Growing up in Miami I cut my gambling teeth as a young man in the billiard parlors and pool halls of South Florida. At first of course I wasn’t very good. One day I was shooting pool by myself in a nice billiard parlor with about twenty regulation Brunswick tables and one snooker table. A guy approached me and asked me if I wanted to play some nine-ball. I said ok and then as he was racking the balls he asked me if I wanted to gamble. Not knowing what I was getting myself into at the time I said sure. While losing a nice chunk of my savings account I finally came to the realization that I was in way over my head and this guy was a hustler. Of course many of the guys in that pool hall knew who this guy was and had gathered around to watch and snicker as I got my butt kicked.
I was pretty embarrassed and humbled as I left that pool room. I was angry at myself for not being any smarter. I have played sports since I was a young boy. I am a competitor and I don’t like losing. In later years I adopted this statement which I have repeated often “if you show me someone who doesn’t mind losing then I will show you a loser”.
It was almost a year before I went into that pool room again. In the meantime I found a small pool room with six regulation pool tables that was close to where I lived. Actually, I practically lived in that pool room. There was an older man about seventy years old who ran the place. He had been playing pool most of his life and he had a whole lot of knowledge about the game and how to play it well. When I told him what had happened to me he took me under his wing. I played him almost every day and he was beating me but at the same time he was teaching me how to play the game. I started getting better and better until I was beating him some of the time. I kept playing against him and learning the game until I was not only beating him but beating him badly. I was now ready to expand my horizons.
I ventured out to a local fifty-lane bowling alley that was open twenty-four hours. They had a large billiard parlor that had a total of about 30 tables which was well-known for hosting high-stakes gambling games. Most of the tables were the regulation Brunswick four and half by nine-foot pocket billiard tables. They also had three tables that were three-cushion billiard tables which have no pockets. This is a totally different game in which you have to know how to make bank shots and how to play angles. In this game it is necessary to be able to have very good control of the cue ball and know where it is going. I started playing this game and learning more about controlling the cue ball to play position or shape as it was often called. They also had a couple of six by twelve tables on which the mostly older guys played another pocket- billiard game called golf.
A lot of older men who spent their days at the horse tracks would frequent this pool room at night and gamble. I was an up and coming young guy who was trying to get better by playing tougher competition. These guys would always “high-roll” me. If I wanted to play for twenty dollars a game they would say fifty or a hundred dollars to out bank roll me because they had a lot more money than I did at that age. In reality that is how they avoided playing me most of the time.
As a result of the good South Florida weather the top pool players in the eastern part of the U.S. who were gamblers came to South Florida in the winter-time. There were frequent games in this same billiard parlor, usually late at night, where they were playing nine-ball primarily for one hundred dollars to one or two thousand dollars a game. Like I said these were top level hustlers from around the country, some of whom were immortalized in the Paul Newman movie “The Hustler”.
I watched, I learned and I practiced until I was ready. Then I walked back into the original pool room and I got a table. I was shooting by myself and lo and behold in walked my old nemesis who was probably salivating at the site of me. Unbeknownst to him I was now a very good player myself. The bottom line is that I beat him until he wouldn’t play me anymore. Of course he came to that realization a lot quicker than I did when I initially played him. Again many guys had gathered around thinking it was going to be more of the same. However, I was now at the top of the pecking order in that establishment and would be for many years thereafter. I continued to play and gamble on myself in pool rooms and bars for many years wherever I travelled in the United States. I was not afraid to play anyone because now I was smart enough to know right away and quit the game in the few instances where I felt that I couldn’t beat them.
I never hustled anyone by asking them to play and gamble. I knew that all I had to do was get on a table and start knocking the balls around. Inevitably the local hustler was going to come over to try to hustle me. It didn’t matter if it was a pool room or a bar the scenario was the same. However now, most of the time, they had a big surprise coming and they were going to find out that they had bit off more than they could chew.
In my travels playing pool and gambling around the state of Florida I met a very good player. He had family and friends who were gamblers from the Atlanta area. There will be more about them later in this story. I also met a guy in a small beach town in Central Florida that, although you would never know it by looking at him, was a top-notch player who was legendary in the upper echelon of United States players. He had a very laid-back demeanor and casual attire that belied his talent level. My friend Bill had introduced us and the three of us hung out together drinking beer over the next couple of months. Bill kept telling me that this guy was a legend. He said he had travelled around the Eastern Unites States with him and nobody would play him. I played against him casually a few times and also watched him play other people. He would make very difficult shots and make it look like it was luck. He was so good that the guys that he was playing didn’t realize that he actually had played the shot that way and luck had nothing at all to do with it. I became convinced that he was a very good player but at that time I still didn’t know how good he actually was.
