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Vegas Musings...By The Philosopher

With another Major Wager Vegas bash upon us, I thought it might be fun to post various random thoughts that have occurred to me since the last one.

One thing I want to say at the outset is that I hope as many people as can will come out and join the fun. I have to say, I have heard from several people already who have told me that they are available to come but don.t plan to, or even will be in town at that time but have no interest in attending. At most they might want to meet one or more specific individuals if they can split them off from the herd, but they don.t want to mingle with the group as a whole.

I hope if you are in that boat that you will reconsider. Believe me, if this one is even remotely like the one last summer, you have nothing to fear as far as it deteriorating into the Dead End Kids Bookies endlessly testing their manhood and picking fights with everyone. It.s just not like that. The people who would behave like that are probably the last people who would ever attend something like this. Instead, again judging from the last one, people are very nice and on their best behavior, and just having fun putting names to faces. The morons either don.t show or turn out to be very different in person than as posters.

But anyway, onto the reminiscing.

. . . . . . . . . .

JC was an unexpected participant in the last Vegas festivities, and yet he, appropriately, evolved into the unofficial guest of honor. For everyone knew that he was about to start a federal prison term for booking bets offshore placed by bettors located in the U.S., and thus the WSEX sponsored dinner especially functioned as a kind of going away party. And as a result of that, in spite of all the frivolity and the good times, the weekend had a certain solemnity to it. It didn.t quite have the feel of the last meal of a death row convict perhaps, but by the same token there was a heaviness to the proceedings. It was a celebration tinged with sadness.

The Friday night dinner at The Palm restaurant at Caesar.s Palace began with a benediction (one of those half serious/half winking Guido things) and a statement of appreciation to WSEX for its sponsorship of the dinner and to JC for his fighting the good fight. This was met with a hearty round of applause from all present. Jay was prevailed upon to stand up and make a few impromptu remarks. He humbly shifted the focus back to Major Wager and congratulated us on the healthy turnout. Though some of us had joked about how WSEX didn.t know what it was getting itself into and would surely be stunned when they saw the bill that this crew ran up, Jay said that rather than making this a one time only thing, he hoped this was the start of a tradition of WSEX sponsoring these dinners every year, and that he.d like nothing more than for there to be an even bigger turnout next summer.

I watched him at this dinner, and the previous day at the Palms sportsbook, and what struck me most about him was his serenity. He.d be sitting at the end of the table gazing around the room, or standing and talking quietly with his young lady friend, with that small smile on his lips and a calm expression in his eyes. Contrary to how I or almost any of us would respond to the immediate prospect of doing a year or so of federal time.regardless of whether it was to be at a .white collar. prison.nothing about the way he carried himself conveyed anger, fear, bitterness.

I.m not sure what image people have formed of Jay from his posts and from what they have read and heard of him in connection with his case. Clearly he is an intelligent, confident, successful person who is certain of the rightness of what he is doing, but in Vegas at least he came across to me as very much a .regular guy.. He wasn.t an arrogant character holding court, expecting to be acknowledged as some larger than life figure by deferential admirers. He wasn.t combatively justifying himself to make sure everyone was aboard the .Jay is a hero engaged in a noble struggle. bandwagon. He was very open and friendly and respectful toward everyone, very approachable. I told him what a pleasant surprise it was that he could attend, and what an honor it was to meet him, and rather than take that with an attitude of .Yes, as well it should be for the likes of you,. he assured me the feeling was mutual, and we spent a few moments gossiping about some of the bizarre Major Wager posters and such.

I asked him at one point what he intended to do upon completing his sentence. He told me that in all likelihood he would live abroad permanently. Such is his feeling of estrangement from his native land, or at least its government. I was a little surprised at this, and I said, .I assumed the reason you were going to do your time was that you didn.t want to burn your bridges by fleeing the country and then never being able to safely come back. But if not interested in being here anyway, why let them put you in prison? Why not just leave now?.

He was a little taken aback by the question, as if I had misunderstood what he was about. He explained that regardless of how he feels about the verdict, this is something he committed to seeing through to the end, win or lose. So he feels obligated to abide by the verdict and sentence, though not because he acknowledges them as just in any way.

No question the .theme. of the first Major Wager gathering was an appreciation of Jay Cohen and his perseverance. Jay.s presence served as a reminder that there are a lot more serious matters in this area of life that chosen for our occupation or hobby than who.s atop the BCS, whether Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame, or whether teasers are always sucker bets.

. . . . . . . . . .

Las Vegas is a city with a lot of memories for me. I have spent more total time there, by far, than any city I have not lived.

For about a decade, I traveled to Vegas multiple times a year. I don.t even want to think about how much time spent at that airport.

