Thursday, March 13, 2008

A St. Patrick's Day Casino Cheating Story

Those of you who read my book American Roulette know the special relationship I had with my fantastic cheating partner Pat Mallery. You also know that Pat was Dark Irish, and about the only thing he liked as much as cheating the pants off casinos was drinking the pants off anybody who dared to stand in a bar with him. Well, one Friday night back in Las Vegas some years ago also happened to be St. Paddy's Day, Pat's favorite day and night of the year to get, as he put it, cocked up! Before we went out to work the casinos that night, I had to remind him that his cocked-up state sometimes caused us problems. One profitable night at the Hilton, I reminded him, he left his suit jacket slung over the back of a chair in the sports book while we were at the bar drinking. As soon as I realized it, I shot back out to the casino as if a grenade had just rolled under our barstools. I was enormously relieved that Pat's jacket was still there, anyone could have walked off with it. In the right front pocket was $16,000 in Hilton chips we hadn't yet cashed out.

But that St. Paddy's Friday night, we almost weren't so lucky. This time the incident involving Pat's cocked-up behavior in a casino turned into one of those both unbelievable and unforgettable stories.
It was a Friday night and the MGM was our target casino. My other partner, Balls, and I arrived at Pat's apartment at 10 P.M. to find him sufficiently cocked-up (if he wasn't, he didn't move on the tables). Balls drove us to the MGM and we went directly into the sports book. There, I passed Pat $11,000 in chips, two chocolates and a $1,000 in blacks. Ever since that Hilton incident with his leaving the chip-filled jacket slung over a chair in the sports book, I took extreme caution in handling and accounting for chips. I always counted them twice and watched Pat put them safely in his pocket before we left the sports book to cruise the casino.
We made a round through the MGM during which Pat had sat down at only one table, where he made three bets but didn't move because they all lost. Then we went back to the sports book and Pat developed a headache and said he wanted to go home for awhile and rest. We dropped him off at his apartment and returned two hours later. He was feeling better, so we went back to the MGM. In the sports book, Pat was preparing the chips for the move when he suddenly said, "Where's the other chocolate chip?"
"You only had two of them," I said. "One for the move and one for the back-up." I was thinking that he probably thought I had given him three chocolates, which was often the case.
"Well, I only have one now," Pat said, rifling through his pockets.
"Johnny (we affectionately called each other Johnny), I don't know what you gave me, but I only have one chocolate chip."
I knew he wasn't kidding as well as I knew that I had given him two chocolates earlier that evening in the sports book. There was no doubt in my mind. I had given him $11,000 in MGM chips; I'd counted them twice.
Everybody searched their pockets but it was useless. I was sure that Pat had lost the chip somewhere in the casino. We retraced our steps through the pits, our eyes scanning the floor, darting to-and-fro, hoping to spot the missing chip. Unfortunately, the MGM carpeting was brown. I placed the remaining chocolate chip on the surface to see how it blended in. More unfortunately, too good. Finding that missing chip on the floor of a large, busy casino, even if it was still there in defiance of probability, was going to be a difficult if not impossible task. The best chance was that maybe Pat had dropped it near the lone table he played at while we were at the MGM the first time. That seemed to all of us the most likely scenario. Pat could have easily lost the chocolate while preparing the move and back-up chips.
I got down on my hands and knees, looking for the chip by the table. I wasn't bashful about crawling around under people's legs, making them feel uncomfortable. A floorman bent down over me to ask what I was looking for. I told him that I had been at the table earlier and had lost a contact lens. He wished me luck and turned away, and I continued brushing my hands through the carpet in search of the chip.
Nothing. It was gone. Some lucky son of a bitch was going to have a hell of a time partying tonight, I thought, walking away from the table. Pat's cocky attitude had finally cost us.
The question of infidelity or dishonesty concerning Pat never entered my mind. Nobody ever held out on anybody. But what bothered me even more than the loss of the chip was the possibility that Pat was thinking I was full of shit, that I had locked up the chip for myself and was taking advantage of his cocked-up state to say that he must have lost it. Later, I learned that such a thought would never have entered his mind either, but at the time, we'd only known each other a month.
