A stunning blonde approaches the table where Pete Rose is signing autographs. Rose is seated at a desk in Las Vegas's Mandalay Place, one eye on his iPad watching horse races, the other on the statuesque lady with the green top, four-inch heels, and big smile.
“Pete Rose! Oh, my god, this is so exciting! It's not every day you get to meet Pete Rose!”
“Nice to meet you,” says Pete, smiling. “It's not every day I get to meet someone … so tall.”
Pete is as friendly and inviting to drunken frat boys as he is to 6-foot blondes. He takes several minutes to chat with every visitor — “Where are you from? Montana? There's this great burger joint in Helena … you know the one?” — shaking hands vigorously, signing every autograph meticulously, even folding jerseys himself. He does all this while keeping the thread of a reporter's questions and keeping tabs on the ponies. He makes somewhere around $1.5 million a year for his Pete Meet and Greets here in Vegas, with a contract that runs through 2017. As documented by our friends at ESPN Films, he is uncommonly good at his job.
Super Bowl weekend was the one annual event I'd missed during my year in Las Vegas. I'd managed to take in every other special time in town: New Year's Eve. Independence Day. The World of Concrete convention. All of them, observed and processed. But I covered the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl from Indianapolis, and so I simply had to return to Vegas and fill in that missing weekend. As I'm sure many of you know if you've spent any time in Vegas, there is no steady, flowing story to take away from the weekend. A bunch of events happened, and they ranged from wildly exciting to downright tragic. Here, in roughly chronological order, are a few thoughts about what I saw.
“San Francisco. Baltimore. San Francisco. Baltimore. San Francisco. Baltimore.”
“What are you doing?” says Adam Eget.
“I’m thinking out loud. What do you think?”
“But you’ve said the same thing for the last hour.”
“I’m overthinking out loud.”
“Who do you like in the Super Bowl?”
“You got a good feeling?"
I want to kill Adam Eget, but Gabe Veltri is back and he’s got food. He’s dressed neatly and has two full bags from 7-Eleven. He empties them into the middle of the room with contempt. Food spills and fills the center of the apartment: Twizzlers and Butterfingers and Rolos and Creamsicles and PayDays and more and more and more. Gabe’s fridge is filled with Coca-Cola — Mexican Coca-Cola with cane sugar. Eget and I haven’t left Gabe’s apartment in four days.
I like to gamble. Gamble money on sports. Gabe calls it flipping coins.
Gabe’s still in Vegas and I’m here at the back of the World Famous Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard. Adam Eget is hovering around me, his tremulous right hand running through hair four days unshowered, his left hand steadying itself on my shoulder, his rheumy eyes looking somewhere at my shirt. There’s a guy up onstage and I think he’s saying some pretty important things because people are clapping a lot while exchanging sad and knowing nods.
“Why don’t you do a set?” Adam asks.
“Do a set. People will get a kick out of it. It’s a good crowd tonight.”
“Nobody wants to see me do a set.”
“Sure they do. Everybody loves you. You’re a legend here at the Comedy Store.”
“Tell your waitress. Maybe she’ll stop charging me four and a quarter for a Coca-Cola.”
“You’re still thinking about Vegas, aren’t you?”
“The hell I am!”
I stagger up from the table while thinking about slugging Eget one. Right in his big squidbilly head. A few years ago I woulda too, back when I was young. But now the world is young and I’m a fat old man. So instead, I shamble up to the stage and do my surefire bit about my answering machine. Nobody gets a kick out of it. The whole time I’m thinking about last Friday, when I was happy in the middle of the night, somewhere in the desert.
I like to gamble. Gamble money on sports. I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or frequent, or even occasion, prostitutes. But I do like to gamble. Gamble money on sports.
I’m not alone, of course. People who like to use big numbers say that sports betting is a multibillion-dollar business in these United States. And most of that money is wagered on professional football.
I’ve been told I have a problem. A psychiatrist once said that I gambled in order to escape the reality of life. I told him that’s why everybody does everything. But he had a point. There’s a certain arc to my gambling sprees. An arc that begins with me making modest bets after much study, then ends months later with me having no money.
