Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on September 8, 2008

typewriter3         I’m not sure what happens in the imaginary world that Bill Simmons inhabits as a sportswriter for, but on college campuses across America, sports gambling has led to disastrous consequences for many of my students and friends. As evidence supporting Lesson #8, I hereby present the story of the pseudonymous Harry O’Laughlin:

          Harry is one of the most “I’m American, but proud to be Irish, and I spent a semester in Galway to further gain authenticity” guys I’ve ever met.  He loves The Dropkick Murphys, Catholicism, Notre Dame football, James Joyce, and Guinness; he celebrates St. Patrick’s Day for at least a week every year; and he believes in something called the Luck of the Irish (which is one of the most ridiculous concepts I can possibly think of – Ireland, as far as I can tell, with its potato famines, civil wars, and 40 years of Van Morrison records, has been anything but historically lucky).  Harry is also an avid follower of both college and professional sports, and from the years of 2002-2006, Harry was a fairly successful amateur sports gambler. 

          On St. Patrick’s Day 2006, these two interests reached a dangerous confluence.  That night, George Mason, a #11 seed who had barely squeaked into the NCAA tournament as an improbable third team from the Colonial Athletic Association, was squaring off against perennial Big-Ten power and Big Dance overachiever Michigan State, the #6 seed.  Earlier in the week, George Mason’s starting point guard, Tony Skinn, had been suspended for the first-round game for punching a Hofstra University player in the testicles.  Still, the line inexplicably had Mason as only a 6 point underdog.  Harry, smelling a guaranteed blowout and banking on a little Luck of the Irish, took the $6,000 he had accumulated in gambling winnings over the past four years, plus $19,000 in his “saving for a down payment on a house” account, and put it all on Michigan State.  George Mason, who many experts complained hadn’t even earned their at-large birth in the tournament, went on to steamroll Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, and Connecticut in route to the Final Four – becoming the greatest Cinderella Story since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.  But, unfortunately, this feel-good story didn’t feel so good for Harry…or for Harry’s wife.  When he called me that night to tell me what had happened, I was certain they were getting divorced.

          Luckily, Harry and his wife worked through the loss of the money, and their marriage appears to be stronger than ever.  And last year, they did buy their first house – a nice rowhouse in one of those gentrified neighborhoods with a Whole Foods and 3 Starbucks, where poor people lived until 1996.  Ironically, they probably saved more than the $19,000 that Harry lost by waiting to buy, because the real-estate market is in the midst of the craziest correction in decades.  So maybe there’s something to that whole Luck of the Irish thing after all.  But, don’t be fooled – these stories end up turning out badly more often than they end up turning out okay.

          I think that because so many of us know so much about sports these days, and because any information we could possibly want is just at the tip of our fingers, we feel like we’re smarter than the bookies.  But sports are unpredictable, and way too many of my students have come to me with awful stories about losing large sums of money on games that were a sure thing.  They’re afraid to tell their parents, they’re afraid they’ll have to drop out of school, and occasionally, they’re afraid of the bookies who took the bet.  So, here’s my advice if you want to stay clear of this kind of trouble: #1) if at all possible, don’t gamble; #2) if you are going to gamble, try to keep your money amongst friends in the relatively reasonable world of fantasy football, NCAA tournament pools, and home poker games where the buy-in is low; #3) if you insist on flirting with the dangerous world of online betting, know that many people have trouble gaining the same thrill of winning without gradually escalating the amount of money they bet – and this can get out-of-hand quickly – so, never bet more than you can afford to lose, because inevitably you will run into a sure thing that’s not nearly so sure as you think it is.

          Look at it this way: in the cult-classic movie Suicide Kings, Avery Chasten loses $50,000 on a basketball bet in Atlantic City when he misses on a sure thing.  Because of this, four friends end up kidnapping Christopher Walken and cutting off his finger.  Let me ask you this – does Christopher Walken seem like the kind of person you want chasing you down because you blackmailed him to pay off the gambling debts that two mobsters are breathing down your neck to collect?  Of course not, he’ll either shoot you or dance you to death, and either way you’d have been better off simply not pissing him off in the first place.

4 Responses

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  1. Astral Weeks said, on September 10, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I hate you. Van Morrison is awesome.

  2. Barry said, on September 10, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    James Joyce sucks!

  3. intergalactic planetary said, on September 10, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Who is this man? And why is he taped to my father’s favorite chair? …You cut his fucking finger off?!? I can’t believe you guys.

  4. Chris said, on October 24, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    HA! This movie just came on my DVR last week, and now I have to watch it even sooner

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