One Time I Made a Deal

Gambling News

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about not making an agreement with a player I didn’t know. (Did you notice that that blog was the first time I used an interrobang‽) That reminded me of a time I did make a deal. It wasn’t a deal where I had the advantage, but it was a deal to reduce variance.

It was at the Palms when it was still owned by the Maloofs. Perhaps 2007 or 2008, I’m not sure.

The Palms had weekly drawings back then which were very lucrative to professional players. They would give away $10,000 to $20,000 every week, and you earned entries by playing — something like one virtual ticket for every $100 coin-in. Why it was so good for professional players was that they had $5 Five Play (and $25 single line) NSU Deuces Wild. 

This is a 99.73% game, and when you added in slot club, mailers, and comps, it was slightly positive game on the top. It doesn’t take too many hours to play $200,000 or more coin-in, and this much play gave you a pretty good shot at getting one of the prizes in the drawing — probably $500+ in drawing EV for that much play. 

“Regular” players, who played far less, resented the fact the same players seemed to win every week. I was aware of these players being unhappy about these drawings and figured the casino would eventually find a way to spread out the winners of the drawings. But in the meantime, every Friday night I was at the Palms to get my share.

On this particular Friday, it was a bigger than average prize. Nine people were called. I was one of the nine.  Eight of us got $500 in free play, and the ninth received $16,000 cash or free play. This is an EV of $1,111, with some variance.

To determine who got which prize, we were called up one at a time, in the order drawn, to select envelopes on a big board. Inside eight of the envelopes was a piece of paper saying $500, and inside one was a paper saying $16,000. I looked carefully at the envelopes and they all looked the same. So far as I was concerned, this part of the drawing was pure luck.

As it happened, I was the eighth person to draw. I wasn’t even called in the first nine people. But two of the “winners” didn’t show up in the 90 seconds allowed so they redrew. I’ve made it into several drawings through the years on redraws.

The odds were very strong that by the time I got to draw, it would be moot. The $16,000 envelope would be gone, and I’d get the default $500. The seventh person to draw was “Grace,” a young woman you’ll hear more about shortly. The last person to draw was a man I had never seen before. I wasn’t going to make a deal with him. I had no idea if I could trust him.

As it happened, the first six people (I knew three of them) all drew $500. It was now down to Grace, me, and the other guy. I had never spoken to Grace, but I knew who she was. She was probably in her 30s (I was 60 in 2007), and she was the daughter of a video poker pro I had known for more than ten years. I had seen Grace at maybe 20-40 other drawings at the Palms and elsewhere, and she had picked up money in some of them. I had seen her frequently playing the same sort of machines as I played. I considered her “in the profession.”

“Grace, do you know who I am?” 

She nods.

“Do you want to do a save?”

“Maybe,” she replies. “What do you have in mind?”

“If I win the $16,000, I cover the taxes on it and I pay you $5,000 cash. If you win the $16,000, I get $5,000 and you pay the taxes. If the other guy gets it, no harm no foul.”

“Sounds fair,” she responded. This wasn’t good enough. Just because she says it sounds fair doesn’t mean she agrees to it.

There were several witnesses to the exchange. I turned to a lady we both knew and trusted and said, “Did you hear that? Was it clear and left no room for misinterpretation?”

The woman replied it sounded clear and fair to her. I told Grace that we had a deal, and Grace nodded. 

This was good enough. Grace had accepted the deal in front of witnesses. Some players shake hands to “seal the deal.” That has no legal bearing. I only do that if the other person sticks out a hand. In this case, no hands were shaken.

So, we had a deal. Grace turns around and selects an envelope. She drew $500, turns around to me and shrugs her shoulders somewhat apologetically.

It’s now my turn. Several people in the crowd are advising me to pick the one on the right. Probably as many are advising me to pick the one on the left. Whichever one I pick, there would be a lot of people coming up afterwards with, “I told you so!”

I picked the one on the right. It was for $500. Damn! At this point, I was clinging to the faint chance that the last one was for $500 too. I was hoping the Palms screwed up somehow and they would have to do it all over again. But my hoping was for naught. The last guy stood there in shock as the $16,000 fell to him. Oh well. I told him congratulations, went over to Grace, and said, “Maybe some other time,” and went to the cage to sign for my $500 free play.

So, the deal Grace and I made came to be for a situation that didn’t come to pass. Often that happens. You need to have the deal in place beforehand in case some particular circumstance happens. After you know the results of the drawing is too late to make a deal.

I’ve done versions of this “save” numerous times over the years with gamblers I knew and trusted. The key parts are:

  1. Trust between the parties.
  2. Clear handling of all possibilities.
  3. Clear agreement on who bears the tax liability. 

This last point was in the news not long before this drawing took place. Jamie Gold won $12,000,000 in the 2006 World Series of Poker event, and there was somebody who put up some percentage (perhaps 50%, I don’t remember) of Jamie’s $10,000 entry fee for a share of the profits. Now that the result was in, Jamie insisted the split should be “after taxes” and the other guy wanted his money “before taxes.” Eventually it got settled, but it got played out in public and it hurt Jamie’s reputation.

I especially didn’t want a misunderstanding like this because I was a “rich and famous” gambler who wrote a book about winning a million dollars, and the person I was making the deal with is almost always somebody that most people outside of the video poker gambler community have never heard about. If it became some sort of news, the sentiment would usually be against me. No thanks!


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