I made about forty trips total.not including another five or ten to Reno or Lake Tahoe. The purpose of pretty much all these trips was blackjack. There were a few years, before I started betting offshore extensively, that I also timed trips for the beginning and end of the football season in order to make and cash NFL futures bets, but primarily it was blackjack.

Alas, however, I ultimately decided to give it up. You see, I am a decent card counter, but nothing special. I proved over time that I could count and play well enough to overcome the house edge and a tiny bit more, but that.s it. After years of crazy streaks in both directions, the end result was that I played well over a thousand hours of casino blackjack, and I made less than minimum wage doing so. And that.s gross. Net, with all the air fare and expenses and everything, I was way down.

Still, it was an important part of my life for a lot of years, and those trips included a lot of bizarre experiences. About 75% of the time I came alone just to gamble, but not surprisingly, the more memorable trips tended to be the ones where I was with one or more buddies.

I don.t miss the grind of the blackjack itself at all. (When you play it right, it is a purely mechanical game based on memorization and rigid decisionmaking. The epitome of boredom.) I certainly don.t miss hearing a thousand times the myth that other people playing their cards in a way you disapprove of lessens your chances of winning. (I swear there were times I was very close to strangling the next idiot whiner abusing the fellow on third base for .taking the dealer.s bust card..) But I miss being with friends and bonding as we made fun of the endless Vegas characters, from the delightful drunks at the gaming tables making utter fools of themselves in the middle of the night and absolutely not caring, to the coked up Elvis impersonator at the bus stop eagerly telling us his--comically precise.rankings in the various Elvis categories (.Now, purely on physical resemblance to Elvis, I.m only in the top twenty, but as far as my moves and my body language on stage, I.m third, and my singing voice is no worse than fifth...)

Nowadays I live reasonably close to Vegas.I can drive rather than fly.but the only reason I come any more is if it happens to be a convenient rendezvous point to meet one or more friends. I do little or no gambling there (might sit in on a small stakes poker game.I.m probably about a break even player at such games.but that.s basically all), and I was never much for the shows. The people watching is fun, but that.s about it. Gone are the days of spending a five day trip playing blackjack fifteen hours each day and sleeping three, and then rushing back a couple months later to do it again. Glad gone, I suppose.

. . . . . . . . . .

I spent only a minimal amount of time speaking with Machiavelli, and so my impressions of him are unavoidably superficial, but there were certain things, certain positive things, that stood out to me about him.

Mach in many ways is a big kid, a big happy friendly gregarious kid.

The sportsbetting aspect of his life has been remarkably lucrative. And not talking about someone experiencing a windfall through more or less blind luck.e.g., hitting the lottery, getting in on the ground floor with some unknown stock that goes through the roof, etc..but someone who is obviously very bright, and who applied himself to a difficult task with an unknown outcome and is now reaping the benefits of his hard work.

Success came early and it came big in Mach.s sportsbetting career, so much so that he.s a bit stunned by it all, like the person who needs to pinch himself to make sure that he.s not dreaming. He.s very open about all this, and I actually found his attitude toward his gambling success rather appealing. Coming from someone else, it could seem boastful or competitive, but Mach is so real and so unself-conscious about it that it.s as if he hasn.t learned yet to manifest false humility or to choose his words strategically for their effect on the listener. He.s like a lovestruck starry-eyed youth who can.t help but talk about his beloved, not because he wants to rub in what he.s got and you don.t, but simply because the rarest and purest joys in life warrant expression and appreciation.

His attitude toward his success is so genuine as to be contagious. It is the sort of thing that.unless you are an unusually petty person.inspires a reaction not of envy or resentment but of, in the words of Zero Mostel in .The Front,. .It.s nice when nice happens to somebody nice..

I also sensed something very positive about Mach.s social style. First you must understand my perhaps odd perspective on such matters. I am someone who grew up very shy, and then as an adult became only tolerably at ease in most social situations. I am by nature far more of a detached observer than a participant in most social interactions, especially in a group setting. Indeed I have a somewhat jaded view of such matters, as for so many years I have noted the ugly aspects of socializing.the phoniness, the conformity, the striving for approval and acceptance through the unconscious mimicry of the crowd, the game playing.all the things that are so much more apparent when one is able to step back and examine human behavior from a more detached point of view.

This attitude could easily have led me to develop in a quite misanthropic direction, but instead, even though I was very aware of the flaws and the foolishness of conventional socializing, as I grew older I also came to appreciate the value of opening up to people and learning to experience more of life.

And so nowadays, while I still would never want to trade places with the vast majority of extroverts, I have come to admire a certain subset of them, a subset to which, I inferred, Mach belongs.

For Mach just seems so open and so sincere, and so able, in his striving for genuine human connection. He has a youthful enthusiasm about learning and growing and experiencing life. Need another person willing to get up at dawn to play golf? Mach is there. Comp Fan and his bride have extra tickets to a Vegas show and are asking around to find someone to accompany them? Mach is up for it. A few people want to hit the gaming tables? Mach.s happy to be included. Some late night carousing at a local strip club? Mach.ll give it a try.

