Harrah's NKC and Everything After
I believe I might have mentioned being terrible at Darts in the previous Article, and it's true! Nevertheless, one of the bigger gambles I took in my life was deciding where to move when I transferred colleges. Basically, I hung a map of the United States up on my wall, blindfolded myself, spun around in a few circles and side-stepped back and forth a few times deciding I would go to the closest major city to the placement of a thrown dart.
Ultimately, the dart would land in the middle of the State of Missouri, so I decided that Saint Louis might be a little too much of a, "Jump to the big leagues," for me and I chose Kansas City since they were equidistant. Park University was kind enough to award me a partial scholarship, so that made that an easy choice, though I was accepted at two other schools to which I applied.
The move happened a little earlier than expected because I got on Yahoo Personals to try to get a leg up on getting to know some ladies in the Kansas City area during my two planned visits prior to moving out there. That went so well, in fact, that when a nice young lady in pharmacy school won a trip to Florida for a paper she wrote, (or something to that effect) she chose me for a travel companion! I also booked us at another hotel for a few days prior to the event and got a steep discount for agreeing that we'd go to a timeshare presentation. I'd represented that we were married, of course, but they were really lax about looking into that back then, maybe they still are.
The Florida trip went so well that she ended up suggesting that I should move out there with her, (she lived in the basement of her parents HUGE house) and she got her parents to go along provided I either pay a very small amount of rent each month, or work it off by helping her Dad with his property flipping endeavors...he nearly electrocuted me once, and I'm not entirely sure it was an accident.
In any case, I wasn't really doing anything of great importance at this time, so I agreed to go. I had basically forgotten all about gambling for a few months leading up to this move, and in fact, I wouldn't actually do any gambling until about two months after the move when she randomly suggested we go to Isle of Capri...which was both congested and a dump. At the Isle of Capri, she played some Blackjack for whatever the table minimum would have been and lost $50 while I just wandered around. I'm not sure what was going on that day, but it seemed that almost all of the tables and machines were completely full. I might have watched Craps for five minutes, but I had no knowledge of the Rules and didn't play.
Eventually, we would grow apart as she returned to Saint Louis for pharmacy school. I want to reiterate that she was a terrific person who was very intelligent and fiercely ambitious, but we had virtually nothing in common. A physical attraction that faded pretty quickly and peaked immediately (resorts in Florida will do that, you know) was about the extent of what we had together.
The whole thing was essentially just us waiting for the other one to say it, but phone calls became less frequent, and with that extra free time that I had despite taking sixteen credit hours and working a full-time job and a part-time job, I made my way to Harrah's North Kansas City...it was the nicest casino I'd ever seen at that time. I spent some time in the poker room and thought that since I was such a bad ass home game player it would translate well into No Limit Hold 'Em, and I was pretty much wrong. I eventually got pretty good at low stakes NLHE tournaments, but I really don't have the stomach for a cash game.
However, I did find that Limit Hold 'Em was largely just about playing your hands pursuant to an understanding of Pot Odds and Probabilities. I definitely beat the rake, but it was still a game that had to have been worth less than $5/hour to me, but I had nothing better to do. I had fun with it, I'd usually sit there with a newspaper, glance at my cards every minute or so and get involved in hands when the starting cards and situation called for it. I played a highly automatic game, but I enjoyed the atmosphere there...it never really seemed to get too loud regardless of how busy it was.
Ultimately, that girl and I decided that we didn't want to be alone over Christmas, (well, mostly she didn't, I didn't care much either way but Christmas Dinner at her house had to be better than whatever the University would have dished out in the cafeteria for the few students staying there over break) so I went along with the whole thing and we played happy couple. We thought we would stick it out over the entire break, but we couldn't really manage it, it turned out we just fundamentally didn't like one another. We ended up officially ending our relationship the day after Christmas.
I couldn't do my part-time job (campus security) when school was technically not in session, so I spent just about all my time away from the hotel at which I'd just been hired at Harrah's. Unfortunately, the manager of the hotel literally took off in the middle of the night which got me a promotion and I was lucky just to have time for classes, forget about poker!