I told Bill that I could definitely get him games in the pool room of the aforementioned bowling alley. First I took Bill with me to this pool room and showed him how much action there was in this place. Then we told our friend to come meet us nearby and we sat down and formulated a plan. By this time I had accumulated a bank roll and agreed to put up ten thousand dollars to be the financial backer for this venture. I had Bill handle the money for the games and I went in separately because some of the long-time regulars there knew me. I wanted to be able to side bet with all the older guys who used to high roll me. Without them knowing that I was affiliated with the player in any way. I had created an edge for myself. I went in first and was already in the pool room before Bill came in with our player. It was a pretty amazing realization when a hush came over the room as people recognized him and started whispering that he was there. He made his games with all of the best players that came in to play him playing them at their favorite games. He played bank pool, one-pocket and of course a lot of nine-ball. I was making many side bets with other guys in the room. I was enjoying immensely that I was able to give them some of their own medicine. If they said they wanted to bet fifty dollars I told them one hundred and it was payback time. In less than five days we turned that ten thousand dollars into almost fifty thousand dollars. In the mid-1970s that was a pretty good chunk of change. I invested some of that money in buying waterfront homes in Central Florida. Which, at this time, I was buying at the bottom of the market for fifteen to twenty thousand dollars.
Now that I was more or less officially a gambler I had also begun frequenting the many pari-mutuel gambling establishments that were operating in the Dade and Broward County areas of South Florida in the 1960s and 1970s. These two counties encompassed the cities of Miami and Ft Lauderdale. South Florida has long been a desirable winter destination for residents of the cold weather New England and Mid-Western area states in the United States. With warm weather, a lot of nice beaches and a plethora of pari-mutuel wagering it was also very attractive to upper echelon organized crime figures. I am not going to discuss that any further because that is a long story in and of itself. It is another part of South Florida history that, after being under the radar for many years, became infamous.
The South Florida pari-mutuel industry was big and booming. There were the two jai alai frontons in Miami and Dania. (Much later, in 2018, Calder Race Course opened their jai alai fronton.) There were four dog tracks Flagler, Biscayne, Miami Beach and Hollywood. I knew a few people that worked at the greyhound tracks and it was there that I again learned how valuable it was to have an edge. Miami Beach Kennel Club opened in 1926 and closed in 1980 when the property at the very south end of Miami Beach became too valuable for a greyhound track. It was one of my favorite tracks. It is now the location of the Portofino one of Miami Beach’s most luxurious condominiums. On December 31, 2020 a Florida state law, passed in 2018 banning greyhound racing, went into effect. At last count there are only four states with legally operating greyhound racing tracks in the United States. They are Arkansas, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia.
Then there were the three horse-racing tracks Tropical, Hialeah and Gulfstream. In 1964 a harness-racing track opened in Pompano Beach. Tropical Park opened in 1931 and closed in 1972. In 1979 it was converted to a public park and recreational facility for sporting activities. Hialeah Park Race Track opened in 1925. In 2004, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering revoked Hialeah Park’s thoroughbred permit because it did not hold races for the previous two years. As of 2013, its facilities remain intact except for the stables, which were demolished in early 2007. They currently have an operating casino and they run a calendar of simulcasts for wagering on horse races from many major tracks around the country.
Calder Race Course opened in 1971 and hosted thoroughbred horse racing until 2015. It is owned by Churchill Downs Inc. who opened a casino on the property in 2010. Their focus for this Northwest Dade County property had changed to casinos and gaming. When the horse-racing was terminated Churchill Downs Inc. opened a jai alai fronton in order to be able to keep their casino operation intact. This was originally permitted because they had a functioning pari-mutuel horse racing operation and by replacing that with the jai alai fronton they were able to maintain the casino license and operation.
In the 1970s when Calder first opened there was also a Holiday Inn adjoining the Northwest corner of the race track. The gamblers that I mentioned previously kept rooms on an upper floor of the hotel after they discovered that they could see the tote board from those rooms. This was another lesson for me along the highway of learning about the value of having an edge. In this case that edge was highly illegal. Thoroughbred horse races only last a couple minutes give or take. They would know the result of the race immediately when it went up on the tote board and, with time delays in those days before the internet, they could still call-in bets with bookmakers in other areas on races that in reality were already over. This was obviously very lucrative until it was finally uncovered.
That left only one thoroughbred race-track standing. It is still operating and thriving. Gulfstream Park Racetrack and Casino is South Florida’s place for premier thoroughbred horse racing since 1939; hot casino action including 850 of the latest Vegas-style slot machines and 20 live action poker tables; the finest in dining with a selection of more than 17 restaurants and outdoor cafes; great shopping with more than 35 stores and boutiques, nightclubs and entertainment.
Simultaneously with when I had become a good pool player I also started wagering on sports. My Dad attended Miami High School in the 1930s and was a big University of Miami Hurricane football fan. He started taking me to Hurricane games in the Orange Bowl when I was five years old. So I acquired a love of sports from a very early age. Then after the AFL and NFL merger five of the first thirteen Super Bowls were played in the Orange Bowl in Miami. Being a home-grown Miamian I was able to attend all five of those games. I also attended the January 30, 1983 Super Bowl XVII game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA where the Washington Redskins beat the Miami Dolphins 27-17. The Dolphins were favored by three points in the game. That game cost me eleven hundred dollars for betting with my heart instead of with my brain. It was another lesson in my sports wagering life where I learned to not bet with my heart. I was mad at myself for being dumb enough to do that. As I have previously disclosed I am a competitor and I don’t like losing so that loss gnawed at me for a while. I attended Super Bowl XIX on January 20, 1985 in Stanford Stadium at Palo Alto, CA to watch the San Francisco 49ers who were favored by three and a half points play the Miami Dolphins. I was now evolving as a sports gambler. Learning to be smart enough to take my emotion out of the equation so I laid off of that game and just went as a fan.