Not only did he join in all the group activities, but he sought out every opportunity he could to hook up with posters on a one-to-one basis. On multiple occasions he suggested that he and I get together. (It never came off, as we weren.t able to coordinate our schedules around commitments with other people.)

And it isn.t a phony and perfunctory, .Hey, we should do lunch,. or a purely pragmatic recognition of how it might be in his self-interest to network within this particular group of folks. Instead, he makes you feel like he expects to genuinely enjoy and learn from interacting with you.

I would have to think that overall Mach as much as anyone made the most of the Vegas weekend. He has a natural joy of life and a social facility that I.d like to have. Maybe the ideal would be to be able to turn that on and off at will, to have both my capacity to see things from a unique and detached perspective, and Mach.s capacity to immerse oneself in social interactions and fully participate in the myriad experiences life makes available.

. . . . . . . . . .

One of the things I.m not particularly fond of about Major Wager is the lack of diversity. It.s virtually all straight white American males (mostly middle aged or older fat straight white American males, to be more specific). For me at least, it would be refreshing to hear from people from more varied backgrounds and perspectives.

100% of the posters attending the Vegas get together were male, though a small number were accompanied by a wife or girlfriend for one or more of the events. Generally an all-male gathering.think American college fraternities or Taliban religious training not exactly where I would expect to see people at their best. So one of the things I was curious about was what kind of attitudes this bunch would manifest toward women.

I am a feminist, but one who has little patience for some of the excesses and absurdities that some feminists are guilty of. (I was going to use the phrase .political correctness. in describing the latter, but I really think that that once useful phrase has been so abused and twisted by the Right that it should probably be retired.) One manifestation of this is that I try to walk a fine line of appreciating women.s looks, without crossing over into disrespecting and objectifying women.

On the one hand, there.s no denying that there is something ugly and utterly wrong with some common male attitudes and behavior toward women, and specifically as it relates to judging women based on their appearance. On the other hand, I acknowledge zero moral obligation to refrain from being attracted to women physically, to feel no more attracted physically to one woman than another (I had a feminist girlfriend once who would always dogmatically insist .All women are beautiful!. if I or anyone in her presence ever as much as hinted that some particular woman was good-looking), to never articulate my being physically attracted to women, or to never allow my behavior to be influenced by being attracted to women. None whatsoever.

I think the key lies in appreciating something about someone, versus judging them solely on that basis or somehow implying that nothing else about them matters. In other words, it.s not treating women as sex objects that.s objectionable; it.s treating them as only sex objects.

It.s simply a fact that I derive pleasure from seeing the pretty girl in shorts walking down the street. But I might also appreciate her or some other woman telling a funny joke, or achieving a breakthrough in science, or blocking a shot in a WNBA game bet on. There.s nothing inherently disrespectful or degrading in any of those reactions, and I see no reason to hide them or deny them.

That I.m attracted anatomically to some women simply provides one thing about them that I can potentially appreciate in a way that I cannot appreciate the same thing about men or about other women. That.s just the way it is.

I feel no more guilt looking at a beaver shot in a porno magazine (and thereby reducing the model to a sex object) than I do watching a boxing match (and thereby reducing the fighters to athletic objects) or reading a scholarly article (and thereby reducing the author to an intellectual object). My enjoying seeing the model naked and exposed no more denies her full personhood or denies the possibility that she is a witty conversationalist or devoted parent, than my appreciating just the one aspect of the fighters or the author in this present context somehow denies that they might also be kind to animals or give a lot of support to charitable causes.

As it turns out, I found myself quite comfortable with the way my Major Wager brethren talked about and interacted with women. I thought it was pretty compatible with my own attitudes.

Did hot women draw a lot of attention from this bunch? Absolutely. Was women.s looks a common topic of conversation? Yep. Did some of our people pay to see naked women at a strip club? They did indeed.

But at least judging by the little bit I happened to hear, it really wasn.t done in a demeaning manner. Not in my opinion, anyway. It was just heterosexual guys not forcing themselves to pretend to be indifferent to female beauty.

When our people expressed some appreciation of a woman.s attractiveness, I never sensed an attitude of .And that.s all she.s good for.. Nor did they engage in the extremely common practice of putting down women that they were not attracted to, which I have always found to be particularly degrading and hostile. (That a woman is not attractive to me is not a negative, just the absence of a positive. I would never have an insulting attitude toward a woman on that basis, any more than I would ridicule someone for not being able to play the piano. I like sexy women and skilled piano players; I don.t dislike or disparage people who happen not to fit into these categories.)

