As many readers of the Forum know, I'm a hotel manager, so as a result I have the opportunity to speak to a wide range of people from a wide range of backgrounds and who are employed in a wide range of occupations. In fact, just a few days ago I was speaking to pair of gentlemen who are independent contractors engaged in changing the tires on the shopping carts (in this area, they are colloquially called, 'Buggies') at Wal-Marts across the country. One would think that there would not be anything particularly interesting about such an engagement, but I tend to disagree and spent several minutes asking questions about the ins and outs of that line of work.
Upon reflection, it occurred to me that the background and biography of just about anyone must hold something of interest, and it is with that thought in mind that I offer mine:
The first part of this two-part Article is going to discuss everything up until my move to Kansas City, MO, with an obvious focus on my gambling activities at a young age. I was born into a fairly poor family with my Mom working as a clerk for a Housing Authority and my Dad working as a stock person for a grocery chain. My Dad would go on to suffer a significant knee injury requiring several surgeries and would unsuccessfully attempt to get Social Security-Disability for a few years before finally being approved.
Altogether, it wasn't the worst possible household and I had the good fortune of growing up in a neighborhood that, while near poverty-level, had a great many kids my age who were all reasonably nice other than the occasional fistfights that would break out between us. In any event, the area in which I grew up from the ages of 4-15 never had any serious problems with drugs, or anything like that, the worst that we did was smoke cigarettes and occasionally get our hands on some beers or a bottle of cheap wine.
Needless to say, I spent about as much time as possible outside because it was difficult to tell, on a week-to-week basis, whether or not we would have any cable in the house. I was also perpetually behind on Video Game systems and games, so I would often spend time at my friends' houses in order to play the newer consoles and games there. Eventually, the local video store (remember those?) had a deal by which you could rent a game for the entire weekend for just $1.00, provided you brought it back the following Monday by 6:00p.m.. The owner of the store all but said that business model counted on at least half of the people to return it late (and thereby pay $3.99 for the Monday) to be profitable.
Aside from what was very close to abject poverty, (until my Dad eventually got a cubicle job, when I was about twelve, him being unemployed between my ages of 6-12) it wasn't a terrible upbringing, and my parents found a way for me to afford to have an allowance of $2.00/week starting at the age of seven for doing the dishes every second night and keeping my room clean.
My allowance is actually where I got my start with gambling! My Dad is otherwise not a gambler, but he enjoyed two card games which were, 'Concentration,' and, '500 Rummy.' One can easily find the rules for 500 Rummy online if one is so inclined, and Concentration was a simple game by which the players would spread the cards all around the table or floor (Jokers counted as double) and take turns trying to find pairs by picking two cards. Of my allowance, I was either allowed to win as much as $1.00 or lose as much as $0.50 at $0.05/game for Concentration and $0.25/game for 500 Rummy.
I played with a small advantage on both games gleaned by flashing myself the bottom card when it was my turn to shuffle; I also tried to set the top card, but I was almost always caught, so I eventually gave up. Ultimately, both gambling and playing with an advantage was something that would continue to intrigue me, on an off and on basis, for the rest of my life!
This path continued until I was about ten years old and learned how to make more money by washing cars, raking leaves, shoveling snow and mowing lawns, depending on the season. At this point, I told my parents that I made enough money doing these things that an allowance wasn't really necessary for me anymore, but I reserved the right to get an allowance through Winter if there wasn't any snow. (Never was a problem)
These odd jobs would continue until the time that we moved out of that town, when I was about fifteen-and-a-half years old. In the interim, I discovered a local roller skate center a few towns over that my Mom would take me to on Saturday nights, and I developed an extremely proficient draw poker game. I played Draw Poker with the kids at the skate center until a combination of the owners of the center breaking up the game, and the kids there refusing to play me any more, caused that game to discontinue.
For several weeks, we played the game with cash money on the table, and nobody seemed to take notice. Eventually, the owners told us that there were absolutely not going to allow cash gambling in their establishment and we switched to using small pieces of candy and Dubble Bubble gum as a replacement for cash, later sorting things out in the bathroom. As was almost inevitable, the owner eventually came into the bathroom while we were in the midst of sorting things out, and since there was almost no question that I was the ringleader of the game, I was the only one permanently kicked out of the skating center.
