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BustHow I Gambled and Lost a Fortune, Brought Down a Bank--and Lived to Pay for It
By Adam Resnick
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Adam Resnick
All right reserved.
Is There a Problem?
You always drown alone, and there I was.
Binion's Horseshoe Casino. A three-story riverboat transformed into a gambling mecca on the IndianaIllinois border. The highway leading there from downtown Chicago, after the two-dollar tollbooth, was wide open and fast this morning, allowing me to step on the gas. Driving against the traffic, I flew by the morning commuters heading to their jobs in the city. Aerosmith and Run DMC's version of "Walk This Way" came on and I cranked the radio.
I could feel the buzz start to build. A few phone calls to friends and my bookie and suddenly I was exiting I-90 at Indianapolis Boulevard. Seven minutes later I pulled my Mercedes in front of the casino and tossed the key to the valet, the first person of the day to greet me as Mr. R, as in "How ya doin', Mr. R?"
How was I doing?
It was 10 am, and I'd kissed my two small children good-bye, told my wife that I was headed to work, and then sped to the Horseshoe. I had a $1 million check wadded up in my pocket and I didn't know it. For the past seven months I'd written checks, illegally, off an internal account at Universal Federal Savings and Loan, during which timeI'd cycled more than $200 million in and out of the local bank to fuel my gambling. I was on the binge of all binges. I had no idea that in a week I'd be walking into the same casino, at nearly the same time, needing to win at least $3 million to keep the bank from collapsing and my world from falling apart.
I was thirty years old, arguably the biggest gambling addict on the planet, and I was headed for a crash of epic proportions.
How was I doing?
I was phe-fucking-nominal.
I walked through the casino and nodded at a half dozen employees who greeted me. I went straight to the back room, the one reserved for the high rollers, where a dealer stood behind a green-felt blackjack table. She was in her early thirties, looked in her mid-forties, and wore her dirty brown hair in a feathered style she'd probably had since the mid-eighties. I'd played with her umpteen times before, and she was solid. She understood when to talk and—more important—when not to utter a word, not to make a sound, not to scratch her face if it meant interrupting the rhythm.
I didn't have the patience to play with other people at the table, so I sat by myself. I wanted the hands hypersonic, and I didn't want to wait between cards.
The casino knew that and everything else about me. They knew I played fast, bet the highest available limits, and pushed to get them higher. They knew I indulged a germ phobia by cleaning my hands with antibacterial wipes and patting my bald head compulsively with Stridex pads. They knew I pushed down on the top chip of each stack in front of me. They also knew I had no self-control as a gambler.
I started out slow, making small talk with the dealer until I got warmed up and started to feel the cards. It was like finding my way through a maze in the dark; eventually I found the pathway, then sped up confidently. Whether that confidence was deserved, that was another issue. But I stopped talking at that point and entered a zone—or the zone, as I called it—where the thoughts in my head washed away and nothing existed other than the dealer, the cards, and my wagers. The dealer picked up on it too; a good dealer feels the same thing as the player.
I didn't win every hand, but I won more than I lost, and the winnings piled up in front of me until I was up a couple hundred thousand dollars. Then the game shifted subtly or, more accurately, the gamesmanship began. The casino's top chef came to the table and asked if I felt like something special. He interrupted the deal and broke my concentration. I glanced at the pit boss. He knew I wasn't there to eat lobster, prime rib, caviar, or anything else.
The pit boss looked away.
"No, thanks," I said.
I shook my head at the dealer.
"You hungry?" I asked.
"No," she said.
"Me neither. It's laughable."
We resumed the game. I sat forward. I wore a dull blue long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans. My leather shoulder bag was slung over the back of my chair. I breathed deeply several times, like a yogi reentering a meditative state. Despite the chef's intent to throw me off, the vibe continued, within an hour I was up five hundred thousand dollars.
I leaned back and stretched my arms above my head. I felt the leather strap of my shoulder bag slip off the back of my chair. When I turned to rehook it, I saw that security had let a handful of people gather about six feet behind me. I didn't like that. Worse, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a new dealer moving toward the table.
I was aghast. I motioned for the pit boss. He hurried to the table.
"Yes, Mr. R?"
"If you bring him in"—I glanced toward the new dealer—"I'm never coming back here."
"Is there a problem?" the pit boss asked.
"You know what's going on," I said. "There's going to be a problem if you bring him in."
I glanced at the new dealer to make sure he knew I meant nothing personal against him. I saw he was on my side. Likely a gambler himself, he had a look that appeared to say, Sorry, Mr. R. I know this is bullshit. They're sending me in to fuck up your game.
"I understand," the pit boss said. He nodded to the dealer, who appeared relieved to be let go. "Is there anything I can get you?"
Excerpted from Bust by Adam Resnick Copyright © 2007 by Adam Resnick. Excerpted by permission.
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