Nor was there the attitude that always bugs me from some of my friends that implies that there.s something objective about looks rather than it being a matter of taste. I have a buddy who is most attracted to really petite women.average height or shorter, and near anorexic in build. But instead of just saying that that.s what he happens to like, he always implies that somehow those women are, in fact, better looking than other women.

I thought it was interesting, then, that one of our people expressed the same preference for petite women like that, but immediately added (certainly with no prompting from me or anyone else) that it.s every bit as legitimate for the next guy to have a totally different preference.

Thoroughly appreciates the women he.s attracted to; has no disrespect at all for the rest. Just the way it should be.

I came away thinking that while some of the attendees might be a little rough around the edges, really the Major Wager people as a whole did not create an atmosphere of disrespect or hostility toward women. I think that if some of our few female posters chose to attend a future such event, they would be quite comfortable and would be treated very well.

. . . . . . . . . .

As it turned out, the person with whom I spent by far the most time at the Vegas bash was Unitas. (That.s excluding my spending several hours on Sunday with a poster who did not attend the group events.) We conversed for a considerable amount of time at the Palms sportsbook shortly after my arrival there, and we spent the WSEX sponsored dinner together.

It helps to be a good listener around Unitas.

Some people dominate conversations by force. They speak louder than you, speak faster than you, fill any potential pauses with meaningless catch phrases (e.g., .you know?. .you know what I.m saying?.) to make sure they don.t lose the floor while they collect their thoughts for the next onslaught, immediately interrupt if you have the audacity to attempt to speak, and use gestures and body language to convey even a physical sense that their goal is to overwhelm. Others dominate through quality. Unitas is of the latter type. He has a lot to say, and it.s worth hearing.

He has a delightfully apologetic and self-deprecating attitude toward his verbal style..I.m just rambling now,. .I know strayed from the point I was going to make,. .I.m sure you don.t want to hear all of these stories,. etc..but in reality, time spent listening to him is time well spent.

Unitas has lived a very rich life, with more than its share of highs and lows. Lows especially, truth be told. He has experienced poverty and plenty, severe health problems and recovery, treachery and true friendship. He has seen man at his unscrupulous and avaricious worst, and at his loyal and inspiring best.

He takes it all in, rolls it around in his mind, seeks the lesson in it, and stores it away as a story to recall later for the benefit of himself or a listener. He has seemingly achieved an admirable philosophical balance where he can appreciate the good in life as much or more than ever, while the bad causes but minimal disturbance to his peace of mind.

When the subject is stiff bookies, back stabbing gamblers, or nefarious behavior in general, Unitas manifests a sort of dismay. To call it anger or outrage would be misleading, as his manner is far too gentle and stoic for that. I can.t call it naivete or genuine surprise either, for that creates the impression he is stupid or inexperienced in the ways of the world, and he is decidedly neither.

It.s as if on some level he is as aware as any of us how rotten people can sometimes behave, yet he wills himself not to accept it as normal, so that each time he encounters it anew, he is a bit taken aback by it. One senses that he is so focused in his own life on being positive, appreciating his blessings, and treating others as he would like to be treated, that when confronted with someone with a seemingly diametrically opposed approach to life, it does not immediately compute.

He simply refuses to become jaded and expect the worst from people.

Pretty sharp gambler too, by the way. Knows his horses. Knows his way around the Don Best screen.

. . . . . . . . . .

One of my favorite Letterman lines of all time occurred many years ago when he was chatting with some bimbo starlet. She mentioned that she had just secured the services of a .pet psychiatrist. for her dog, and Dave cut in to say, .Hey, you know how you can achieve the exact same thing? Go up on your roof, take handfuls of money, and throw it into the wind!.

I can.t help but think of that line in connection with the overwhelming majority of people who gamble.

I get zero enjoyment out of gambling per se. 90% of what appeals to me about gambling is the winning, 10% is the feeling of accomplishment that I earned the win (thus, for instance, winning on my own picks is slightly better than simply betting picks someone else provides to me), and 0% is some kind of .rush. of engaging in the activity itself. I just don.t get what there is to enjoy about gambling if more likely to lose than win.

People say, .Oh, I know I won.t win in the long run doing this, but I do it for fun.. These are the so-called .recreational. gamblers that the casinos and sportsbooks love. But that.s just it. Where.s the .fun.? To me, to play craps, slot machines, make an uninformed sports bet just to have action, etc., would be exactly as fun as sitting on my roof and throwing handfuls of money into the wind.

I have an actual strong aversion to making any bet where I don.t perceive myself to have at least a slight edge. Put me at a progressive slot machine where my long run expectation is to return $1.000001 for each $1 I wager, and maybe I.ll play, if I have nothing better to do. Put me at the machine next to it where my long run expectation is to return $0.999999999 for each $1 I wager, and I.ll be like those .Fear Factor. people swallowing maggots. It.s just utterly repugnant to me.

