EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an article I wrote while being a part of the ASNE Reynolds High School Journalism Institute. The original can be found at SilverBulletin.org.
RENO – As bells rang and lights flashed in the Silver Legacy Casino, one man sat in the dimly lit Sports Book, which is where gamblers can place bets on sporting events, and seemed to not even notice.
Wearing blue jeans, a long-sleeved denim shirt and a white cowboy hat, the man sat smoking as he watch the television screens above him as Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game played out July 13.
He’s 63 years old and lives in Reno, but he wouldn’t say his name. In fact, as far as he’s concerned, he wasn’t even sitting in the chair he occupied. He wasn’t there, and he never was.
“This is what I do,” he said slowly, causing the gold cross dangling from the matching chain around his neck to bounce slightly. “I’m a gambler. I don’t usually tell people.”
He wouldn’t say how much he had riding on the All-Star Game, but he said he picked the American League team to win.
It wasn’t his night. The National League team won, 3-1. It was the first time the NL had taken the mid-summer classic since 1996.
He put his money down in the Silver Legacy, though, because he didn’t have any other options. He said it was the “only game in town” for the night even though most casinos have a Sports Book.
The man said he used to be a professional golfer, but he has been a gambler for 20 years now. He said the years have been good to him financially since he figured he wins more than 66 percent of the time.
“There are very few successful gamblers,” he said taking a drag on his cigarette. “You got to know what not to do.”
He said there are probably only 100 successful gamblers in the country, and the majority of them are in Las Vegas, making him one of the very few in Reno. No one knows that, though. He doesn’t advertise his business.
“Casinos don’t like you if you win,” he said. “There’s only three games you win at – counting cards, poker and ballgames.”
He claimed the card counting didn’t work well, though, because all the dealers were trained to spot it, and he said playing poker took too long and meant long nights and crazy hours. He prefers to sleep when the poker players are at work.
“If you can make a living at poker, though, power to you,” he said. “All the gamblers are in Las Vegas. That’s why most people move to Nevada. To gamble.”
He said he was unique because he had made it work, but like he said, he knows what not to do, unlike most of the amateurs.
“You can’t win out there,” he said pointing with his cigarette to the slot machines.
Sport gambling is the best way to go, he said, especially games where there are two teams and a clear winner. Golf and NASCAR are the worst, he said, because there are so many competitors.
“You’re just guessing if you bet on something like that,” he said.
As for pre-season games of any sport, he said he avoided betting on those.
“I wouldn’t bet on them with your money,” he said lighting a cigarette with a single match.
One popular game for sports gamblers is football, he said, but again, he bucks the trend.
“Football would be my last choice to be on because everyone bets on football,” he said. “Everybody’s nuts for football.”
The man said he only bets on two sports – basketball and baseball. He said those are the best two because they can carry him throughout the entire year. There is a game nearly every night.
“You can make more money betting on basketball and baseball,” he said.
He pointed out it takes a lot of knowledge.
“I don’t pay much attention to players,” he said. “You don’t bet on players. You bet on teams. Bet on good teams. Don’t bet on shit. They aren’t going to play better just because you bet on them.”
For a professional gambler, emotions don’t matter, either.
“I don’t bet just because someone’s playing,” he said. “It’s all business to me. It has nothing to do with the sport or who’s playing. I’m just making a living.”
A lot of people want to do what he is doing, he said, but he wouldn’t recommend it as a career for others.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I don’t win every day, but I win every week, which means I win every month and every year. It’s taken me years to get here, though.”
So how much did he have riding on the All-Star Game? He wouldn’t say, though he mentioned the average bet is $20. Winking and smiling slyly, he said he bet “a little more than that.”
If he had won, would he have had to claim his winnings for tax purposes?
“I can’t comment on that,” he said slowly and tapping his cigarette on the edge of an ashtray.
Like he said, he was never there.