Haney's handle: Honor "the gambling" in your blood

Jan 25, 2012 |
Seeing as we’re in the midst of debate season, it seems fitting to reference one of the most memorable quotes in modern political history, uttered by Admiral James Stockdale during the 1992 presidential campaign:

“Who am I? Why am I here?”

Having accepted a terrific opportunity to become a regular contributor to Covers.com, I’ve been asked to briefly introduce myself to the site’s readers.

Bear with me as I open with what we used to call an “anecdotal lede” in journalism lingo.

One night in the early 1990s, as a rookie sports writer covering some long-since-forgotten boxing match at an Atlantic City casino, I found myself deep in conversation with an elderly gentleman sitting ringside.

We were talking gambling, and though my knowledge of the topic was relatively meager at the time, my enthusiasm must have impressed the old codger. He asked if I could count cards in blackjack, and I had to admit that skill was not yet in my repertoire.

“You’ve got the gambling in your blood,” I recall him saying. “You should learn.”

Until then I never suspected I had “the gambling” in my blood, but I liked the turn of phrase as well as the sentiment behind it. I vowed to become a student of the game.

Fast forward a few years. By the end of the decade, I was not only based in Las Vegas but had just been thrown out of a casino for the first time for counting cards. It happened at an off-Strip joint known at the time as the Resort at Summerlin (now the Rampart Casino). I know the idea is to evade detection, but I took a perverse pride in my ouster.

Since then, as a writer I’ve had hundreds of columns on sports and gambling published in a Las Vegas daily newspaper, in other papers, in magazines and on prominent websites.

I’ve been quoted as a gambling authority in The New York Times among other publications, and I’ve conducted seminars for IRS employees on the fundamentals of Nevada-style legal gambling. I’ve won professional journalism awards for writing feature stories, writing columns and writing headlines.

As a gambler, like Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway I have come to consider myself a generalist. Rather than focusing on a single game, I work hard to attempt to eke out an advantage in various disciplines, including sports betting, poker, blackjack, video poker and anywhere else it’s possible to find an edge.

I’ve been fortunate to have conducted in-depth, one-on-one interviews with some of the most fascinating personalities in Las Vegas gambling. I’m sure I’ve made some enemies, but I know I’ve made many more friends. Good times and riches and son of a bitches, like the man said.

My goal at Covers.com will be to write about sports gambling and related topics, mostly from a Las Vegas angle, in a compelling voice, and with wit, insight and some degree of expertise.

Gary Snyder, the poet and environmentalist, once said: “Being a good writer calls for an acquaintance with the literature, historical usages, styles and voices from the past and other places, and aesthetically being willing to experiment. You have to look at things that other people aren’t looking at.”

I believe that makes a fine philosophy for any columnist. It’s a lofty ideal, but a worthy objective.

OK, this is the part, toward the end, where it’s traditional to delve into a few personal details.

I once had the privilege of competing in a big thoroughbred racing handicapping contest with fellow members of the print and electronic media. All of the participants had to list their hobbies for the contest’s official program. I’ll always remember what the guy from Penthouse magazine wrote: “great literature, fine wine, travel and beautiful women.”

Suitably impressed, I promised to steal that line and use it verbatim whenever I had to write down some of my interests for a thumbnail profile like this one. I could never pull it off, though. I’m either not cool enough or not pretentious enough; I can’t decide which.

Instead, I’ll say that when I’m not betting sports or playing cards, I like spending time with family, old rock and jazz recordings (as I type this, I’m listening to the celebrated Pink Floyd concert bootleg from May 9, 1977 at Oakland) and exploring the great natural areas of the American West, from the Grand Canyon to Big Sur.

So that’s a little about me. I hope I did better than Stockdale.

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