I also attended the fiftieth Orange Bowl game on January 2, 1984 in Miami between the Number One ranked 12-0 Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Number Five ranked 10-1 Miami Hurricanes. I had five dimes on my beloved hometown Miami Hurricanes plus eleven points and they won the game straight up 31-30. I didn’t make the decision to bet this game with my heart. The analytics in addition to my personal knowledge of the Miami team told me that eleven points was way too much.
I also attended two World Series and three NBA Finals and I did not win on all of them. By then I had begun to learn how to use the discipline and good money management that is necessary to be successful in sports wagering. I had done pretty well but I still had some flaws and inconsistencies in my methodology that I was gradually refining
From the late-1970s until the mid-1980s I was invited on many junkets to Las Vegas where my airline flight, hotel, food and drinks were all paid for by the casino. However, I then made a smart business decision by choosing to no longer accept the invitations on their junkets. I preferred to pay my own way and play what I wanted to play and when I wanted to play. Now I could play without having to honor the requirements of casino managers to play minimum time and wagers on the casino games where you are at a disadvantage playing against the house.
I am a numbers guy and I am very good at remembering numbers, math, odds and probabilities. I was using these talents to refine my skills in the 1980s and early 1990s. I was becoming much more consistent but in spite of what many so-called experts proclaim everyone has winning streaks and losing streaks. Nobody wins all of the time but the goal is to have more and longer winning streaks than your losing streaks. I have losing weeks and sometimes I might even have a losing month but when things are not going well I use discipline, money-management and patience to minimize the losses. Then when I am on a good roll I maximize my profits.
Many of us who have played blackjack have experienced the pit boss changing the dealer whenever we were winning. I have had them ask me to leave the casino and not come back. I have had local bookies that wouldn’t pay me and I have had several sportsbooks close my account and refuse to take my “sharp action”.
In the 1990s my name surfaced again as a result of my history of participating in casino junkets. A casino in Nassau was running weekend junkets out of the Orlando area. The local Florida representative called me and invited me to attend. Nassau and the Bahamas are very nice so I was intrigued and I accepted. They flew out on a chartered jet on Friday afternoon and returned on Sunday afternoon.
I went about six or seven times and then the next time when I got to the airport the local Florida representative pulled me aside. He said that the casino manager had told him not to invite me anymore unless I played a minimum of two hours per day on the tables or slots. I complained to him that I was putting thousands of dollars a day at risk wagering in the sportsbook but he said that it was out of his control. One of the regulars who also made those trips overheard this and came over to me after he walked away. She said to me that I should just go play the quarter slots for the two-hour minimum per day then go do whatever I wanted. I told her that I thought playing spots was too boring and mindless.
At the casino later that evening I ended up at the dollar slots. I was very bored and putting my time in playing the slot machines while having cocktails and talking to two girls that were playing a couple machines away from me. I had been playing less than an hour and lo and behold my machine started going dingadingading. I had hit the red, white and blue sevens for the jackpot. They came over and shut the machine off and paid me ten thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills while everyone in the casino turned their heads to see what was going on. They turned the machine back on and left. I was now immensely more popular with the girls. Imagine my surprise.
I bought more drinks and continued to play while I laughed and talked with the girls. About twenty minutes later I hit three red sevens and the machine started dinging again. That paid three thousand five hundred dollars. This was in addition to my winnings in the sportsbook that weekend which was about eleven thousand dollars. They had a very nice sportsbook there and I would go down there on Friday afternoon after checking into my room to place my bets on the Friday night games. I especially liked going in the fall and winter months when there was college football, college basketball, NBA and NFL games. I would look over the board and choose my plays then walk up to the window and bet dimes on my games of choice.
Obviously, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of skill in my good fortune on the slot machines it was luck. However, my work in the sports book was very focused and methodical. It was another performance of the type that had lead to the casino manager making me persona non grata on their junkets.
On the ride back home Sunday on the plane I was very festive and the other people on the plane were loving it when I told the trip coordinator “you made me do it”. I have never gone on another junket since then. I go when and where I want on my own dime and play in my own time.
A major breakthrough in sports wagering occurred with the emergence of the internet in the 1990s. Now we had the ability to use a computer to do a lot of the heavy lifting as far as mathematical computations and analytics. We could perform detailed research and many complicated calculations of odds and probabilities very quickly and accurately.
This was the birth of a new era in sports wagering which has further enabled me to gain an edge and maintain a high level of consistency from year to year over the last twenty-five years.
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