Well, hopefully that will stand me in good stead in the long run, making me much less likely to ever be a .problem gambler.. It won.t guarantee that I don.t lose, since I can still lose whenever I have miscalculated and don.t have the edge I think I do, or whenever I do have such an edge but I happen to have short term bad luck. It won.t even guarantee that I do not lose disastrously, since on more than one occasion in my life, I have played it.always with at least a slight advantage--very, very close to the edge, simply because I made an eyes open rational decision that gambling with that degree of risk was the least of the evils available to me at the time. But at least it.ll enable me to avoid the pointless drain on one.s bank roll of .recreational. gambling.

But I walk through these Vegas casinos, and my primary reaction is one of perplexed sadness. (No, actually, my number one reaction is .I really, really want to get out of here before I have a panic attack because I feel claustrophobic when people are packed this densely together like this,. and number two is .I really, really want to get out of here because I can.t breathe due to all the smokers.. But this is still in the top three.) Row after row of occupied slot machines, roulette tables full, craps tables full, non-counters eagerly waiting for a spot to open up at a blackjack table.

I.m walking through a crowded residential neighborhood, and inexplicably every roof is occupied by people gleefully throwing handfuls of money into the wind..

. . . . . . . . . .

One of the first people I met that first day at the Palms had a dazed expression, a bit of a slur to his speech, a hint of a stagger in his gait, a loud and infectious laugh, and a boisterous style in general. He had not been to sleep the previous night (and indeed, as it turned out he skipped sleep multiple nights and slept only minimally the other nights throughout his Vegas stay). He tipped waitresses, strippers, and probably random passersby like a drunken sailor. For that matter, he drank like a drunken sailor. He treated everyone who crossed his path like his best friend, and it seemed his goal was to make sure all his best friends loved and enjoyed life the way he did.

He was also the last Major Wager character I happened to see before I left town. My final memory of the Vegas trip is of him at a pai-gow poker table at the Palms, merrily plopping down four figures per hand without a care in the world.

This is Taxman.

All I knew of Taxman before the trip was that we were seemingly utterly incompatible when it comes to politics, religion, and in general all the things that are most crucial to making you the kind of person you are, that he was one of the strongest supporters of both the style and substance of the repellant MarkDel and his poisonous and hateful ideology, and that he had ripped into Sportsbank in one of the crudest and meanest attacks I had yet observed in the Mess Hall. If you had asked me about meeting him in Vegas, I probably would have said that if I do encounter him there, I doubt he.ll be openly hostile, but I.m sure he won.t have any use for me and I suppose that.s no great loss from my point of view.

Instead, he was very friendly and welcoming toward me, and indeed he manifested nothing but good will toward all of us. .Life is too short to take Major Wager or anything else too seriously,. his attitude seemed to say, .Let.s have fun!.

I remember when we parted he told me how good it had been to meet me and how much he hoped we.d meet up again at the next gathering. It seemed so much from the heart, rather than just a matter of tossing out whatever words politeness or social convention required. I got the feeling that maybe he was capable of superficial temper flare-ups but that deep down, he really just doesn.t have a lot of ill will in him and would have a lot of trouble working up a strong dislike for anyone or looking down on anyone. If he meets Alec at the next of these shindigs, rather than slug him or shun him he.ll probably treat him like his closest buddy and buy him a lap dance.

And his style almost compels a reciprocal attitude. I defy you to spend any time with this crazy son of a bitch and not come away liking him.

. . . . . . . . . .

One thing that was something of a pleasant surprise for me was the way so many attendees went out of their way to compliment me on my writings. I figure even the people who mostly like what I have to say just skim through my longer offerings especially. Thus I was struck by the way several people singled out by far my longest Major Wager piece ever (.Gather .Round Everybody, The Philosopher.s Got Something to Say. from earlier that summer), and even proceeded to make reference to various specifics from that article. I remember thinking .Wow! There are people who read that far into that article, and remembered all that?. I mean, anyone can pretend read and pretend liked my stuff, but it.s not bullshit when citing specifics like that.

I also received a lot of support for the idea of carving out a section of Major Wager for a more private .invitation only. forum. One or two people expressed misgivings about it if it were too elitist or exclusive, but zero people were openly hostile to the idea, and most who brought it up strongly supported it, including some.Grandfather comes to mind.who noted that they had opposed it 100% when it was first raised and had since changed their mind completely.

Clearly it would not be something that everyone would prefer, but that.s the whole point. As I said in my article, some people prefer to discuss sportsbetting in a loud and boisterous sports bar, and some people prefer to discuss it in a night class on gambling at the local community college. Neither group of people is necessarily .better. than the other. A site that provided both types of atmosphere (and maybe more, if there were other sizable niches to be served) would maximize its chances of attracting all types of bettors, which means more page views, more eyes seeing more paid ads, etc., or so it seemed to me at the time.