When I told my friend Richard Feynman (all names of real people in my I-suck-at-football coverage have been replaced with those of noteworthy physicists) (I already forget why I decided to do this), whose fault this column is, that I was going to be in Vegas over the weekend, he said, "You've gotta watch a game at a sportsbook and write about it."
So, OK: I'm at a kind of gambling-workstation with a temperamental touchscreen in front of me; a wall of LED screens showing an afternoon's worth of NFL football (and some horse racing, and a little golf) looms above me in the middle distance. I'm sitting just a few steps from the Hard Rock Hotel's casino floor, but I can barely hear the Pavlovian bleeping of the slot machines or the never-ending high-energy-hits-of-the-'70s-'80s-'90s-and-today playlist that blares in all the Hard Rock's common areas at all times; I've turned my back on packaged rock-and-roll fun to do some serious football watching with serious men. There's a bar, and occasionally a pregnant waitress in a T-shirt promoting Guns N' Roses' imminent Hard Rock residency makes drink-related inquiries down the row — it's Vegas and it's well past noon — but barring the occasional neglected half-full Bud Light bottle, everybody here seems to be on a strict utilitarian-fluids regimen: coffee, water, Monster Energy.
If you’re incautious enough to spend any period of time looking at online gambling forums, two things will probably occur. Firstly, your faith in humanity will quickly disappear, and secondly, you’ll be amazed by how gullible people can be. Any online claim of extraordinary betting prowess will immediately be met with the challenge “pics or it didn’t happen,” but if you add a photo of a betting slip, the natural skepticism of the Internet’s gamblers will disappear immediately. Have these people never heard of Photoshop? However, there’s one gambler who never needs to be prompted to post a photo of his winning bets, and his bankroll is so huge that there’s no reason to suspect foul play: I refer, of course, to boxing’s undefeated quintuple world champion, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr.
Mayweather is famous for his enormous bets, largely because he’s been tirelessly promoting himself on Twitter as boxing’s answer to Nick the Greek. By my count, between August 2010 (when he began tweeting his slips) and February 2012, Mayweather tweeted photographs of 46 betting slips, totaling $3,890,833 worth of bets, and every single one of them was a winner, netting the fighter a cool $3,938,722 (and 87 cents) in winnings on those bets. Losing betting slips have been conspicuous by their absence. When asked about his losing slips, Floyd responded, “Why would I ever show a losing ticket when I’m 41-0.”
At the end of July, I put together my much-beloved (at least by me) recap of the bets I'd plunked down in Vegas for the 2012 NFL season. I updated that list with three more small bets in my next column, but with a full month left in Vegas before I moved back East, I found a few more opportunities for action. In some cases, that meant getting additional bets down on some of my previous targets, but I also found some new targets for action.
Here's the bad news for Rockets fans: It's looking more and more like Houston won't be getting Dwight Howard. Here's the good news: All the assets that Houston piled up in their attempt to get Dwight are going to make up a team that is fun as hell to watch.
There comes a time each year when the best and worst of the NHL is on display, from its quirky personalities to its self-aware mockery to its godawful taste in music. And tonight is that night: Get excited for the NHL Awards, live from Las Vegas! (The players certainly are: Earlier this week, Henrik Lundqvist "hosted" a party at one nightclub that featured both incredibly phallic glow sticks and Paul Bissonnette dancing on a raised platform, and I spotted several other NHLers still going strong in the Wynn casino when I finally went to bed at 3 a.m., hundreds of dollars poorer and having been utterly humiliated by my dice-throwing skills.)
In mid-April, sportsbooks around Las Vegas started to post their lines for the opening weekend of NFL action. It was exciting to see what the market feels about those Week 1 contests (apparently, they're for the Raiders and against the Chargers, for one), but that's just 16 games. We need more chances to throw away our money.
Enter the Cantor Gaming group, the arm of Cantor Fitzgerald that operates the sportsbooks at several Vegas-area casinos, including the brand-new sportsbook at the Palms. The Cantor books are known for being non-smoking and offering tablets for live betting during games, but they took a step forward in our hearts in May by posting lines for a few more of those NFL games we like to throw money at. Instead of merely posting lines for the 16 games of Week 1, Cantor posted lines for the first 16 weeks of professional football.