In a heart-warming, hilarious, intriguing, and gut-wrenching true story, Mark Evan, an everyday man in California, seeks a means to beat the odds in Las Vegas, and in doing so explores the past, present, and future of his own life, as well as the ins and outs of modern life in general. Written in the form of a 118 day journal, this no-holds-barred journey begins with an attempt to devise a successful sports betting system, and winds up with a deeply personal view into the life of a fascinating and unique individual. Evan writes, "We are all voyeurs. We are Peeping Toms. We like to watch as others struggle through their lives, comparing their circumstances and decisions with our own, contrasting outcomes and consequences, vicariously reveling in achievements and crying over failures - it is human nature." Nowhere else will the reader find a more rigorously honest and thoughtful account of a modern day life in America.
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By Mark Evan
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Mark Evan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDay 1
I promise the story I'm about to write will be 100 percent true. None of the events will be played down or exaggerated. I'm writing this story in journal form, each day following the previous day, with day 1 being today, November 2, 2011.
Today isn't when the story begins; rather, it's the day upon which I begin writing everything down. In actuality, this story began in the late 1980s. It was for a year or two during that decade that I became obsessed with beating the odds in Las Vegas. I spent months flipping coins and rolling dice, recording the results on the simple spreadsheet software that came with my computer. I reviewed, shuffled, organized, and analyzed the results from every conceivable angle, searching for some formula that would allow me to make a profit playing casino games. After years of working on this project on and off, I came to the conclusion that it was simply impossible to beat the odds. In the long run, according to my results, the casinos always came out ahead. Blackjack, craps, roulette—whatever game you were foolish enough to play, there was simply no way to come out ahead.
Not to be discouraged, I turned my attention to the world of sports betting. After a lot of experimenting, analyzing, and thinking, I suddenly became convinced ten or eleven years ago that I could very probably turn a profit by betting on sporting events, and not because I knew a lot about sports but because of the time I had invested in studying casino games. I knew a lot about odds. Keep in mind I'm not a statistician or a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination. I'm just a guy who has spent an extraordinary amount of time studying odds and the way betting events unfold. I'm a guy who has analyzed these events using his own tools and techniques, and I've not been influenced by conventional wisdom. I'm also a guy who consistently scores in the top 1 percent on IQ tests. I may not be a statistician or a mathematician, but I'm pretty darn smart, and it's my high IQ that has given me the confidence to stay the course on this quest. It has always seemed to me that if anyone could find an angle to win in Las Vegas, it would be me; it's the same feeling of confidence I suppose the more talented baseball players have when they step up to the plate knowing they, more than almost anyone, have the ability to knock one out of the park. Largely because of my high IQ, I've always had the feeling I could knock one out of the park.
This morning, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. I don't usually get up this early, but I had decided to start this journal yesterday evening, and I felt energized. The first thing I did, which is the same as I do every morning, was to make a pot of coffee and turn on the TV; I like to wake up by watching the morning news. After about a half-hour, I went to my office, which is located under the house in our basement, and the first thing I did in my office was to visit my favorite sports betting site on the Internet to check out the previous day's sports scores. I matched them up with my previous day's bets and logged the results on my spreadsheet. You should know I'm not actually betting money at this point. I'm pretending to bet. I keep track of all the pretend bets I make just as if they were real bets, and I keep track of the pretend money I'm making or losing. I'm betting $100 per event, and so far I'm ahead by $460, even though I lost all but one of yesterday's bets. So long as the betting results stay at about fifty-fifty, I will be making money with this system. I operated this same system ten or eleven years ago, and to the best of my recollection, I made several thousand dollars doing it. My memory is a little hazy regarding those years, and I've since thrown away all the results and have no paper trail of this remembered success. Thus, I'm now pretending to bet to see if the system works again, and so far, so good—it seems to be working in the way I recall. But it's too early to tell anything for sure; I need to make about a thousand bets before I can tell if I'm even close to being on the right track. So far, I've only made about fifty bets.
If I made several thousand dollars betting on sports years ago, you might ask why I stopped. The answer is simple. I'm a bipolar alcoholic, and ten or eleven years ago I got myself into all kinds of trouble due to my risky behavior. One thing led to another, and I was consequently prescribed mood stabilizers and other such drugs to help get my life under control. Things immediately improved for me as a result of the medicines, and I still take them to this day. I've no desire to suffer the ups and downs of my bipolar disorder or all the problems associated with my alcoholism, and I stopped betting because gambling fell into the category of the risky behavior I was told I needed to avoid.
