"How much ya wanna bet?" was a common question growing up in my neighborhood in Flint, Mich. It was a rhetorical question because no one had anything to bet.
The first time I realistically wanted to place a bet was February 1964 when Sonny Liston fought Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali). I knew Liston would pulverize him. Thank goodness I had neither the money nor the connections to wager.
After Clay’s victory, I said I would never bet. That changed when I joined the DA’s office as an investigator. One of my buddies would drive to Tijuana to put money on college and pro football games. Occasionally I would give him ten bucks to put on games I thought might be profitable for me.
Okay, okay, I know I was committing a crime by giving my buddy money to place the bet for me. I just don’t like to go to Tijuana. The statute of limitations has passed and I can’t be arrested. My buddy moved to Pennsylvania and he only bets on his golf game now. Betting made watching games more interesting because something was at stake. Remember, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you beat the spread.”
Gambling entered my life again when I was the public corruption investigator for Mike Aguirre during my short tenure with the San Diego City Attorney. The chief of staff for a councilman solicited a loan from a man who had business pending before the council. The developer who was solicited notified the councilman who in turned notified us. This solicitation could be construed as a form of attempted extortion and we sprung into action. “If you don’t loan me the money, you might not get your project approved” could be the inference.
We discovered the guy who asked for the loan had a gambling problem, and not a little one. He did what all con men do: he fleeced his friends and family first, owing them lots. When they turned him down, he went after the developer, knowing he had money.
The gambler was open with us. I always thought people who gambled were reckless. I never realized it truly is a sickness, even though I had read it is.
This guy’s downfall came about in a way that made my head spin. He needed $3,000 to get above water and make some debt payments. He borrowed money from a long time friend’s mother who lived north of Los Angeles.
Driving past the city of Commerce on the way back, he saw a casino sign. Keep in mind he had three grand in his pocket that would temporarily alleviate his problems. All he had to do was return to San Diego, pay off the most urgent one, and raise money for the lesser debts. Instead, he decided to stop in the casino to play “just one hand” and increase his newfound cash.
You already guessed what happened. He didn’t leave until he was flat busted. As he told me this I sat there dumbfounded. Here he had a solution to his trouble, albeit temporary, and he blew it. Hearing this, I realized gambling truly was addictive.
We prosecuted him for his attempt to get money from the developer and he pleaded guilty. He fulfilled his legal obligations, moved to another state, and began gambling again. When I heard that news a year later I shook my head in disbelief. Here was an educated, intelligent man with a promising career, blowing it on a few hands of cards. He didn’t know when to hold ‘em, or when to fold ‘em.
If my wife and I travel out of town we will sometimes stay at a casino hotel. I’ll drop by the gaming room and donate $20 to the slot machines to make up for the $40 worth of food I ate at the $15 buffet. That’s the extent of my gambling. You can bet on it.