Cue the "X-Files" theme music because it’s “Tin Foil Hat” time. I discovered a new conspiracy in Las Vegas and it is that casinos purposely situate poker rooms near sports books to siphon money from poker players. Poker rooms do not generate as much income per square foot when compared to craps tables or slot machines. When most of the Las Vegas Strip went corporate in the 1990s, the suits eliminated poker rooms (with only a couple of exceptions such as the Mirage) because geriatrics playing $1 stud were a relic of the past.
In the mid-2000s, the resurgence of poker rooms on the Strip was a byproduct of the surging popularity of Texas hold’em. Many casinos capitalized on a trend during the poker boom and they strategically placed poker rooms in proximity to the sports books in an attempt to snare profits from poker players.
As it happens, I often bet on a game before I sit down at a poker table in Las Vegas. Sweating the action in a sporting event is a welcome respite from the monotony of folding hand after hand after hand. The moment you toss your rags at the dealer, you can look up at the TV screen to watch what's happening in a game. Live poker is tedious, and annoying tablemates often test the patience of a Zen monk, so a simple sports bet is a welcome diversion.
Sweating a sports bet while you play can, however, be a liability. Instead of using the downtime to study your opponents, you are preoccupied with your team covering the point spread. When you lack focus, your opponents gain an edge, especially if you’re not shy about revealing your allegiance to the TV screen. Even if you’re not talking about the game, it’s difficult to hide the fact that your mind is on sports plays rather than poker plays because you're hanging on every call from the ref, cringing with every missed free throw, or leaving your seat to stand closer to the TV. The sharks will use that information against you.
During summer, I only bet on baseball games if I’m playing poker in a casino. Four-hour baseball games are inherently boring until you wager on the game, but the snooze fest becomes electrifying because you have a vested interest in the outcome of the game.
During the opening weeks of the World Series of Poker, many pros are sweating enormous sports bets. Although it’s difficult to focus on a $2,500 buy-in tournament when you’re sweating a big bet worth six figures, that’s what happens every summer. Phil Ivey wagered a couple of million on the L.A. Lakers in the 2008 NBA playoffs while many other pros had individual action on the games. I’ve seen pros grease the floor guys inside the Amazon Ballroom so they would turn off the tournament clock and turn on the NBA playoff game instead.
One of the saddest sports betting stories I’ve ever heard involves Mike Matusow. Before Matusow went to prison for selling cocaine to an undercover agent, Howard Lederer invited him to become an initial investor in Full Tilt Poker. Matusow declined because he needed his last $100,000 to fund his sports betting bankroll. He placed bets while he was in jail with the hope of running up his roll so he’d have money to live on when he got out of the joint. Unfortunately for Matusow, things didn’t go as planned. He lost his entire bankroll during a losing streak. Upon his release, Matusow was broke and thus missed an opportunity to get in on the ground floor at Full Tilt.
Sports betting is not just a problem restricted to American pros. Gus Hansen skipped a few events at the 2009 WSOP because he had a $900,000 bet on Rafael Nadal to win the French Open. He flew to Paris to sweat his bet while watching the match.
I once stood in the poker room at the Crown Casino in Melbourne when the entire room stopped to watch the end of a cricket match between Australia and India. Sports betting is legal in Australia, and many big-time bookies were playing poker while they awaited the outcome of the match. I don’t know anything about cricket, but judging from the sour reactions of the punters in the room and from the agitated looks on the bookies faces, a lot of pissed off people lost a mountain of cash that afternoon.
The Borgata poker room on a Sunday afternoon is always a fascinating scene with the groans and boos echoing about the room while the NFL games flash on the screens in the background. It’s not just at the Borgata that this happens. Poker rooms in Las Vegas are a zoo on Sunday mornings with distracted poker players keeping an eye on the NFL scores. Many poker rooms run Monday Night Football promotions during which they encourage gamblers to play poker while they show the game in the background.
Are you looking for an edge the next time you’re in Las Vegas? Hit up your local card room on Sunday afternoons and Monday night during football season. Chat up your opponents. Find out who has money on the games and then go for the jugular while they are distracted. I love to needle players who are sidetracked by a game. I immediately question their side of the bet and it doesn’t matter if I agree with it or not, I just take the other side in an attempt to get my opponent more focused on defending his sports betting prowess than worrying about playing poker.
More “winning” poker players are cash poor because they use their poker bankrolls to pay off their other gambling debts in blackjack, baccarat, craps and video poker. Toss sports betting into the mix and that’s a formula for disaster.
“Profit from folly rather than participate in it.”
Warren Buffett said that. One of the most successful investors in the history of modern finance, he has a simple philosophy — only bet on sure things. Premier poker pros seldom have the urge to get involved in a hand in which they do not have an edge. They display prudent decision-making when putting their poker bankrolls at risk, yet when it comes to sports betting, many are degenerate fools. They resemble drug-crazed lunatics seeking a quick fix instead of acting like prudent and disciplined investors. Then again, that’s the sort of careless behavior that helps boost casino profits.
Sports books destroy bankrolls and they are a mortal enemy of weak-minded poker players. Don’t become tantalized by the flashing odds on the big boards. At all costs, resist the urge to donk off your poker winnings at the sports book. Your life might depend on it someday.