The Many Faces of a Gambler

by Ed Meyer

posted on August 6, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

About now, you’re ready to go to that introspective place and see if any of this fits. That is not the case. There is no correlation between what one fan does and how others conduct themselves. I have always been of the opinion that working at the track is one of the best places in the world. The people have been the most fascinating aspect of the sport, and there is nothing to compare. Over a period of ten years, I have watched one particular player redefine the role for me. I always knew about the dark side of wagering, but little did I know it would be so close.

Paul was a waiter in an upscale restaurant. The kind of place where you told others you may have been, but could not afford the tab. He made very good money, and drove a nice car. He would drive out on a Saturday afternoon and play the races until 4:30, and then it was back home to get ready for work. I would see him rushing to the windows with his 80’s jacket over his t-shirt. His hair was fluffed back and his collar could withstand the wind as it was up high enough. He would “snap” at the televisions and you could hear him screaming, “that’s me, that’s my horse.” Paul was a man of the times and you would never see him stay past his time as work was his passion. One day he pulled his car into valet and introduced a bunch of teenage boys to his gal. “Guys, this is Becky, and she is my lucky charm.” I can still hear his words as they walked through the turnstiles and he had his arm around her waist, and a Daily Racing Form in the other.

He soon married Becky, and we would see them coming in for lunch and dressed to the nines. He was always great to the parking guys, and I would hear stories from the tellers of how much he tipped when he hit big. Times were good, and it looked like he was on easy street. Very few men can have the girl of their dreams, a job that they loved, and the money to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. This went on for my years in parking, and it seemed over time that he would come out more and more without Becky. No matter to valet guys, as he always tipped well. It was about this time I had moved in from the cold parking lot to an inside job at the track.

I was working in admissions and would reconcile the turnstile monies, and calculate the program sales. Not bad work, and I was able to play the races. I started a new position with the new ownership,  and I was in charge of handling the needs for the biggest players. In a casino this would be your pit boss type or a casino host. But racing was behind the Vegas timeline, and I was making up the rules as I went along. I started a database with player info, created parties, trips to Las Vegas, and special rebate rewards. The Wagering Gods were smiling down on me. One day I was approached by a man who looked familiar. It was Paul, but he looked much older. His weight did not fit that suit anymore, and he was in jeans and an old sweatshirt. “Hey, Eddie! How have you been? I’m glad to see you working your way up, and they couldn’t have picked a better guy.” – “Paul, good to see you my friend. Let me know if there is anything  I can do for you.” Those words would come back to haunt, as he started coming to my office more and more.

Part of my duties was overseeing the cashing of checks from big players. I never had any “bad paper” on my watch, as I knew the players and we knew how to get ahold of each other. Paul came in one day, and wanted to cash a $1,000 check. My limit was $10,000, and as long as I felt good, management was on board. The check went through, and this went on for quite awhile. One evening, Paul came in looking a little rough. He looked like he was out on an all night bender. “Ed, can I cash a little check?” – “Sure, Paul. How much?” – “$5,000 ?” – I signed off on his first, and it went right through. Then it was more and more, and he asked if he could be put on the list to cash up to $5,000 per night? I gave the nod, and all was good for quite awhile.

The track was expanding and plans were full steam ahead at this time.  I had grabbed players from other tracks, and they started bringing friends. “Birds of a feather flock together” was my line in our weekly meetings. We would discuss who was coming in, and what was I doing in terms of expanding the program. I felt very blessed as management had given me the “green light” to pretty much do as I saw fit. I worked hard to gain their trust, and never wanted to let them down. The day I was called into the main office, I was sure they were going to tell me how business was up. But this was not the case. “Eddie, do you know there is $15,000 worth of bad paper from Paul?” – I played it off and told them I would ride over to his work and we would take care of this. When I arrived, I asked for Paul.  I felt my legs go numb when they told me he had been fired two months prior for stealing. – I knew the police would be called when I returned to the track, and called his cell. I had all of the big players numbers, and they had mine. But when I called, his number had been disconnected. I had one other out, and reached  to a friend who use to come with him on occasion. When he told me the sad news, I knew this was going to end badly. – “Becky left Paul about a year ago, Ed.  She was tired of his lying, and he had taken it too far.” I asked him if he could get him to call me today as I was going to have to get the police involved. – He agreed, and said he would have him call, but not to expect anything good.

After Paul started yelling and screaming on the phone. He called me every name under the sun. “I can’t believe you would send police after me about a little money.” – I tried to explain, and asked him to meet me to work this out. – “Don’t call me, I’ll be over on Friday and I’ll get you some money.” – Paul did come over, but his $7,000 was short of what he owed. The track wanted their money, and we couldn’t take a payment plan as this would keep the police from taking him in as we agreed to a payment plan on our terms. – I went to the president and asked him to let me work on this. I had a two month plan, and we would get him off the list. – I knew he was selling his home and would have the money. The track quietly backed me, and I got him square with the debt. It was over 15 years that I did not see Paul, and I assumed he had either cleaned up or disappeared.

I was walking out of the track the other day after calling the races. I love to stop by the race book and talk with some old friends. That is one of the best parts of my day, and every once in awhile I’ll buy a beer or two for an old friend. – I got up from my seat and was on my way home when a older bald man approached me. “Hey, Ed. It’s Paul.” – He looked like a shadow of his old self and it was as awkward as anything you’ll ever feel. “Hey, Paul. How have you been?” – Paul had been in jail for 12 months, and had trouble with bad checks at a few casinos. He coughed at the end of every sentence, and had a half glass of beer in his hands. After a minute or two at the most, Paul looked at me and asked if I could spare a $10 or a $20. – He would be good for it, and see me the next day. – I thought about his car, the job, and how pretty Becky looked. I thought about the path of destruction he had taken and how he looked like a shell of his old self. “Sorry, Paul…. Tapped.”

I was walking out and could still hear him asking another player to spot him $5 for the next race. The walk to the car was quiet. I knew that for every success story of big players and party rooms. There was a guy like Paul who slid through the cracks. He had fallen through the ice with nobody to save him. As I started my car and made my drive home. It was hard to believe, and I wasn’t a newbie who knew this couldn’t happen. It took me back to a story he once told me while asking for  a check to be cashed. ” I was up, up really big. I bought a few rounds, and told myself two more races. When I started losing, I bartered with myself that I would stay until I got even. When the losing got worse and the thought of getting back on top was not going to happen. I just blew the rest of the money. Why keep it? I’m back where I started.”  – For the many good players, gamblers, and professionals who made their way to live in Vegas. There are those who get caught up in the game. You see it in casinos, tracks, and the many who are hidden playing from home. They have a flaw in their make-up and for some there is no cure. I’ll bet dollars to donuts you can spot them anywhere a bet is being made. – They look just like you and me. They sit in the next cubicle at work, have a kid on the baseball team, and look perfectly normal. Until they reach the end.