Pat said that he had been twiddling with the chips back at his apartment while he was watching TV. Maybe he had inadvertently dropped the chocolate on the plush carpeting of his living room and hadn't heard any noise. Perhaps it was still there on the floor.
We rushed back to Pat's apartment, the adrenaline pumping through my body. I wanted more than anything to find that chip, just for the reason that a breach of trust wouldn't be created by its loss.
"I swear," Pat said with conviction in the car as Balls sped toward the west side of town on Tropicana Avenue, "if that chip isn't on the goddamn floor of my apartment, someone's in a lot of trouble" (he meant the casinos, that he would unleash a battery of moves against them). "You know what, Johnny," he said, looking over his shoulder at me in the back seat, "maybe we're better off if that chip isn't in the apartment."
We arrived and all three of us raced up the stairs to Pat's second-floor apartment. After a two minute search, Pat called out excitedly, "I found it!" But the chip he found turned out to be the other MGM chocolate he had placed mindlessly in the ashtray on the entranceway ledge as we all hurried through the door of the apartment. When he realized the mistake, he threw it against the wall. The roller coaster ride of my emotions—losing, finding and then re-losing the chip—was making me nauseous. We ransacked the apartment but the second chip was nowhere to be found. Pat kicked the sofa he had been sitting on while watching TV and shrieked, "Motherfucker!...Let's go."
We got back in the car and headed a third time for the MGM.
"I don't have another MGM chocolate for back-up," I said.
"I don't give a fuck, Johnny. I don't need any back-ups. They're dead over there at the MGM...Just get me there, Balls. I'm a little pissed off right now."
We cruised the casino looking for an available third base seat. You could see the impatience and aggravation written on Pat's face as he passed along a row of filled-up blackjack tables. He finally found a shortstop position open and made his two-hundred-dollar bet, which lost. He slammed his fist down on the cushioned edge of the table and got up, leaving a bunch of scornful stares behind him. He sat down at another table, lost again, and hollered at no one in particular as he got up in a rage, "I hope yuz all die." The third table he found, I noticed was the same one he had sat down at during our initial round of the casino, before we'd discovered the loss of the chip. He made the bet, which finally won, and moved and claimed super aggressively, perhaps now possessed by the Haverstraw insane asylum demon. He got paid the $5,100, getting us even for the night, and was in the process of playing his bet-back hand of $1,100 when a man sitting at the middle of the table began talking to him as he showed him something in his hand.
"This must be yours," he said to Pat with a slight drawl. "I just found it on the floor." The guy was an older Midwestern type, plainly dressed with an unsophisticated air. Pat didn't even hear him, let alone look at him.
I was looking into the man's hand. There was something brown and circular resting in the palm, the size of a casino chip. My brain needed a few seconds to sort out the message it was receiving from my eyes. It was the missing chip! This country bumpkin had just found the five-thousand-dollar chip that Pat had dropped at that very same table maybe four hours before. I couldn't believe it. That chip had not only been lying there on the floor all that time, but the person finding it was returning it to its rightful owner, as if it were about nothing more than a dropped handkerchief. I doubted that the good Samaritan even knew the value of the chip, despite the fact he had witnessed Pat's claim on the move with the same-colored chip.
I had to go around the edge of the table and notify Pat audibly that the "gentlemen to your right has found something of yours, sir."
Pat took a look at the guy who was putting the chocolate chip in his hand, reached out across the blackjack table and gruffly pulled the man's head toward him and gave him a kiss square on the lips. The man was mildly shocked himself and accepted gracefully the black chip that Pat put in his hand as gratitude. To amplify our joy at recovering the lost $5,000, Pat went on a bet-back streak, winning the next six hands in a row, including a double-down and a blackjack. With all that, he left the table with $18,000 more than when he had sat down. Then he went to another table, did a second move and got paid $5,100 again. Afterwards, in the keno pit across the street at the Tropicana, Pat said, "Johnny, let me ask you something. Do you really think it was a blessing that we found the chip...or would we have been better off if it stayed lost?"
Knowing what the man sitting next to me was capable of, I couldn't answer that question.
I told him so.