So why the sudden interest in gambling again? I don't have an answer to that. I got to thinking a month or so ago about my previous success with sports betting, about the very simple yet seemingly effective system I had developed, and about the assumptions I had made while devising the system. Was it just beginner's luck, or was I on to something? The more I thought about it, and the more football, baseball, and hockey I watched on TV, the more sense it all made. So I decided to start pretending to bet. Given the odds offered by bookmakers, I'd be able to make three or four pretend bets per day, more than a thousand bets after a year. It seemed like a year was a reasonable length of time to test my system, and if I made a significant amount of pretend money over that period, perhaps I'd get up the nerve to put some real money on the line again, not as a risky behavior, but rather in a deliberate and logical way based on very real results.
When I woke up early this morning, I could hear the wind. There is a slight Santa Ana condition this morning, and Santa Ana winds always make me feel energetic and euphoric. I don't know why. It's an especially strange feeling to have when the fires kick up in Southern California and the air is filled with the charred odor of burning bushes, trees, and houses and the sky is darkened with brown plumes of smoke. Fires often burn as a consequence of the dry Santa Anas, and the fires are devastating—it seems odd to feel energetic and euphoric when tragedy is right around the corner. Our house is located in a little suburban community on the very edge of civilization, which isn't a good location when it comes to being safe from the wildfires. To make matters worse, all the homes in our neighborhood, including ours, are made with dry and brittle wood siding in keeping with antiquated local architectural controls. Should a fire blow through our area, it's likely the entire neighborhood will explode into flames. This might seem kind of weird to you, but I've already made peace with the fact that our house will very likely burn down someday, and I've made plans in my mind for changes I'd like to make to the floor plan when it comes time to rebuild. I would, for example, like to add a fireplace to our master bedroom, and I would like to install a shaft for a future elevator between the first and second floors for when we get older and less agile.
You're probably curious to know exactly what my sports betting system entails, and I promise I will tell you exactly how it operates if it's successful. I want to be sure it actually works before I waste time describing it. I will tell you this: the whole idea came to me in a true epiphany. It was one of those rare moments in a person's life when he says, "Of course! That's it! Why didn't I see that sooner?" I don't remember exactly when it all came to me, but I do remember how I felt. It was a sudden sensation of energy and euphoria, much the way I feel when the Santa Ana winds kick up. It was fleeting, however, for my next thought was, Can this work? Am I fooling myself? Ever since that day, I have vacillated between confidence and demoralizing failure. Every morning when I wake up, I cannot wait to log the results of the previous day's betting to see if I'm on or off course. It's way too early to tell anything definitive. At three to four bets a day, I should rack up a thousand bets in about a year, and I will know a lot about this system when that day comes.
Sporting events are amazing beasts, for think of the variables influencing the outcome of a given game. The sheer number of small events that can go wrong or right for a team is mind boggling. In football, for example, there are dropped passes, blocked punts, interceptions, fumbles, bad calls, and a long list of other such incidents. It's a game of inches: a referee's spot of the ball can have catastrophic consequences for one team and spell good fortune for the other. Even with instant replay, it's often difficult to discern the difference between a quarterback fumble and an incomplete forward pass, a foot in or out of bounds, a bobbled ball or a true reception. I could go on and on with this, but I think the point is made. In my opinion—and this was my epiphany—it's impossible to predict the outcome of a close game, for there are too many things that can go one way or the other. It's a fifty-fifty proposition. I mean, you may as well flip a coin.
This morning I watched CNN with my first cup of coffee as the newscasters went on and on about Herman Cain's sexual harassment problems. Running for president of the United States these days is a difficult business; one day you're on your way up, and the next day you're on the ropes. It was interesting to watch Mr. Cain's rise in the polls, and it will be even more interesting to see if Mr. Cain is able to fight his way out of his current predicament. So many things can happen between now and election day that it's not possible to predict who will be our next president. Last election I put my money on Hillary Clinton, and I lost; I had to buy my betting friend a box of Cohibas to make good on the bet. In politics, anything can happen over the course of a close campaign, and it's not unlike a football game. Knowing what I know now, or more accurately, knowing what I think I know now, I'd say the odds for getting a Democrat or a Republican in the White House in this upcoming election are about fifty-fifty. You may as well toss a coin.
