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Athletes Betting Big Bucks - Not A Microcosm of Betting Public

By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Journal

In my Heaven there is one room in which I have a seat at a poker table across from Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Daly. A young, scantily clad Janet Gretzky is tending bar and handling the chips. Some Laker Girls are dancing in cages above the room while a group of Cowboys cheerleaders rip body shots off one another on velvet couches.

Good times.

Unless you've spent the last few months in an Afghani cave, you know that Daly and Barkley have each publicly admitted to blowing millions of dollars gambling. Daly claims in his autobiography that he has lost between $50 and $60 million over the past 12 years. Barkley declared in an interview on ESPN that he has lost "probably $10 million" gambling, adding, "It's a problem for me."

"I just hope that they lost all that money here," joked Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman when I asked him about the claims. "That's a lot of money. I know they're welcome here any time!"

Most people gamble to add a little fun and excitement to an event. The point is enjoyment. To me, winning is enjoyable. That's why I play. I love the action but I want to be on the right side because: A) I want to play again tomorrow and B) I despise losing. But no matter what your gambling goals may be, there are certain fundamental strategies that must be adhered to in order to be successful.

Barkley and Daly clearly have little respect or understanding of these basic principles. And since I think the best way to learn life lessons is through the pain and humiliation of others (if they've already experienced it, why should we have to?) then I think that their failure can serve as an important teaching tool.

First, you need to realize that Gambling is a soulless, ruthless beast. It doesn't care if you're a Hall of Famer or that you can win the British Open with a case of beer in your system. Just because you're a pro athlete, have millions of dollars or are extremely skilled in some other aspect of life, that doesn't mean you'll be a good gambler. You must always stay humble and realize that today's big break could be tomorrow's bad beat.

The second tenet to be learned is that before you sit at a table or look at the lines you need to understand the odds and know your chances of winning. Daly claimed that he would ring up six-figure debts by playing $5,000 slot machines. That's the type of rampant stupidity that used to get people flogged in public. My only question is whether or not he paid off his tab with one of those big cardboard checks.

If losing a sum equal to the Gross Domestic Product of Nicaragua isn't your style, then you have to know the odds and be patient. A good gambler lies in the weeds. They wait for good value, pick their battles and understand that; just like with women, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make.

Next, there is an important lesson here about money management. For Chuck and John to get that deep in the hole they either have the worst instincts in gambling history or they ignored the fundamentals of money management. While the first thought is tempting, I'm going with the latter.

Pro gamblers extol the virtue of never risking too much of your stack. The industry standard is not to wager more than five percent of your holdings on any single play. "Let It Ride" and "Go All-In" are the slogans of tourists, amateurs and frat guys. If you carefully manage your roll you'll find that not only will you get to play longer (more fun) but you stand a much better chance of coming out on top (much more fun). P

The final lesson to be extracted from the plight of Chuck and John may be the most important of all.

Knowing their personalities made their betting confessions about as surprising as George Jung saying, "Yeah, I like a little blow." But Barkley and Daly were throwing around some pretty heady numbers and had to expect a serious backlash.

But that's what was so odd. After the predictable initial media reaction - sanctimonious sports writers preaching on their soapboxes and giving their 10-cent psychological diagnosis - there was no public outcry. No one called for investigations. There was no movement to strip Daly of his PGA Tour card or have Barkley fired from his job with TNT. The story came and went, and that was that.

To me that was the story. Was this a sign that gambling has reached another level of acceptance in our society? If the religious zealots weren't dispatching an angry mob after these two degenerates, does that mean that someone who drops a few hundred bucks on their alma mater no longer has to fear being branded with the Scarlet Letter "G"?

Gambling may have made more headway into the mainstream over the past decade than at any other point in the last century. Between NFL and March Madness office pools, the explosion of poker on television, the continued construction of Indian casinos and the proliferation of state run lotteries and church bingos it's hard to find anyone who isn't either a participant in or somehow directly exposed to some form of wagering.

But we're not in the clear just yet. As Doc's Sports Journal went to print, an anti-gambling bill had just been approved by a House of Representatives subcommittee. The bill attempts to criminalize online gambling by reworking old laws to include wireless technology and any wagering activity over the phone. Spearheaded by Republican Senator Bob Goodlatte, the bill could be an initial step toward mounting an attack on legal gambling in the U.S.

"If they're toying with the Internet with any intention of messing with us down the road, they're sadly, sadly mistaken," Goodman said.

Another bothersome aspect of the Barkley story was his ignorant dismissal of problem gambling. Barkley said, "I do have a gambling problem, but I don't consider it a problem because I can afford to gamble." He added, "If you're a drug addict or an alcoholic, those are problems…as long as I can continue to do it I don't think it's a problem." Gambling addiction is quite serious and it shouldn't be trivialized like some two-bit fetish. But that's exactly what he did.

But I'll discuss that with Chuck at a later date. Maybe while we're doing tequila shots off Janet Gretzky's nipples and fleecing MJ out of another hundred grand.

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