It didn’t work out that way. But not because he didn’t win any money.
“That year, I won $2600 playing poker online. But when I took the money out, we made the mistake of putting it in the checking account,” he says. “Slowly, but surely, we used it on bills and going out to dinner and stuff. It’s long gone.”
Now he’s trying again, this time gambling on football. He keeps his winnings in a baggie at the back of the freezer.
This week, he has 13 bets going, five with the bookie at $50 each (including a teaser that pays 2.8:1), five with friends and work buddies (for a total of $120), and four small bets online (where he’s trying out a second system for college football), totaling $30.
“It’s good to have your bets spread out. You don’t want all your money on one or two games,” he says.
All told, if he wins everything, he’ll be up $490 for the week. Losing it all will mean $425 gone.
If Jen weren’t here now, listening and occasionally piping in with words of praise for her husband’s methodology and precision, I wouldn’t believe it when Tony tells me she supports the $400 gambling risks he takes each week. Their 120-square-foot den certainly doesn’t read “we’ve got lots of money to blow.” But do they?
When I ask, both Tony and Jen laugh.
“I’m a regular working guy with bills and a mortgage,” Tony says. “We’re not quite paycheck-to-paycheck, but not a whole lot better than that, either. I certainly can’t afford to be betting the grocery money or anything like that. And I don’t. Ever.”
“He wouldn’t,” Jen pipes in. “He’s not that guy.”
She goes on to explain that last year, when he agreed to take her to the horse races at Del Mar, he wouldn’t let her bet more than a dollar or two on each race. And on a recent trip to Vegas (their first), he preferred sightseeing to casinos; she had to talk him into putting $10 into the slot machines.
I tell them I’m confused. Here’s a guy who has $400 riding on the outcome of 13 football games today. And yet he’s not a gambler?
Tony says he differentiates between betting on things like poker and sports, where a person can manipulate the odds to be in their favor, and games of chance like roulette, craps, and slot machines, where whether you win or lose is “one hundred percent luck.” Winning and losing in sports, he estimates, is 40 percent luck on any given day. The rest of it is that “the system works.” But even a winning system is not enough. It’s also important to “remain unemotional” when making picks, “never bet more than you can afford,” keep an accurate track of wins and losses, and “never, ever ‘chase.’”
“You can have six good weeks in a row, winning $50 every week,” he says. “That might not sound impressive, but that’s $300 to the good. Then, let’s say you lose $100 the next week. A good gambler stops right there, and he’s still up $200. But if you’re a chaser, you bet $100 on the Sunday-night game, trying to get back to even for the week. You lose that, so then you bet $200 on the Monday-night game, still trying to get even. You lose that, too. And now, instead of being up $200 for seven weeks, you’re down $100. That’s chasing.”
What keeps Tony from being “that guy?”
When he loses, his natural inclination is to lower the amount of his bets and to bet less often. “I’m also really big into record-keeping,” he says. “I’d say, as a gambler, my best quality is record-keeping. That and bankroll management.”
Bankroll management, he explains, is where a bettor starts with a given amount of money and allows himself only a small percentage of that total for each bet. The starting size of the bankroll doesn’t matter, as long as it’s enough to cover four or five losing streaks in a row. A good bankroll manager never bets more than he can afford.
It occurs to me that Tony’s $400 in bets for this week is almost half his total bankroll. When I mention this, he laughs. “Ideally, I meant.”
To demonstrate his proficiency in record-keeping, he flips open a laptop, retrieves a file, and shows me a spreadsheet titled “Poker Wins/Losses.” It’s dated July 2010. The columns are topped with a mess of acronyms and symbols. I point to the column marked “D/N” and ask what it means. “Double or Nothing,” he says, which was his favorite type of tournament. Ten guys start, half double their money, half get nothing.
“See here?” He points to the column marked “RNG TOTAL,” where he listed the cumulative amount he was up (or down) for the month. “I can see at a glance when I was running good.” The numbers in bold, he explains, are new monthly highs. “Look at all that bold. That was a good month.”
At the bottom of the page, below the columns and rows, he has notes typed for every day he played. I ask if he really kept this up every single day.
“No,” he says. “The screen cuts it off. Those notes are for every match I played.”
One reads, “7/21 — lost one on some experimental shit. A new regular-type guy re-raised my button raise. I thought he was making a move and shoved.”
The rest of the words run off screen. Tony laughs. “That’s funny,” he says. “I shoved.”
Before I can ask what that means he says, “I’m a really systematic person. I’m attracted to patterns and statistics and all those types of things. But the other thing that keeps me out of danger is that it hurts me to give away money.”
He pauses to watch Eli Manning complete a long pass.
“Damn it,” he says to the television. Then to me, “Yeah, I hate losing more than I enjoy winning. If I win, I’m, like, ‘All right, great.’ But if I lose, I’m up all night thinking about it. It kills me.”