I know as a ‘good Catholic’* I shouldn’t, but I do like to have a bit of a bet on the football every week.
But what I am not is a big gambler. I stick a pound on this, or a pound on that. 25p on such and such scoring first. It’s more to make games I am watching as a neutral more interesting. A high roller I am not. Occasionally I’ll get a couple of quid back, but mostly it’s part of the plan for your Airman to donate money to Bet365’s profit fund.
As I said I am not a high roller, but I once had the chance to see a real high roller in action. We were on our first trip to Las Vegas. 29(F) Sqn doing a deployment to Nellis Sir Force Base (just outside Vegas) to take part in Exercise Red Flag. This is where the aircrew take part in a daily massive ‘air war’ out in the vast dererts of Nevada and Arizona. Just about every element of air power was taking part, bombers, fighters, ECM, Recce…all the elements that make up a package in a mission – and the elements that would defend against it.
A great exercise for the aircrew – they could fly and fight in preparation for a real war somewhere, but for us ground-crew it was pretty much business-as-usual but in a hotter place. We would do our normal job of seeing the aircraft off and in, servicing them and fixing any faults that would come up…and remember 29 was flying Tornado F3’s back then, and they were not the most reliable of aircraft, we would spend a lot of time fixing the radar’s and the avionics.
An unwritten motto of squadron life is ‘work hard, play hard’ particularly on a det, so when we were not working hard, we were playing hard. Let’s just say, we took advantage of the delights that Las Vegas offered us. The Strip. The All-You-Can-Eat Buffets. The Casinos. Cheap bars. Bright lights. Fun.
And one night we were taking advantage of a particularly cheap bar in the now definct and demolished Bally’s Hotel. It’d started off as just a couple of guys having a quiet beer, but over the course of the night more and more people arrived and the ‘party’ got a bit more raucus. The bar was in the corner of the gambling hall, with tables on three sides – Blackjack, Poker, Roulette – all games that were fairly easy to understand, and then in a corner were some ‘Craps’ dice tables – incomprehensible to the novice. A couple of guys had a flutter on the Blackjack tables – the ones with a minimum stake of $1. But soon they would drift back to the bar and join the ever increasing party.
Drinking games commenced. Squadron songs began. And then I noticed a security guard appeared at the corner of the bar. And then another at the other end of the counter. Big, serious men. In suits. Not smiling. Scanning.
And then another appeared standing at on of the Blackjack tables that was just over a rail that ran around the bar. This table wasn’t a $1 minimum. This was a table with a minimum bet of $1,000 a time. And the only man sitting at the table all of a sudden had a BIG pile of gambling chips in front of him. A LOT of chip. A LOT of money. And the man gambling was clearly, very, very drunk. And the casino staff were very nervous of a big bunch of people drinking so very close to the man with a lot of money in front of him. He was still gambling and was still winning. And the staff were getting more and more nervous.
And then a lady appeared at the bar. One of the hotel managers, with more security guards on each side of her. She quietly went around just asking us to leave. Expecting trouble and expecting us to argue, she had her minders ready, with more standing by to jump in…but all she said was ‘there’s a very big winner on the table behind you, and there are too many of you in this group, so could you all please separate and leave.’ Each time she did, the lads she spoke to looked over at the winner, looked at the security guys, finished their rink and left.
She came over to me and said the same – ‘Time to leave’ – and I just asked ‘How much has he won?’
‘Sorry, sir I can’t tell you that, but lets just say he is now up to well over $1million on the table in front of him. You guys are having a great time I can tell. But the management are a bit nervous. Can you please drink up and leave.’
The security guard looked at me and narrowed his eyes.
I sunk the beer I was holding and looked across at the high-roller. ‘Fair play to him,’ I said ‘Nice to see someone is a winner when they ganble. I know I’m not. I’m certainly not in the same league as him.’
And I’m still not. I am happy with my 25p stake, and whilst it’s never going to make me a million quid (or even a million dollars!) it’s enough to keep me interested in a game.
*Note, I’m NOT a good Catholic. Sadly.