Poker room managers are pressed by casino owners to keep their tables filled and their dealers working. That is why they come up with so man cash benefits for players which the players, of course, pay for out of the pots. Most poker rooms offer splash pots and cash for high hands or aces cracked. But some of the most interesting perks involve football, baseball or basketball pools. Especially football which is probably one of the most popular perks. I like the football pools and thoroughly subscribe to them.
Paul DeGruccio was one of the most creative photographers in Arizona and I was lucky to get him to work as my partner when I went out on stories. He was born in Brooklyn, had a New Yorker's nose for news, and together we made a good team. During the day he worked for a small weekly newspaper in Phoenix and I covered stories for the Phoenix Gazette. But at night and on weekends, we were Batman and Robin, going after stories about unique people, newsmakers and celebrities that would later grace the covers of People Weekly, TV Times, The Star, Globe, Argosy and the National Enquirer.
There are a lot of cowboys in Arizona who wear silk shirts, leather boots and Stetson hats who have never sat on the back of a horse or a Brahma bull. Larry Mahan is not that kind of cowboy. Born in Salem, OR., Larry started his rodeo career at the age of 14. His mother was always in his corner rooting him on at the junior rodeos as he developed his riding skills. Mahan was an all-around cowboy. He started with saddle broncos and graduated to bull riding, winning state and national awards in both categories. He won the all-around champion cowboy title five times and was unbeatable on the bull riding circuit.
Dreams die hard and Howdy Fowler was a dreamer extraordinaire. I met this wild cowboy in Deming, N.M. when I was Bureau Chief for a daily newspaper based in Las Cruces. Remember the movie 'Bronco Billy,' starring Clint Eastwood as a rough and tumble owner of a wild west show? That was Howdy who with his Paiute Indian wife Yahooskin operated their own wild west show in small towns across the Southwestern United States. The couple lived in a mobile home on a small ranch halfway between Deming and Columbus, which sits next to the Mexican border.
Ray Odom was a horse trainer and owner of KHAT, the most famous country western radio station in Phoenix, AZ. He trained and ran his horses at Turf Paradise, a thoroughbred racetrack on Bell Road in North Phoenix. I was a horse handicapper and writer for the Phoenix Gazette and spent a lot of time at the track. Ray and I became good friends. He and Jack Karie, a police reporter for the Arizona Republic, introduced me to Slim Sarwark, a colorful character who owned racehorses and who operated Miracle Used Cars at 35th Avenue and Grand Avenue in Phoenix.
Remember the scene in Forrest Gump when Tom Hanks goes on a monumental run and people start running with him? I loved it. For many years I was a long distance runner and if I get over being lazy, I may try it again. My formative years as a journalist started in a sun-baked town in eastern New Mexico. After moving to Tucumcari, I hunted jackrabbits with a single-shot .22 rifle, chased girls, ran for miles along a canal bank to stay in shape, played poker in private games with cowboys and ranchers, and watched the magnificent sunsets that draped Tucumcari Mountain and the Llano Estacado in all the colors of the rainbow.
If New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, old Mexico -- at least parts of it -- is a country of delights. When I moved to Phoenix, I got caught up in the Hispanic culture. The food, music, and customs intrigued me and I found myself writing about them for my newspaper as well as magazines. As a general assignment and features reporter for the Phoenix Gazette, one of my responsibilities was to cover the Mexican Ambassador to Arizona. Raul had an office in the central corridor of Phoenix. His friendly staff kept me current on policies affecting tourism and went out of their way to make life pleasant for me.
Connie Hawkins, the genial 6-8 former NBA basketball star, is dead. The poker players in Phoenix, AZ. where the friendly Hawkins spent the final decades of his life are mourning his passing. I was playing Connie's favorite game, Omaha High-Low, the other night when news of his death flashed on a large television monitor at the Talking Stick Casino on Indian Bend Road just east of Scottsdale. I walked to one of the poker room supervisors and asked her to announce his death.
I really should have known better. Every time I introduced my friend Dave Molina to another woman, he ended up marrying her. Never mind his marital status at the time. Divorced or married, Molina was a romantic, a Spaniard, and would go through fire, mountains or hell itself in pursuit of romance. We were in Phoenix, AZ. working for a start-up daily newspaper owned by a publisher with money problems. Molina's current wife had left him and had gone home to her parents in Texas. It was /Friday morning, payday, and Dave came by my desk. 'Hey, Buddy,' he said. 'How's about getting us a date for tonight?'
Very rarely do I like any bets in the futures market, especially when it comes to NFL Conference and Super Bowl futures. With that said, based on last year's numbers (and a substantially similar team) I think that there is some value in betting the Patriots to win the AFC Championship as well as the Super Bowl at the current odds. They are one of the few teams who can be considered to be a near absolute lock to at least make the playoffs, which gives them a substantial probability of winning the AFC and SB by itself.
