Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Portland Sweat

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The email came from old chum from high school, a Cornell grad, who insisted that we speak right away about an important business matter. The nugget of information he had was way too private to discuss in an email -- a tip about Cornell's basketball team -- that was "so hot" that he insisted on calling me from a phone booth (they still have those in NYC?) with the details because he didn't want a paper trail. I dunno why he had to go all super stealth on me for a college basketball game, but he treated it like he was part of a cabal revealing insider information about Goldman Sachs making a backroom deal to acquire his firm.

The guy was way too paranoid for a meaningless throw-away Tuesday night game. I asked if he was free-basing cocaine or eating any form of speed that was causing his heightened paranoia. He insisted that he was sober but confessed that his wife would kill him if he had more than two drinks.

The tip wasn't that great. I mean, I was grateful that he took the time out from his busy work day to call me, but it wasn't like he shared privy info. All I had to do was conduct an hour of research and come to the same "brilliant" conclusion -- Syracuse was going to blow out Cornell.

He couldn't bet on the game but wanted a piece of my action. His wife would cut his balls off if she found out he was gambling. It was a lame excuse, but believable. We negotiated a finder's fee (fucking lawyers), but he must have mistaken me for some sort of high roller who was going to bet $50,000 on the game and he was getting giddy about a $5,000 cut.

He was disappointed when I told him that I was only putting down $100 on the game. Well, infuriated sounds more like it. He was pissed. I told him that I'm a problem gambler and installed betting limits -- especially on tips from people I haven't seen in a decade. Besides, I never considered betting that game at all until he pointed it out. He abruptly hung up the phone. Everyone's hustling for a buck these days.

Nerds vs. Jocks? Instincts tell you to bet on the jocks unless it's a Revenge of the Nerds movie and you know that the nerds will prevail in the end. But the skeptic in me thinks that the Syracuse-Cornell match is the perfect game to dump points -- if you happen to be one of the weak-minded players that the shylocks go after every fucking year. At any given time, someone's on the take. You just don't know where or when. Luckily it doesn't happen as much as it used to, especially in the video age where every game is recorded.

I'm currently reading Scandals of '51 by Charley Rosen, a book about the college hoops point shaving scandals that almost destroyed the game. During post-war America in the early 1950s, college basketball was in its heyday and drew more fans that the pro leagues. Betting on college hoops was a thriving business, which was well hidden from the innocent and pristine image that the sport gave off. The bookies and the mob recruited players to dump games and shave points for cash. All of those rigged games made a lot of people in NYC a lot of money.

In the 1950s, you didn't have too many options to gamble in casinos unless you made the trek to Cuba or Las Vegas. If the race track wasn't your thing, then you went for the easiest option -- the local bookie. My old man's bookie, Nine-and-a-Half-Fingered Vinny, once told me a story that the "point spread" was invented by bookmakers in the 1930s to "get more mooks to bet on the games." Before spreads, teams were given odds.

The introduction of the point spread allowed players to shave points -- but save face with their coach, team, and fans by still winning the game. Sounds easy, and it was back in 1951, but everyone involved got way to greedy and threw too many games.

Even 60 years later, remote games with teams you never knew about are ideal targets for a fix. St. Marta's by the Sea versus Texas-Deer Tick. The Flying Nuns are a 22 dog. The starting point guard on UT-Deer Tick has a pregnant girlfriend and a father who just lost his job. He knows he's a long shot to play in the pros, and even if he gets a contract to play in Europe, he still has to wait a year or two to get paid. What do you think happens?The kid on the take plays like crap and misses four free throws down the stretch and UT-Deer Tick only wins by 11 in a game that should have been a blow out.

I didn't think anyone on Cuse was on the take, so I bet them. That was more of a "fuck-it-I'm-on-tilt" impulse bet. I threw out there because I ran so bad over the weekend. Dangerous, I know. Careless, I know. But sometimes, you gotta do something to improve your bruised ego and bust your slump.

The game I had my eye on was Ohio State at Florida State. Everyone was gushing over FSU's Chris Singelton and scouts from every team in the NBA attended the game, but I thought he was overrated and overhyped. More importantly, FSU was overmatched by Ohio State, and the 4.5 margin was a gift. I targeted that matchup for a big bet that would put me on track.

The Syracuse game was not on cable, but I found a feed online at ATDHE. It was 4pm LA time (and the game started at 7pm ET) and still I had to go to the post office to mail Human Head a book of David Foster Wallace's essays. I missed the entire first half because I got stuck in a long-ass line and realized that I forgot to bet on the Ohio State game -- which started at 7:30pm ET. I had never put a bet in with my CrackBerry and never wanted to because once you go down that slippery road -- you're completely fucked. I anxiously waited for the sports book's app to install while standing behind an old lady in a raincoat (covered in cat hair) and red boots. She kept giving me shifty glances.