From that time on, I got my poker fix in during school-sponsored dances and other events at school. It may not come as a surprise that this would eventually lead to a three-day Suspension.
Otherwise, I was not a bad student. The worst I have ever brought home was a C-Average in third grade, and it only took that one occasion of being grounded to the house for nine weeks to ensure I never brought back anything lower than a B, and usually an A average. Not to brag, but my cumulative High School GPA was 3.72, all considered.
We moved to an entirely different town when I was fifteen years old, and unfortunately, there were fewer people my age in that neighborhood. However, what few kids that were there had the route completely locked up on the odd jobs thing. Fortunately, it didn't take long for me to find a paper route of sixty (and eventually ninety) customers that I started at $150/month (before tips) and finished at $350/month after growing the customer base and putting in my resignation as a gambit for a raise!
The key to doing the paper route was that I would shovel the snow at my customers' houses for free in the Winter. If you tipped me, you tipped me, if you didn't even see me doing it, just as well. It fostered loyalty and when the non-customers discovered I was doing it for free, they signed up for my route immediately!
After delivering papers, I would go to the local bar in town in which kids were allowed. This was before the bar, and possibly the entire State, had the, 'Parlor,' Game Kings. I became a somewhat proficient pool player and made a few bucks that way, but never did develop a good darts game...I sucked! I'm not nearly as good at pool as I was then, but that's largely because I've played a handful of times in the last several years as compared to the fact that I used to play nightly. I still have a half-decent shot I call, "Draw back," even though there's probably a proper name for it.
I tried out bowling at the local bowling alley, but it didn't take me long to realize that I would never develop the proficiency to make any money at that. I did continue to bowl for fun for several years, though, and eventually would go on to join my college's bowling team.
I don't know what it was about the kids in my area or at the events that took place there, but I couldn't get them into a poker game to save my life. I believe that my reputation from the skate center may have preceded me as kids from all over the area hung out there, so it is quite possible more than one person at my new school said, 'Don't play poker with that guy, he'll take your money!"
We relocated again when I was seventeen due to my Mom remarrying, but I had the good fortune to find a job at one of the local grocery chains as a bagger. I got promoted to cashier one day when the register system (or something) went down and we had to check people out via calculator. Nobody could figure out how to add in the tax (the State had a flat tax at the time, including foodstuffs) and I patiently said, "Just multiply the total by 1.06." I eventually left that for another job supervising at some tennis courts, then I tended bar from the ages of eighteen-nineteen (you could be under 21 as long as an employee over 21 was on the premises)...plus I may have also been the bar's janitor...and eventually I went back to the store as the PM Supervisor when the bar temporarily closed.
I had done little to no competitive gambling for the last few years because I was no longer betting at pool, so as a result, I would just play home games of draw poker when I could. These home games eventually cost me a friendship when I kicked the Hell out of a friend of mine one night who was too proud to take back some of his money, (I offered) but still furious with me for beating him for so much. $300 is a crap ton of money when you're in college, but I wasn't the one who kept buying back in for $25 at a time! It's easy to go up against a $25 buy when you're $150 ahead!
My first taste of the casino came at Wheeling Downs, (prior to the hotel and table games with a rebranding to Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack) because you could be eighteen and get in at this time as all the machines were state-run VLT's. I went on a few different occasions even taking advantage of an advantageous situation once, but it ended up being a total mess and I left early. I believe that I might have been twenty when the rules changed and you had to be twenty-one to get in, it was either nineteen or twenty.
I won $70-$100 on a couple of occasions and I lost $20-$30 on multiple others that made me a loser overall by the time you had to be twenty-one to get in. I eventually found a good home poker game for Texas Hold 'Em during that boom and was a pretty consistent winner. These guys were all older than me and not exactly friends, one was an acquaintance who worked security at the time that I was supervising the tennis courts. I would later be (wrongfully) accused of cheating at the game and asked not to come back, but quite honestly, I think they were just sick of me beating them for the most part and couldn't muster it up to ask me not to return in a proper way.
It was about this time I transferred colleges and moved to Kansas City, MO, so we'll stop there for now.
***Obviously, a few other things took place during this time. I played football and had girlfriends, but anything related to that is completely unrelated to gambling and therefore irrelevant.