Dave Feldman is the kind of wise guy that everybody loves to hang around. He is a sports caster, a track announcer, a newspaper columnist, a horse handicapper, a trainer and an owner. To put it as bluntly as possible, Feldman knows the score around a race track. And he can write about it with hilarious -- and telling -- results. I just finished reading Feldman's book about his life at the track. 'Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda' is must read for any horseplayer. If you play the horses, I recommend you get your hands on a copy of the book as quickly as possible. Most horse players who think they are good handicappers don't really know what they are doing, according to Dave.
When I was a student at Sewickley Township High School in Herminie, PA., one of my favorite sports was boxing. My dad had bought me a set of boxing gloves and I spent a lot of time practicing in a makeshift ring in front of our house on Sutersville Hill. I boxed with everybody who would fight me. My younger brothers, neighbors, even rivals in school. When I had a problem with one of my fellow students, I challenged Alvin Opatchick to come by for a bout. He was more than happy to accommodate me. Alvin was about my size and we matched up pretty evenly in the ring. I had a good left jab that I had been practicing and it made the difference in the fight.
Long before I learned how to play poker I caddied at the Youghiogheny Country Club near McKeesport, PA. My two younger brothers and I spent nearly every weekend at the beautiful golf course toting bags for the members. It was tough work but the pay was decent and it kept us healthy walking up and down those wooded fairways. The country club members were mostly doctors, lawyers and business owners from the nearby communities -- Boston, McKeesport, Belle Vernon and Pittsburgh. They loved to bet on the outcome of the games and they had an ongoing poker game that took place daily in the club house.
There is no getting around it. Growing up in a small town is the best beginning a person can experience. I was born in a small coal mining community just across the river from Sutersville, PA., population less than 1,000. We lived in company housing until my father left the coal mines to work for U.S. Steel Corp. He also built a two-story house on top of Sutersville Hill on a piece of land he bought from my Uncle Ott, who was married to my mother's sister. As a teenager growing up in Sutersville, I discovered there were two important people in town -- Popeye, the town cop, and Al Orsini, a bookie who ran a small convenience store.
I started playing baseball at the age of six. My parents were fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates and you didn't dare interrupt the announcing of Rosie Rosewell or Bob Prince, broadcasting from Fortes Field in Pittsburgh, while a Pirate game was in progress. My father would not stand for it. We had a sandlot field behind the company housing owned by the Pittsburgh Consolidated Coal Co. which owned and operated the Warden Mine where my dad worked. All the men in the housing complex were coal miners. They all earned a good living from mining coal and owned a car and was considered fairly close to middle-class.
In the blue distance from my hotel room on the famous Las Vegas Strip, I can see the mountains. They look near but I know they are much farther away than they look. The thin desert air and lack of humidity makes things seem much closer than they are. Today, I am not in a very good mood. My rent is due, $98 for the week's lodging. I have $36 in my pocket, and the writing job that had been promised to me, never materialized. I almost reached for my phone to call Salvation Army. However, I refrained, and instead, wandered down to Binion's Horseshoe and arrived there just before the races started at Santa Anita.
Is there a way to beat the horses? With this question, I will certainly start a controversy. Some wise old timer will shake his head emphatically and say, 'Nope,' while others will argue, 'Maybe.' There are so many factors that go into a horse race that I could probably take the stance of a New York lawyer and argue both sides of the case. Being a stubborn type who believes in probability, I will place my reputation out on a limb and say, yes, there is a way to beat the horses. And then cross my fingers.
My friend Eddie was the one who got me thinking about it. We were working for the owners of half a dozen Miami Beach hotels who were trying to bring casino gambling to Miami Beach. Our bosses included Steven Muss, owner of the Fontainebleau Hotel. Eddie was a singer and I handled publicity for our election campaign. 'Do you know where the most beautiful women in the world are?" Eddie said. I asked him to tell me. 'The Dominican Republic and Costa Rica,' Eddie said.
When I am in Pennsylvania, I always enjoy going to the Meadows or the Rivers Casino with my younger brother, Legs. He is a slots player and I play poker or blackjack. At the Meadows just outside Washington, PA., that means Legs is usually upstairs trying to persuade his favorite slot machines to yield their buried treasure. The poker room is on the second floor and the horses are located downstairs. Sometimes when Legs gets bored with the slots, he will join me as a partner in my latest horse betting system. Admittedly I have gone through quite a few systems over the years. Some have worked pretty well while others have failed. But Legs good-naturedly supports me, win or lose.
Hobbs, N.M. lies in the center of America's oil and gas production country. I had been working in Clovis for another newspaper when Robert Summers, publisher of the Hobbs Daily News-Sun invited me to join his editorial staff as assistant city editor.Summers was a pleasant, mild-mannered man who owned a string of horses that he raced at Ruidoso Downs and Sunland Park in El Paso, TX. He turned out to be a gentleman and one of the most generous publishers it has ever been my pleasure to work for.
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