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Poker Blog established in 2003 as the first stop for poker news, poker stories, and bad poker advice.

August 10, 2004

Gambling on Terrorism

by Otis

Dateline: Las Vegas, NV, September 2003

As the beer took hold, wrapping its maternal hug around the main-line adrenaline of a winning 13-hour session, I stood up. I racked my chips, nodding good wishes at the 1am drunks who were just sitting down. I hated to leave them, but I had friends waiting on me. And I'd been sitting for so long that variance was bound to come in for the graveyard shift.

Joey Two-Hands was with me and had been working up a good bender for the better part of our sit. Seven hours ago he'd flopped two monsters and raked two pots full of confidence. Since then, he'd bled away his wins, rebought a couple of times, and drank the Luxor bar dry of Jack and Coke.

I cashed out and led Joey out of the Luxor and onto the motorized walkway that led into the Excalibur. We laughed our way through the maze designed to keep us in the building, not looking anywhere but forward, anywhere but toward a Pai Gow table full of similarly drunk college buddies.

We escaped the Excalibur and didn't look around. We focused on the steps that would lead us to the walkway to New York, New York. We hit the conditioned air again, sat down, and drank with our buddies for four hours. When Joey decided to bet a miniature breath mint for the dealer, we decided it was time to head back to the rooms.

I was in little condition to be the designated walker, but somebody had to. Somebody had to lead Joey out of peril and into a room at the MGM. We crossed the catwalk over Las Vegas Boulevard, never looking anywhere but forward, embracing the freedom of tunnel vision that only Las Vegas and New Orleans can provide.

When we reached the MGM, Joey looked at me and said, "I want to hit you. Can I hit you?"

Declining the offer, I led him to the elevator to one of the towers, never looking back over my shoulder, never once looking for anything suspicious.

We'd do it all again the next day, not realizing or caring that two video tapes with footage of both the Excalibur and MGM were sitting in a prosecutor's lock box thousands of miles away.


The news broke this week in an exclusive story from the Associated Press. According to sources in the federal government, terrorist cells in Detroit and Spain were both found with video tapes of high-rise hotels in Vegas, specifically Excalibur, MGM Grand, and Bellagio. The federal officials allege that both Vegas city leaders and casino executives were asked to review the tapes, but most in the government and gaming community refused. The implication from the federal officials was that the folks in Vegas were afraid that if they saw the tapes, they would be forced to act, and any action or admission of the tapes could have an effect on the Vegas tourism industry. While the tapes seemed innocuous enough (in some cases, they looked like vacation videos), experts testified that the videos followed terrorist handbooks on how to disguise terror surveillance video.

Since the story broke, Mayor Oscar Goodman, law enforcement officials, and gaming executives have all denied the allegations. MGM officials concede that they saw the tapes and they've been working behind the scenes with security personnel.

While the key federal source in the story seems credible, we're instructed to not forget that he is currently under investigation for prosecutorial misconduct in a Detroit terror case.

All of these facts or fact-variations leave the casual reader and Vegas tourist in an awkward position.

First, you want to believe that anyone who has solid knowledge of any sort of terror threat would broadcast it to the public at large and let the public decide for itself how to react.

However, at the same time, one could easily believe that Las Vegas officials didn't see any clear and present danger in the tapes, and as such, didn't see any reason to alarm the public, and by extension, hurt the city's bottom line.


Since September 11th, 2001, I have stayed at a nice hotel in Midtown Manhattan. I had a drink with my wife on top of the Sears tower in Chicago. I played poker at Bellagio. I slept in the MGM Grand. I was propositioned by hookers in the Excalibur.

It's been a good three years.

About three weeks after the terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C., I stopped watching TV on any regular basis. I used to be an avid 24-hour news watcher. After the attacks, I couldn't stand it anymore. I started to get most of my news from online sites.

Since that time, I haven't allowed myself to be afraid of terror. I've tackled New York, Chicago, the Caribbean, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Dulles International. The only time I felt any nerves at all was when our plane left D.C. and doubled back toward the city after only ten minutes in flight. Smoke in the cockpit forced an overnight stay in D.C. and one less night in A.C. That was the biggest calamity I've faced in three years of America's fight against terror.