And the reaction of many I spoke to at the Vegas bash convinced me that I was not alone in that assessment.

But in any case, I really appreciate people saying the things they did about my contributions to Major Wager. It.s gratifying to know that there are people who think made a positive difference in one way or another.

. . . . . . . . . .

Then there.s Comp Fan, Major Wager.s answer to Ned Flanders.

In some respects, Compy in person is about what you would expect if read Compy the poster. He.s unfailingly kind and considerate, and genuinely likes people.

I might have guessed he.d be a more flamboyant person, with maybe a more bubbly or goofy style. At times though, he had a reserved quality to him. I watched him a bit the first day at the Palms sportsbook, and as often as not he was kind of hovering along the outskirts of the group, beer in hand, watching casually with a subdued expression, maybe wondering what these folks thought of him and whether they accepted him.

He.s brighter than you might think. And by the sounds of it, he.s a solid gambler. It.s hard to say for sure from our minimal interaction, but generally you can pick up fairly quickly if someone is prone to the common gambling habits and fallacies that make almost everyone a loser, and I inferred quite the opposite from what he had to say. Not saying he.s the next Billy Walters, but whereas I remember when he mentioned in the Mess Hall that he had been booted by Game Day I enjoyed a little chuckle at the thought of a book that couldn.t handle the likes of Compy, now it doesn.t seem so hard to believe. He.s no mere recreational player.

I recall when Compy first started posting, a friend of mine sent me an E-Mail stating, in effect, what an annoying little twerp this newbie was. Yes, I replied, but don.t rule out this being some kind of a put-on. No one is really like this. I don.t know if this is a ghost poster or what the motive for adopting this particular peculiar posting persona could be, but I smell someone pulling our leg. This guy.s a caricature.

Then after a few months of incessant niceness, it was hard to avoid the realization that this was no put-on. And meeting him in person clinched it.

I confess. gone soft. I like Compy. So he.s too nice. There are worse things to be. Can you even be .too nice.? Beats the hell out of the opposite vice.

I.d like to think mellowed a bit as a poster myself. Maybe a little Compy rubbing off on me. I still get in an occasional dig at some cretin, but I hope it.s infrequent and not particularly mean-spirited. Probably means I.m not quite as cool as I could be, but I guess I.ll have to settle for being a slightly better person instead.

In any case, from thinking he was something of a joke, come to regard Compy as one of the most genuinely decent human beings around here, and one of the people I.d most like to be friends with.

. . . . . . . . . .

Dig! Sitting around a lunch table at the Paris hotel: Me, then clockwise starting to my left, Compy, The Devil, Reality, Ronbets. Who would have predicted that this particular collection of characters would ever all be in the same place at the same time? Especially Compy and me. The other three maybe, but all five?

Before we ever got together, Reality E-Mailed me not to be scared about what he would be like in person. .I am very little like my posting personality as Reality.. After the lunch, The Devil sidled up to me and said in a jolly fashion, .See? Reality is nothing like the way he posts!.

I remember thinking, .Wait a minute. Yes he is. He.s totally Reality.. If you had observed the five of us throughout lunch and then been asked to pick out which one was Reality, 100% of you would have gotten it right.

I think the problem is that their remarks were predicated on the assumption that I or people in general find Reality.s posting persona objectionable or intimidating. And yes, I do regard Reality the poster to be flawed, mostly when he goes into that mode where he senses that quality is not carrying the day so it.s time to bury his opponents with quantity, which can really be damaging to a public forum and shows, in my opinion, disrespect for the forum owners. Plus I did have one fairly serious run-in with Reality the poster awhile back.

But on the whole, my assessment of Reality the poster has always been a lot more positive than negative. It.s hard to explain sometimes why someone does or doesn.t rub you the wrong way, but for the most part I just don.t have a problem with Reality. He never struck me as a bad guy; he certainly never intimidated me.

Reality the poster is a lovable blowhard. He.s a much better speaker than listener, he.s positive he.s right and not always particularly receptive to challenges. He.s a magnet for attention. He obviously has a high IQ, his knowledge of the bookmaking business is wide-ranging and deep, he is loyal to a fault to his friends and colleagues in the business, he loves the role of the raconteur, he is an intensely principled man whose highest priority is to live his life with integrity and honesty and fair dealing (and second highest priority is to make sure everyone realizes he.s doing so). When, instead of picking a fight to make a reputation for himself, a person approaches him with a question or comment civilly (OK, deferentially), Reality can be surprisingly patient and informative, putting considerable effort into educating and helping people.

Reality in person is, well, basically all of the above. Maybe a little lower key, and clearly not quite so abrasive or overbearing (though none of his enemies were there to annoy him and bring out that side of him), but still Reality for sure. Which is a good thing.

