Thursday, July 29, 2010

Give me the money

In late spring of 1998 I was at a friend's house for a party. He had just returned from The Bahamas or Puerto Rico or some other Caribbean island destinations. While he was down there he spent some time in one of the casinos and became enamored with blackjack. It was all he could talk about. Eventually he went digging through his things and came up with an old blanket, a deck of cards, and some plastic poker chips. He used a magic marker to draw a makeshift blackjack layout on the blanket, draped it over a coffee table and before long was dealing cards to me and a couple of other guys. He was only using a single deck, and dealing all the way to the end of it. I was able to count into it, and bet more when the situation was favorable for the player. He recognized this commented that he should probably be using more than one deck.

There was another party the next week, and this time he was a bit more well prepared. He had 4 decks of cards laying sideways inside a tissue box, and big glass ball that acted as a sort of weight to push them forward as he dealt them out. He ended up making a little bit of money that night. What surprised me was how many people were playing. They were lining up waiting for a spot. Every seemed to be really enjoying it.I couldn't ignore what I saw as a relatively lucrative opportunity. The closest casino was 500 miles away in Atlantic City. This was an untapped market.

Over the summer, I hopped on the internet and found a casino supply wholesale company. I ordered a professional layout, 144 decks of cards, custom made chips with my initials on them, a "shoe" for holding and dealing 6 decks of cards at once, a discard holder, a chip tray.... the whole deal. Upon returning to school in the fall, I built the table and set up shop in the corner of my fraternity house's living room. There were parties there twice a week. The table was an instant hit.

My routine became fairly simple. I would stop by the grocery store and pick up a few cases of beer and some ice and stock the cooler that I kept beneath the table. Anyone playing would not have to leave to get another drink or bother with an annoying keg line. Generally, I would show up at the party around 8, deal until about 12, then close up shop and party until 2. At first, the table limits were $2 minimum to $25 max. After a few months I had built up a big enough bankroll that I could now allow up to a $100 max bet. Word got out and the guys with more money started showing up. There weren't that many rich kids at my school, so most of these guys were hustlers of some sort... usually drug dealers. By winter break, my average weekly profit had grown to about 2 grand. There were some nights when I lost and would have to shut down because the players had won everything that I had on me at the time. I realized that it behooved me to have more money to bank with so that I wouldn't have to close down if the players went on a good run early. It made good sense mathematically. The longer they played, the greater chance of they had of losing. This same mentality also encouraged me to deal later into the night, which had an added benefit since the players would be more tired and drunk, and make bad decisions. As it turns out it was me that was making the worst decisions.

One night the game broke at about 2 am. I took a small loss on the night, but I was pretty happy because I had been down big early. I packed up the chips and cards and headed out the back door to my car. I popped the hatchback and placed the gear in my trunk. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of a pump action shotgun slide moving forward...


The barrel was cold, and I flinched when it was pressed against the base of my skull.

"Hand it over," were the only words spoken by my assailant.

"Ok," I said. "Its in my pocket. I don't have a gun... just...don't shoot me."

I reached into my pocket and produced the roll of bills. He took it. I left my hands up. I thought I heard at least one or maybe two other voices whispering. And as quick as they were there... they were gone. I heard their car pull away down the alley. I stood still. I had no desire to run after them or catch a glimpse of my attackers. I just wanted them to be gone.

They got away with about $2500 that night. At first I was sick about it, but then I realized it could have been a lot worse. They could have followed me home, killed me, and taken everything. I stopped dealing the game. I hardly told anyone about the hold-up. First of all I didn't want to freak anybody out. We had a very nice fun crowd of co-eds that visited the house regularly and I knew word of an armed robbery would scare them away. Further, there was no point in making it known. I didn't want the cops getting wind of it, since I was guilty of a punishable crime myself. Also, I didn't want to give anyone else the idea to rip me off. The fact is... I was arrogant and stupid. I should have known better than to walk around with that kind of money. There were hundreds of different people that knew about it, and I wasn't exactly discrete about my success. I learned a valuable lesson that evening.

I would love to end this post right here by writing, "I don't deal blackjack games anymore." But eventually I started the game again. This time it was under more secure conditions. The game was moved to its own room and you had to know somebody to get in. There was some big guys that acted as security and we bought a safe to keep the money locked up. I would just drop by during the day whenever I needed to take money out.

Months later, I was leaving the house in the afternoon, having stopped by to hang out in between classes. I was on my way back to campus when a really clean-cut preppy looking guy walked straight up to me, in broad daylight, and pointed a .22 at my face. "Gimme the money!" Again, I didn't hesitate. I reached into my pocket and gave him the $12 I had in my pocket. It was obvious from the look on his face he was disappointed with the amount, but it seemed he realized his error... and didn't wish to further risk a long prison sentence over $12. He looked around like we was confused. Then he kneed me in the stomach and bolted down the street.

Getting kneed in the stomach really really effing hurts. I couldn't breathe for almost a minute. I made a decision right there, no more blackjack game. Turns out the guy tried to hold up the Citgo station down the street 10 minutes later. He screwed up and got his face all over the surveillance video and was arrested a few days later. I found out he was 16 years old, a local dropout.

I don't deal blackjack games anymore.

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