Now, I'm being told that one of my favorite vacation spots in the country may or may not be a terrorist target. The leaders of that city may or may not have hid relevant information about such terror potential.

And I'm conflicted.


An open letter to terrorists:

Up yours.



In the little burg of Greenville, SC, the local police department is upgrading all its radios to 800 megahertz. The move will allow the department to better communicate with other agencies and departments in the area. When explaining the necessity, the assistant to the Chief brings up the inability of certain New York agencies to communicate during the terror attacks.

A forty-five minute drive through the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains drops you off at a nuclear power plant in Oconee County. For a period of time, the slightest mistrack by a amateur pilot would summon a flurry of F-16s from an nearby airforce base.

At the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport mail facility, someone recently left a vile of Ricin poison for authorities to find.

In the middle of Greenville's downtown, a river falls over a 30 foot drop, shooting a new spray of water over a newly manicured park and multi-million dollar footbridge.

They call the bridge "Liberty."


Maybe it's because I didn't go upstairs at 9pm last night and log on to Empire. Maybe it's because I watched TV instead. For lack of something better to watch, I checked out "The Grid" on TNT, a fairly well-produced international terrorism drama.

The simple theme of the show is this: Terrorism is real.

However, as I watch, I can't help but thinking, "It's just TV."

Frankly, that's my biggest problem. I can't see terrorism as something real. Terrorists don't strike communities like Greenville, SC. I have a greater chance of getting hit by a car on Rutherford St. as I do getting hurt in some terror attack.

Even now, as the news screams about Las Vegas, I just don't get it. In fact, there's a part of me that wants to schedule an impromptu trip to Vegas in spite of the dire news.

There are those in the fear-mongering community who would suggest that my views are akin to the tunnel vision I get when I'm in Vegas. Pay no attention to the terrorist behind the curtain, so to speak.

There are other who would suggest that my simple acknowledgement of the fear-mongering is one step toward allowing the terrorists to win.

Just the other day on my other blog, the Sesame Street terror alert warning went from Bert, to Bert/Ernie (NYC, DC). I smiled, sickly, because I'd been waiting to see what would happen when the terror alert changes.

And Ernie has always sort of been my favorite Sesame Street character.


Perhaps it's my looking for a sense of place in the American dialogue, but I see myself as the prototype for the American terror watcher. I can't grasp the concept until it is real.

It has only been three years since I stood at our local airport, and explained to people getting off their plane that America was under attack and they wouldn't be going anywhere for a while. It's only been three years since a friend called from her Manhattan apartment to explain the chaos that was overtaking America's city. It's only been three years since I wanted to vomit every time I saw the planes hitting the towers.

Now, I feel guilty that I heed no warnings, that I openly taunt terrorists to take their best shot at America. I feel guilty, because when/if it happens, I will have been one of the people who wasn't paying attention.

At the same time, I feel a general and increasing unease at the beginning of every new day. I find myself watching television again and checking news websites on a more regular basis, only finding respite in the virtual world of online poker.


My friends who don't understand poker ask how I can spend so much time involved in a game. They ask how I can sit in front of a computer for hours on end, tossing around twenty-dollar bets like they were pennies. They half-joke about addiction and my need to see more sun.

I have no real justification, other than that I'm winning.

Still, there's a part of me that admits that poker is a world I understand. Poker is a world where I know when I'm up and I know when I'm down and I know that the successes and failures are based almost entirely on how I conduct myself in the game.

That is, poker is playing guitar on the back porch. It's sharing a six-pack with a buddy on the deck. It's tossing the ball with the dog.

They are the parts of my world that are constant in their ability to get better every time I do it.

They are the parts of my world that I know.

And everything else, everything I see on TV, everything that is in the news is the opposite. It's playing every hand blind and hoping the hands of fate don't feel homicidal.

At 30 years old, I feel guilty for embracing the things I know so strongly.

And I seek the courage to better understand everything else.

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