Gambling with lotteries and life

Seems no big secret that gambling and the history of the United States have many intersections if not synonymous meaning. On one hand, for the indigenous people, once the Europeans started colonizing, odds of surviving the disease and violence of the intrusive organisms weren’t on the side of the natives. The newcomers were facing similar slim odds from the trip across the Atlantic to the new lifestyle demands on the new continent.

However, I don’t remember any mention of the lotteries that financed the English colonies. Gambling, except to the Puritans, was considered an English right. Gamblers were on all the frontiers during the western expansion. It was not a minority opinion that Californians (and by extension the whole U.S.) were “essentially a gambling people.”

When I got really interested in gambling: I love the horses (thoroughbreds only), black jack and craps, poker and also sports book, I started reading everything I could about gambling. At first it was thanks to Dave S., my horse and casino game mentor. I can’t handicap with nearly the success that his granddaughters have gotten to with his teaching, but I and many others have benefited from his guidance. And, to boot, we get the stories from the past: the back room parlors, the bets laid off for some really hard characters, the bets not placed and then the horse came in…oops. But Dave S. also turned me onto books like, The Winning Horseplayer (Andrew Beyer, 1983)¬†and Beat the Dealer (Edward O. Thorp, 1962). The latter, Beat the Dealer, is, of course, the book that turned Nevada casinos on their heads and changed the rules for black jack forever.

But then, I started reading histories. John Findlay’s People of Chance (1986) and Herbert Asbury’s (author of Gangs of New York) Sucker’s Progress (1938) gave serious details of the history of gambling in the U.S. and the history of the U.S. as a gambling history. William Poundstone brought the relationship of the Bell Labs computer genius guys (like Ed Thorp) with gangsters and gambling up through internet gambling and Wall Street hedge fund fiascos all together in Fortune’s Formula (2005). I read that twice.

After that, I made three movies, well two and a 3-channel video loop. The first, Wanna Bet (2005-6), is a 10-minute short of Dave S. and his granddaughters at Aqueduct Racetrack.

the morning line versus... from Wanna Bet

The 3-channel loop, Virtually Certain (2006), reworks the footage of Wanna Bet, separating out the main handicappers on one screen, the horses racing on another, and the action at the track centered on the monitors giving the changing odds.

maybe the real message of the odds...from Virtually Certain

still watching the board...Virtually Certain

Last, is the video I recently (2009) “finished”–Essentially a Gambling People–that combines present interviews with gamblers, dealers in Reno, NV, and poker games in Brooklyn with movie footage, gambling-themed blues songs and excerpts from Damon Runyon stories.

Reno, NV...from Essentially a Gambling People

from Essentially a Gambling People

WE ARE ALL GAMBLERS.

MORE LATER…

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One Response to “Gambling with lotteries and life”

  1. Ffrench Says:

    Love the blog. Will be back. I have a 6 & a 9-year-old whom I take to Aqueduct and Belmont, the younger one having an uncanny knack for picking winners (“Oh look dad, a gray one!” or “There’s the same jockey who won on my other horse!”) and putting it all on the nose; the 9-year-old plays it far more cautiously, putting an each-way bet on the favourite and a buck on a long shot. Hope to meet Dave S’s granddaughters soon! Aqueduct is a kip – grim, dour, unyieldingly gray – but Belmont is great for youngsters.

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