I got my bet in with less than two minutes before tipoff, and felt absolutely dirty. My eyes started to swell up. I was either overcome with guilt or all the dander from the cat lady was causing a massive allergic attack. That's when I noticed the stench of urine. I still had a 10-15 minute wait ahead of me and pegged the cat lady as one of those writhing cases you'd see on Animal Hoarders, where her house is overrun by 100 feral cats and mountains of feline dung.

I held my nose and scouted out a late game. Don't ask me why, but I heard a voice inside my head say, "Bet Portland."

Portland. The Pilots of Portland were taking on Saint Louis. Their team name is something utterly retarded, which gave me more incentive to bet against them. What the fuck, right? I'm bored to death and unfortunately sober as I wasted a perfectly good 4:20 while waiting in line behind the piss-stained cat lady. Why not donk off another hundred?

I finally mailed off the collection of essays, bought Christmas stamps, and let out a sinister cackle as I passed the suckers at the end of the line. I raced home, fired up the TV, and flipped back and forth between the Northwestern-Georgia Tech game and the Ohio State/FSU game. My girlfriend, a Northwestern alum, was shocked when she found out that her Cats put up 55 points in the first half. They are historically a bad hoops team, but they were beating up on Tech. I watched the Northwestern game because the Ohio State game caused me acute chest pains when Ohio State blew a 17 point lead and FSU pulled within 8 points late in the second half. That's when you start to get sea legs, which makes it harder for me to pace back and forth.

The Northwestern game ended and I was forced to watch Ohio State. By then, Cornell had officially lost by 20 points and Cuse covered a 15 point spread. I picked up a quick hundred and won my first bet to bust a mini-slump. It must be my lucky days, because Ohio State pull away and closed out the game like a Top 10 team should. I won a few hundred and so enthralled to finally get back on track. I'd score a rare hat trick if I nailed that impulsive bet on Portland.

That's when bettor's remorse sunk in.

Why did I bet on them? So fucking stupid. That's what happens when you're weak and bored. I couldn't find the game on cable, and figured as much, but ATDHE didn't have the game either. That site is a sports bettor's wet dream and gives you a chance to sweat the bet by watching the game. I was surprised because they usually have every game, including the most random Italian soccer leagues, but why not the epic Portland-Saint Louis match up?

That's what I get for betting on two super obscure teams. I had a better chance of hopping on a puddle jumper to Portland and sweating the second half in person. As is, I monitored the game using Gamecast -- except the updates were only coming every five or six minutes, so I had to wait in agony while I played Badugi and constantly refreshed the page. It got stuck on the last update -- 3:42 to go and Portland was up by 10. I was laying 5, but the game was far from over. I got antsy. I even conducted a thorough Twitter search in hopes that one of the gajillion Twitter users was actually at the game. I couldn't find anyone. It seemed like twenty minutes had passed before the score had been updated. I got caught in perpetual limbo.

I spent the next five minutes in a wading pool of nausea. If Portland failed to cover and I lost the bet, then the experience would be a lesson in humility and a reminder that I have to curtail impulsive behavior. At the same time, if I won the bet, then I suffered a moral defeat because no one learns a lesson when they win money. The wayward ones only learn lessons when they lose the last of their money, and even then they ignore the signs. Regardless of the outcome, I knew where I stood. Then... I got confirmation on the final score...

Portland 69, Saint Louis 60.

One win was enough to pull me out of the doldrums of a horrible slump, but with three clutch winning sports bets, the gloom subsided and the miserable cloud of guilt vanished. Three in a row? Blast off. The jubilant and ecstatic emotions accompanying the windfall quickly washes away any notion of ending this pattern of self-destructive behavior. If anything, the warmth of new-found wealth lured me into the suffocating grips of greed.

Seduction is a bitch. Instead of betting less, all I want to do is bet more.


  1. Great shit Pauly...i am also a degen sports gambler who is a huge Cuse fan. i've broken all the betting rules except putting money down on my own team. interested in what the "nugget" was about Cornell. The 15 spread was ballsy considering we beat the powerful william and mary by 3 and looked like absolute shit against detroit. glad you won...i'll be at the UNCW game next week if u want me to tweet the score you sick your stuff,

  2. I used to do bet Horse Racing regularly (at Laurel, Pimlico and Charles Town) until one night I went to Charles Town for Willie Clark's 65 Birthday celebration. I was so sure they would fix a race for the ancient jockey on his birthday that I blew my loss limit by the 8th race. I went to ATM at track and paid the exorbinant fees to bet on Willie in 9th (his last race only to see it go down in flames.

    10th race with $40 left I bet an exacta box (loss) and jackpot key (1st 4 in order) where 60:1 horse I threw in with 3 from exacta box came in 2nd and paid $1500 for a nice profit on evening.

    I always felt dirtier about blowing through limit than happy about win.

    Sadly my loss limit at time was only $100 and I was disgusted that I had risked $200 total with fees.

  3. Fantastic.

    Now that I'm back in Vegas I can't wait to get back in the action.

    Seriously what's better than sweating a college basketball game, it's booze, weed, pharmies, and meth all rolled into two hours.