I finished the second semester of that year and moved back. I ended up finishing my degree online as I'd transferred in with so many credits that I only needed a couple more courses which were available online. I had the good fortune of finding a job with decent pay that had, 'Open overtime,' so that gave me something to do (I worked 65-70 hours per week) and kept me in decent financial shape.
For the next year I didn't do any form of gambling whatsoever, then by happenstance, I ran into my first long-term machine Advantage Play. I found a job working as a desk supervisor at my current hotel in Ohio, and at the time, we had these machines called, 'Games of skill,' that existed by way of a loophole in the law. These machines were guaranteed to profit and the hotel got a percentage of the proceeds. With this particular, 'Game of skill,' the skill was not playing if you were going to lose as you were allowed to look ahead to the result of the next spin. In fact, at least half of the players got the idea that you were effectively not betting the next spin, but you were really betting the spin after that because that was the result you didn't know.
Before I'd ever heard, 'Vulturing,' used as a term, that is precisely what I did on these machines. I just went through the denominations and, if the next spin was going to be a winner, I played. I would then see what was going to happen the spin after that. Anytime someone would leave a machine, I would go over and take a look. This was probably worth an extra $50-$100 per week because half of the people just treated it as a slot machine and wouldn't look to see if the next spin was profitable.
It was by pure happenstance that I would even enter a casino again. West Virginia legalized Table Games and was soon after followed by Pennsylvania. A chance meeting with a businessman from Pittsburgh led to me getting a gig counting cards for he and a partner and calling them in on occasion:
"Okay, so out of $100 your change is $20.56," I had said.
"You must get that amount a lot, I didn't see you put that in the computer," he replied.
"I do. It doesn't matter, though, I would know what the change is regardless of the amount."
At that point, he decided to quiz me asking what the change out of $100 would be for various amounts. I got bored with this game rather quickly and suggested he challenge me on mental multiplication, division or perhaps simple Algebra instead. He did so and, thoroughly impressed, suggested counting cards would be a cinch for me.
"You have to have money to make money," I said, "And I don't have any money. I'm married and we're just getting by as it is now, so I can't afford to lose anything."
"You won't," he responded, "I want to teach you how to count and play what is called Basic Strategy. Basically, you'll have a signal for when one of us should come to that table, in the meantime, you'll be betting table minimum with our money. You'll get paid for your time, and we might even give you small bonuses when we do really well."
The only thing I knew about it was that a few extra bucks sounded pretty good to me, so I hurriedly agreed. Over a series of phone calls, he fired Basic Strategy questions at me over the phone and I failed his tests pretty consistently. Eventually, probably right when he was about to give up on me, I passed three of his tests in a row and he told me to meet them at Wheeling Island that Saturday.
That was basically the only thing I did in the casinos for a long time, and we probably only went to one casino or another once or twice a month. The other guy eventually wound up in prison for something completely unrelated, (the details of which I have no idea) and the first guy gave me a parting $100 for generally making myself available when he needed me and said he was just going to count solo from now on. He believed that the call in system would be too obvious if there was only me and him.
I didn't spend much time in casinos again until September of 2011 when I just happened to hit a jackpot for $1,250 on an otherwise random visit (just bored and had an extra $100) on a $5 slot machine. I played a little bit of Roulette at that point and won another couple hundred. I was meandering around somewhat aimlessly and noticed something about, "Guaranteed Bonus Games," on a rule screen someone was looking at. I looked at the rule screen myself and noted that this particular machine would hit Bonus Games automatically if 100 plays happened at a certain bet level without there being any Bonus Games. Even for someone who knew nothing about machines, this was a no-brainer, I could just sit there and count the number of spins people took before leaving and then jump on if I knew Bonus Games had to hit in the near future. Unfortunately, those are gone now, but they were fun and I was in the casino a good bit more!
After careful study online, I learned that figuring out Progressive probabilities and guesstimating a machine's overall return on a Progressive was relatively easy, if not somewhat tedious. In the course of these studies, I found LatestCasinoBonuses.com (first, actually) and WizardofVegas.com I ended up with memberships at both, but spent most of my time at WoV, obviously.
The rest of the story, up until this moment, can be read on the Forums. I'll field questions, though, if anyone has any.