jingles his chips. Drives me insane. I'm not kidding. This drives me in-sane. I can't even discuss this rationally. Let's just move on before I pull a Tyler Durden and start hitting myself.

    1. The moron who doesn't know how to play blackjack and inadvertently takes your card
    The most frustrating experience you can have as a gambler. We've all been there. The dealer has a "6" showing, you're sitting at third base with an "11," Forrest Gump is sitting to your right on "13" ... and he takes a hit. Or maybe Forrest decides to split "10"s against an "Ace." Or maybe he feels the pressing urge to test out a radical "I'm splitting '2's against a '10' " theory.

    However it goes down, these decisions always end up leaving a massive amount of carnage. For instance, last month at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, I was playing blackjack with some fool who wanted a hit on "17" because the dealer had a "10" showing. I wish I were making this up. The dealer was so perplexed that she called over the pit boss; apparently, some sort of "Emergency Moron Rule" is in place for any moment when a blackjack player does something so incredibly idiotic that it defies description.

    So the pit boss came over, examined the table and happily OK'ed the hit. Of course, by some bizarre twist of fate, I had chosen that same hand to raise my standard bet from $15 to $25 ... and I was sitting there with an "11" and trying to stare this guy down like Damien in "The Omen." Didn't work. He took the hit (a "king" -- I can still see it). I ended up getting a "6" for the "I'm in the game but not really" "17." The dealer ended up with a "20." And I immediately bolted for another table.

    You see, these are the things you deal with when you're gambling, which is why I believe all blackjack players should be required to pass competency tests and obtain actual licenses. Shouldn't we treat gambling the same way we treat driver's licenses, pilot's licenses, the license to operate heavy machinery and everything else, given how much money is at stake? Doesn't this make sense or am I crazy?

    Actually, I know I'm crazy. Spending a week in the City of Sin has driven me insane. it's time to come home.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.