It.s great to watch the way The Devil and Reality interact, because The Devil simply loves to push his buttons. They go back and forth razzing each other about who picked up the check last time, about who bested whom in Reality.s latest forum battle, and so on, but The Devil.s ace in the hole is that it.s 100% in fun on his side and 95% in fun on Reality.s side, so he knows who will get under whom.s skin eventually.

So sooner or later, Reality will frown and fall silent for a moment, just slightly non-plussed, and then he.ll seek to set the record straight and justify himself, in a tone of .All right, fun is fun, but let.s not lose sight of the fact that I.m right,. and this will bust up The Devil every time. The Devil knows that if he pushes enough, Reality will not be able to let it alone and will have to react.

I recognize this in Reality because always had that in me too, more so when I was younger. It.s like we know that it.s best not to take oneself too seriously, but we only know it up to a point. When push comes to shove, we want to make sure that the kidding around and the teasing doesn.t obscure the fact that we were in the right in this matter we are being needled about. And the fact that we care even slightly about that gives a character like The Devil all the opening he needs.

Ronbets is someone I was almost sure I.d like, but about whom I also had just a bit of apprehension.

I had never met him, never spoken with him, never E-Mailed with him, never Private Messaged with him, and there.s always going to be that element of mystery about someone that you know exclusively through his posting persona.

No question I like Ronbets as a poster. He.s one of the best. He knows the business from both sides of the counter, he has an independent and sharp mind, and he.ll call bullshit on people when got it coming. Not a lot gets past him, and certainly learned from reading his posts (aside from the cryptically worded ones that he doesn.t spell out enough for anyone but his fellow insiders to know whom or what the heck he.s talking about).

But there.s an edge to him. There.s a real disdainful air to a lot of his posts that gives one the distinct impression that he is one of those people who does not suffer fools graciously, and is convinced he is regularly surrounded by fools.

I certainly don.t care for much of what seen of his politics, and if his personality reflected his conservative ideology, then there was a good chance we would not get along. On the other hand, he clearly has no patience for racists (including those misguided souls who think that the only racists are those wearing sheets or celebrating the Holocaust), and I.ll forgive a lot if someone .gets it. to at least that extent.

I wondered if in person he would have any use for Compy or me. In obvious or subtle ways, would he associate himself with The Devil and Reality, treat them as equals, and exclude Compy and me? Would there be that disdain in his voice, to let us know that outsiders, that we don.t belong, that we have nothing to contribute when serious bookies and serious bettors get together?

Frankly, I wasn.t concerned so much for me as for Compy. Ronbets had always shown me respect in the forum. I figured the worst that would happen to me is that I.d be ignored. It would be like Ronbets is a doctor having lunch with two colleagues, and I.m a lawyer who was invited along for no apparent reason. They might well spend much of the meal talking shop, and make little or no effort to bring me up to speed on all the medical stuff so I can participate or at least follow along, but it wouldn.t be because they disrespect me or think I.m stupid. It would just be a matter of ignoring me because I.m out of my field of expertise; I.m not an insider, not a fellow doctor.

I really hoped, though, that he wouldn.t act superior to Compy. I figured The Devil seemed to like everybody and didn.t have any airs about him, and Reality.s full of himself in a way that we already know about and accept (and I find more entertaining than offensive), and he.s the one who invited Compy and me in the first place, so if anyone was a risk to have a .What are these two squares doing here?. disdainful edge to him, it was Ronbets.

So it is with considerable pleasure that I report that Ronbets conducted himself with nothing but class and courtesy. He treated everyone present with the utmost respect and as equals. He.s a genuinely nice person, simple as that. Indeed, he and Compy spent much of the meal deep in conversation about gambling (casino gambling more so than sportsbetting.they are among the folks who have figured out that in the case of a few casino offerings, the .house edge. is a rule of thumb rather than an absolute), and if there was the slightest patronizing attitude from Ronbets.s side, I certainly never picked up on it.

From his posting style, you.d expect someone like Unitas to be a kind-hearted sort, but Ronbets was a lot less of a sure thing on that score. But it turns out there.s a pussycat behind those kosar-like barbs.

(By the way, Ronbets is absolutely the spitting image of a certain celebrity, but I.m not going to tell you who. He chose not to attend the group activities and not to be photographed, so I assume he wouldn.t want me even slightly compromising his anonymity like that.)

You know, I thought about all this after the meal, and I thought about it again recently after some unpleasantness in the Mess Hall, and really it shouldn.t have come as a surprise that The Devil, Reality, or Ronbets are the way they are in person.

Look, all three of them, especially Reality, have posted things that were not ideally constructive, not ideally respectful of others. I told you I clashed with Reality myself, and I.ll maintain to my dying day that he was just plain wrong on that occasion and allowed himself to be manipulated by an unscrupulous person who hates me. People have tempers, and communicating via forum posts routinely brings out something less than their best.

