Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Never Tell Me the Odds

Last year, Franklin and I hit up the Las Vegas of the Fox Cities (Oneida Bingo and Casino in Green Bay). The casino was simply hopping. It was, after all, the night before the 2011 NFL opener between the Packers and the Saints. There were even celebrities there, including Big Papi (true story), who had about ten seconds of public facetime before he and his entourage were escorted to a closed-off casino area I’ll probably never experience.

Once we navigated the buzzing, whirring, seizure-inducing lightshow spectacular known as slot machine row, we were able to find two open seats at a modest blackjack table. We cashed in a couple Andrew Jacksons a piece (thanks, Google!), set our bets and were dealt. Now, when I’m gambling at casinos, the last thing I like to do is to offer unsolicited advice to others. However, that didn’t stop the massholes next to us who were visibly irked at us as soon as we sat down.

“You want to split that,” the skinny one with the goatee and matching bracelets said regarding my two sixes. “The dealer’s also showing a six – it’s a bust card.” “Yeah, I know that but you want me to split sixes?” I asked. “The odds tell you too.” Nothing rang a bell, yet I conceded to his “authority.” This was naturally followed by a bust on one of my hands and the dealer beating me on the other with twenty. Things went on like this for the next few minutes, and when the chubby man in the warmup suit finally informed Franklin he “took his card,” we decided to cash out and try another area of the casino.

Having conquered more than a few video games in our day and now being devoid of douche-canoes telling us what to do, video poker seemed like an ideal choice. (I’ve also read payouts are about as close to even as you can get - they’d probably know more here.) But we could not seem to catch a break, no matter how many credits we played, no matter how many times I blew on the coins, and no matter how hard I asserted my telekinesis for a royal flush. It was (John) maddening.

With virtually no money left, we ended up at the lowest common denominator of both strategy and casino gambler pride: nickel slot machines. Even more embarrassing, we had to wait for the Piggly Wiggly Super Savers Club to finally leave to catch their bus. They had been “hogging the area for hours,” a crusty but benign senior in a Gilbert Brown jersey informed us.

With a mere five dollars left, we were just going to hit “max credits” on every spin and get the hell out of there. But something happened: we began winning. Ten, twenty, fifty – even one hundred credits at a time. What was going on? We had seemingly done all the right things back at blackjack and poker, yet here we were in a game almost completely devoid of strategy, recouping our losses and even venturing into the black.

So where am I going with all of this? Probably nowhere, but I’ll try anyway. Last year, the Packers were on one of the hottest streaks of all time but their formula turned out to be too top-heavy to sustain. This year, we’ve run into a little more than bad luck. And now it seems all I hear are the odds – the odds of an 0-1 team winning their division, the odds the Packers have of making playoffs after losing to Seattle. You know what? Never tell me the odds. Because even though the odds are currently against us, I’m as optimistic as ever because I see a team perfecting its balance. We’ve seen glimpses of the offensive dominance of 2011 – now complete with a running game! – as well as a quietly, perhaps significantly improved defense. If I’m putting money down on anything going forward, I’m not only betting on the Packers, but I’m also doubling down. I believe we’re going to find ways to win – however ugly or by chance it may appear.

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