I've learned a lot about tossing coins over the years. First, and any mathematician will tell you this, no matter what has happened previously, your odds are fifty-fifty. You may have tossed twenty straight heads, and a tails may seem inevitable, but the odds are still fifty-fifty. Each toss is independent of everything that transpires beforehand, and while there are many things you can say about what happened before—that there are patterns, that there are percentages of heads and percentages of tails, that there are percentages of drifts and percentages of drifts of drifts—nothing predicts the next coin toss other than the odds of fifty-fifty. I believe the trick to winning in Las Vegas isn't found in beating the odds; it's found in finding a fifty-fifty game that pays back better than fifty-fifty. That was my epiphany. That is the heart and soul of the system I'm now testing with my imaginary bets. If you're paying attention and you have some knowledge of sports betting, you may already have figured out what I'm up to. It all boils down to the notion that the outcome of a close game can be predicted no better than the flip of a coin.
I see my pretend betting as a project. I think it's always a good thing to have projects in progress. It gives one something to do, and even more importantly, it gives one something to look forward to. Every morning I look forward to logging the results of my previous morning's bets. This morning I placed four bets, and tomorrow morning I will see how they turned out, record them on my spreadsheet, and see if I'm still headed in the right direction.
Another project I'm working on is my weight. I'm six-foot-two and have weighed as much as 270 pounds. I lost weight around a year ago, and I now weigh about 230. I'd like to weigh around 180. That's how much I used to weigh years ago, and it's the weight at which I feel most comfortable. Being overweight is a real downer; I never feel quite right, my clothes don't fit, and I feel awkward and heavy. I started a diet yesterday, and my diet shall proceed as follows: for the first three days I will fast, and every day thereafter I will eat only one bowl of soup per day until I'm down to 180. I will allow myself to eat normal dinners out with the family, and I will allow myself to enjoy special occasions, but other than that, I will stick with the diet. I've dieted like this before, and it works for me. I plan to track my weight loss on a spreadsheet on my computer, much the way I track my bets, and I think it will be rewarding to watch the resulting curve progress toward the target. If I can lose five pounds per week, by the time Christmas rolls around, I'll buy myself some new clothes. This isn't a matter of vanity; there's something very positive to be said for feeling and looking one's best.
I have other projects in progress. I used to be a general building contractor, and I enjoyed construction projects; I found them very rewarding, but these sorts of projects dried up in the wake of the Great Recession. There is either no work at all, or the profit margin for the work available is too small for the risk. Instead of construction projects, to keep myself busy and make some money I've been buying and selling items on eBay. I see these ventures as projects. I trade items like antique slot machines, juke boxes, gas pumps, coins, autographed documents, cars, and so forth. I am running an antique and novelty store of sorts but without the physical address of a retail store. Right now I have an old 1940 Lincoln Zephyr I'm trying to sell for a profit. I bought the car for fifteen thousand dollars and have already taken it to one auction in Monterey where it didn't reach my reserve price of nineteen thousand dollars. I've entered it in another auction in Los Angeles, which I think may be a better venue for the car. I plan to be in San Francisco visiting my oldest son during the auction, so I will have my friend and former construction employee, Joey, handle things at the auction. The car is being kept at Joey's house, and he has been responsible for fixing the car and keeping it up. Whatever profit I get on the car I will split with Joey.
The last auction I participated in was an early American history auction where I put up for sale a document autographed by George Washington. I bought the document on eBay for eight thousand dollars, and when I first contacted Heritage to see if I could put the document in one of their auctions, their representative told me the document had been traced and as such was worth little money, perhaps two thousand dollars. Heritage told me they didn't deal in items worth so little. My heart sank. Had I overpaid by six thousand dollars? The idea of losing six thousand dollars so quickly left me feeling like a dope, but I submitted the document to a different venue called Early American History Auctions. These guys told me the document was worth between six thousand and eight thousand dollars, and they accepted it for their auction. I waited a couple of months for the auction to begin, and all said and done, the final hammer price was ten thousand dollars. Less the thousand-dollar commission to the auction house, I received a check for nine thousand dollars three weeks later. Instead of losing six thousand dollars, I made a thousand, and it confirmed something I already knew—never give up on anything until you have pursued all possible courses of action. I tell you this story because it relates to my Lincoln Zephyr. At the auction in Monterey, the high bid was fifteen thousand dollars—I'd have lost about three thousand dollars on the deal. I'm hoping this new auction in Los Angeles works out for the better like the Early American History Auction did for my George Washington document. They're telling me the car is worth approximately twenty-five thousand dollars, which is what I originally thought it was worth when I bought it.
Excerpted from Lucky Me by Mark Evan Copyright © 2012 by Mark Evan. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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