But if you really look at their posts, there.s no pattern of abusiveness or disrespect. They can be frank, they can be cutting, they.ll occasionally fall back on the copout that you have to be .old school. to understand, but for the most part there.s usually a basic decency to the way they treat fellow posters. With only occasional regrettable exceptions, their sharpest putdowns are aimed not at humble squares, not at those who are doing their best and simply asking honest questions or offering honest opinions, but instead at those who are trying to bullshit the readers, those with agendas, those putting on airs that they know more than they really do, those that are trying to make a reputation for themselves by picking a fight with one of these prominent posters, etc.

Regardless of what you think of Reality.s bombastic style, when you get right down to it, he.s about helping people avoid risky books, about doing what.s right on both sides of the counter. Ask him a legitimate question in a respectful manner and he.ll respond with equal respect and put a lot of time and effort into crafting a thorough and helpful answer.

You may have missed it in all the hullabaloo when the Private Message system was temporarily deactivated, but Ronbets mentioned in a post that one unfortunate consequence of this was that he was no longer able to discreetly contact and assist newbies and other posters who maybe had a problem or a question. He.s about helping people, but he wants to do it in a low key manner. It.s not his style to do it in a grandstanding way.

These are people with class. Rough around the edges in certain respects, street savvy, not afraid of confrontation, but really not mean-spirited when you get right down to it.

Contrast that with phonies and bums like MarkDel or .Bill. from NAB, or with some of the jackasses who have recently tried to drag the Mess Hall down to the level of their personal playground for abusive bookies. You know the type I mean, the ones who never tire of bolstering their pathetic egos by bragging about what insiders they are and how rough and tough they are. The ones who constantly remind you that you are to sit quietly and listen to the big bad bookies who know all. The ones who look for every opportunity.whether warranted or guffaw over how events have proved them right yet again and how stupid and out of the loop we all are. .old school,. and the folks I.m discussing from lunch are .old school,. but that.s where the similarity ends. I don.t think you.ll catch Ronbets openly rooting for an honest but challenging poster to get stiffed by a book rumored to be in trouble. I don.t think you.ll see The Devil cruelly laughing at irresponsible and compulsive gamblers, and delighting in how inevitable it is that such customers will forever continue losing to him. And don.t even mention Reality in the same sentence as some of these creeps.

. . . . . . . . . .

There are so many more I could tell you about if I let this get even longer. I was fortunate enough to sit with Vegas locals Grandfather and Snowman at one of the group meals. Grandfather was a lot of fun, talking sports and talking about some of the frustrations of dealing with idiots from his moderator position. I thoroughly enjoyed Snowman.s hilarious but sincere puzzlement over just how genuinely stupid some Vegas sportsbook customers are. .It.s everything I can do to resist asking some of these people how they even manage to function from day to day. How do they live, how do they take care of themselves, how do they feed themselves, when that incredibly stupid?.

Pete K seems a very down to earth person who thoroughly enjoys his job at LVSC, and he was gracious enough to spend several minutes chatting with me and answering some questions I had about sportsbetting and the bookmaking business. Total Square, Superbook, and the inimitable and imposing Krackman in his jaunty beret are among those I interacted with at least briefly, and all made a positive impression on me. Several others I didn.t have the opportunity to get much beyond a quick handshake and introduction, but I have to say they were all as nice and as respectful as could be toward me and everyone.

. . . . . . . . . .

It.s a point I and others have made in the past, but it bears repeating. Something about posting on these anonymous forums can bring out an abusive and immature side of people. Just about everyone I have ever interacted with in any more personal phone, meeting them in person in Vegas certainly, even just by E-Mail.I have liked as much or usually more than when I just knew them as a poster. Don.t be too quick to judge people harshly from their posts; you may well be seeing them at their worst. I don.t want to go to the opposite extreme, though, and imply that it is somehow unimportant how a person conducts himself on these forums. When an asshole in the forums, it still .counts.. It still has consequences. It still hurts people. Lies lead people away from good sportsbooks and toward bad ones. Abuse and heckling hurt people.s feelings and create a stifling and unpleasant atmosphere. Racial stereotyping perpetuates hateful and damaging myths. It can.t all just be waved off as insignificant cyber babble. Real flesh and blood people behind the posting names are helped or harmed by your posts.

So to say, .Yeah, but this guy.s fun to party with; he.s not at all like his abusive posting persona. only goes so far. It.s great that a person is pleasant company and treats others with respect when interacting with them in person, but a mature human being will also be that way when interacting with others via a posting forum.

But in all likelihood, if you come to Vegas for one of these Major Wager bashes, you will find the company very enjoyable. And there.s a good chance that you.ll end up friends with at least one person you were sure you.d detest.

Don.t be too quick to pass up that opportunity.

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