A decade ago I walked out of a tired, old, Native American casino with a poker dilemma. Perhaps you can help me…
I’d just finished recording a project at a studio east of Seattle. After we wrapped our last day of a 2 week session, we hit the road for Seattle and a long return back to Nashville. My musical compadres and I rolled into a Days Inn around midnight for a few hours sleep. We had the lovely 5am departure call.
We were in downtown Seattle not far from Sea-Tac, a not-so-great part of the city. As my friends parked the rental vans outside our rooms I spotted a casino across the street – some kind of Native American 24/7 gambling spot. It was fairly ganky looking, with flashy “Elvis lights”, a lot of neon, and an out of date facade. I was not deterred. Hoping to find some poker, I eschewed a good night’s sleep for the hope of a good night’s fun instead.
Sadly there was no poker room in this downtrodden gambling den. There was, however, a game of “Texas hold ’em” they hosted where you played only against a dealer. Literally all you had to do is beat the dealer. Anyone else’s hand at the table was of no consequence. I bought a $200 rack of chips and sat down to try to figure it out.
The casino was dark, with an outdated decor. The stale smell of cigarettes was as old as the wallpaper and carpet. One redeeming quality was a bar in the corner serving some surprisingly nice Pac NW micro-brews and a really good, greasy cheeseburger.
There were less than a dozen degenerates in the joint playing various games, with only about 3 tables running action. Most folks were playing slots or video poker, and smoking cheap cigarettes. The smoke mixed with the cheeseburger grease to create a mystical film in the air.
I started the poker game with small bets, trying to get a feel for the rules and the action. There was no bluffing or trickery involved, no reading your opponents. It was pretty much stud poker against the dealer cards, kind of like a mix of Blackjack and Hold ‘Em. But then something peculiar happened…
On a random hand, as the dealer dealt the cards around the table, I noticed she lifted her cards really high in the air as they came out of the “dealer shoe” that held the deck. I clearly caught a glimpse of her bottom card, which gave me a nice advantage. On the first “flash” I remember seeing a red Queen just plain as day. The next hand I saw a black 10. I started picking up the bottom card on almost all her deals. This provided me a colossal advantage!
I’m a steady tipper at casino tables, and with the cards that high in the air I started sending this dealer some really healthy vig with about every third win. “You play good,” she said in broken English with a wink and a certain alacrity. She was as an Asian dealer in a Native American casino. I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m guessing math and/or sobriety was in play. I flashed a smile and kept the tips rolling as I started winning more and more hands.
Soon the cards were high enough in the air – and spread far enough apart – where I was seeing BOTH cards! You have got to be kidding me! I could spot a Jack/4 as plain as day, or one time I saw pocket 7s. After seeing “the flop” I knew when to fold to cut my losses, and I knew when to raise to boost my pots – all based on seeing her hole cards.
I started pushing the pot really hard, and raking in some nice winnings. I kept tipping her well. She’d wink and smile and say “oooooooh nice hand” when I’d win. When I folded because I knew she had a better hand she’d laugh and say, “youuuuu loooooose misterrrrr”.
One problem – she rotated tables every 20-30 minutes with a 10 minute break every hour. That means she was only at my table for 30-40 minutes out of every 60. When she was away I had to think of every excuse in the world to skip hands or dramatically slow down my play. I had to take an urgent call. I needed another beer. I needed a long bathroom break. I ate a cheeseburger. There was a problem with my credit card over at the hotel…
When she’d return, the cards would be right back in the air again, and I’d go back to printing money. The other players were oblivious. It was really late, it was smoky, I’d had beer and cheeseburgers, and I felt like I was in a weird dream…
Late that night, or actually early that morning, I colored up all my chips and she handed me 5 “canaries” – yellow chips worth $1,000/each. I figured it was time to call it quits. This was too obvious. I walked in with 2 Benjamins and now planned to cash $5,000 worth of chips, PLUS I still had half a rack of my “playable” chips in smaller denominations. It was getting close to my 5am departure time, so burned through the rest of my rack acting as if I’d caught a frustrating cooler. I headed to the window with my “canaries” and my pulse racing.
I feared trouble at the window. Had someone been watching on camera? What did the security team look like at an inner city tribal casino? I did not want to find out. Was this some kind of a setup? Candid camera? I was waiting for a hand on my shoulder any minute.
Luckily I cashed out with no issue, took a circuitous route to my hotel to shed any tails, grabbed my bags, and called a cab. I wanted to get behind airport security ASAP. I ended up “showering” in a bathroom near my gate, trying to wash that smoky grease smell off.
As I recounted my adventure in the plane on the way home, my traveling companions were gobsmacked. They claimed I had cheated a casino. What? They were in shock that I would rob a tribal gaming establishment of their hard earned money. What??
I did nothing wrong! I didn’t ask for the cards to be waived high in the air. I played by the stated rules on the table. How could I possibly be called a cheat or a thief? Several strangers on the plane joined in with varying opinions. One guy was 100% on my side while another lady wanted to land the plane in Arizona and call the federales.
Poker? Or Investing?
As with stocks & bonds I entered a market that was geared for an edge (the stock market, or in this case the casino). I did my research and surveyed the information (news, metrics, or in this case the cards in the air). I made my investments (index funds, stocks, commodities, or in this case I bet my chips in a poker game). I determined my exit point (when to rebalance, sell a particular stock, or in this case cash in my chips). I transferred my profits to my bank account (or in this case I skedaddled for the airport).
I saw no rules that said I couldn’t stare at the shoe while the dealer dealt the cards. I saw no rules that said I couldn’t tip the dealer stacks of $10 “blueberries” either. There’s also no rules that say I can’t go hunting for readily available intel about a stock or other investment either – and then use it to my advantage.
Do you know something about a house flip no one else does? Have you read an article in an off-beat website about a move at a company that has not been widely reported? Maybe a store is offering a $5 gift card if you buy $4 worth of product, so you pounce on a $1 giveaway and bleed them dry…
What Say You?
So I ask you, valued reader of my blog, did I cheat this poker game? Did I break any casino rules? Or did I simply extract all the available information to me at a moment in time and use it for maximum benefit?
I humbly await your thoughts…