Boxes of Ziti and a Chinese Hardware Store: How I Did Gambling on Sports

There’s an episode of The Sopranos called “The Happy Wanderer” where mob boss Tony Soprano’s daughter’s friend’s father (follow that?) wants in on Tony’s high-stakes executive poker game. A game that Frank Sinatra’s nephew flies in from Vegas to play. The guy, David Scatino, is a respected local businessman, but he has a gambling problem. Tony knows that, so he warns his nephew Christopher not to let Scatino play too far past his limits because Scatino is already in debt. After Tony falls asleep on the couch, Scatino keeps buying back in each time for $10,000 — everyone calls it “10 boxes of ziti” — and Christopher doesn’t stop him. Spoiler alert: Scatino loses a bunch and Tony finds out he already owes multiple boxes of ziti to other area mobsters. Tony & Co. … lean on the guy. I won’t elaborate further than saying it isn’t pleasant for Scatino.

I think my mom envisioned me as Scatino when I told her I started gambling.

I came home in early September from school for my cousin’s wedding and whenever it was mentioned, she stiffened a little and told me once our initial deposit eventually (inevitably) ran out that I should stop. She worried I’d develop into a degenerate gambler. I had gone to my first race track two months prior and lost a little bit of money there, about 30 bucks. I didn’t know horses. I didn’t even know how to read the big book they gave out. I barely understood the terms “box” and “trifecta” then; I don’t really now. (As I type this, I realize how stupid I must seem here.)

… Maybe her fears were justified.

But I really wanted to try something out. I’d spent the summer in New York City without a sustainable income and emerging from that desert to see the mirage of my bank account was disheartening. I’d talked to an uncle who liked to play the stock market and had been reasonably successful. He played conservative. Not getting rich, but his money was making baby money. That appealed to me.

I tried to convince my mother (and myself) that what I was doing wasn’t like the race track.

First, I decided I wouldn’t play the stock market or horses or cards. I didn’t know enough about any of those things to be comfortable risking money. I decided on sports (more on this later). Second, I went into with a partner. My roommate Alex felt similarly about wanting to make a little side money, knew about sports and played a rational foil to my sometimes-overly-optimistic ideas. Third, we researched betting sites and read 20-plus reviews to find the most reliable and user-friendly site. (Our decision to forgo Daily Fantasy Sports like Fan Duel and Draft Kings ended up paying off later when it was found employees of those sites cheated users.) Fourth, we put a hard cap on spending. The site we chose, Bovada.com, offered a 50 percent registering bonus for the beginning of the NFL season. Alex and I mutually invested, splitting a $50 buy-in. Bovada chipped in a $25 credit. We decided that if — no, when — we lost that $75, then we’d stop. Fifth, another reason why I wouldn’t end up like Scatino: No mob involvement.

The way I rationalized it: This was a relatively low sum of money, it’d be fun, I’d learn about gambling and, if we won, I’d have a little bit of money. (Also in the back of my mind: There’s an article here whether we win or lose.)

Our first weekend, we bet conservatively in five-dollar increments across five football spreads. We stuck to point spreads and over/unders for college football and NFL games, preferring those to risking it with the volatility of a regular season baseball game. We won three of five that first weekend, making four dollars and change. Joey and Kyle, our other two roommates, laughed at us for stressing about bets which inevitably yielded such small returns.

A bit of foreshadowing: Six days after I registered for allegedly-trustworthy Bovada, my credit card statements showed a purchase of $100 in supplies from a hardware store in a small, northern Chinese province.

Things went really well. We started winning more, betting in higher increments on fewer games. The confidence rose; we researched more, trying to find the lucrative lines. I downloaded a podcast called “Behind the Bets.” One weekend, we went 5-for-5. I even got the $100 refunded (shout-out TD Bank).

In four weeks, we doubled our initial deposit.

I felt like this (except that first scene; Alex and I are just roommates):

But you know where this is going. The fall-from-grace narrative is nearly as cliche as dorky-dude-gets-girl.

It started slowly. We miscommunicated, bet the wrong side of the USC-Stanford spread. We lost a little bit, and it was particularly frustrating because I had learned a small advantage from the podcast. But no worries, right? We were still in it, and still confident.

To compensate, we tried a parlay for the first time, meaning we’d need to get two bets correct to cash in. The higher risk offered a higher reward. While we were placing the bet, Bovada seemed to freeze for a second, so we double-clicked “Place bets” again. The site registered both clicks and suddenly 40 percent of our assets were on the line for one bet.

We won the first game of the parlay, but didn’t come close on the second. The first domino.

And then I realized something. The reason I didn’t bet on horses, cards or stock is that I knew I knew nothing.  I thought this made me better than other gamblers, my awareness of what I did and did not know. While I thought I was playing to my strengths I really just set myself up with faux-confidence. “I don’t just know the roster of my hometown team,” I rationalized. “I pay close attention to the four major sports. I read and watch a lot more than regular fans. I can be successful.”

My biggest mistake was thinking I knew anything at all.

It took about six weeks, with small and sporadic wins, but we ran our account down to nothing. It’s been eight weeks. I hadn’t opened up the Bovada account since then until today to write this story.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, my dad asked how the “wagering” was going (he was always nice about it in that way), and I told him.

Cue my mom, sideways look.

“So,” she said. Lengthy pause. “Have you put any more money in?”

I laughed it off. No, I was not fulfilling her prophecy of becoming David Scatino. If anything, I had realized that by thinking I was any cleverer than anyone else, I had proven just the opposite.

When I logged on to Bovada today, I saw something. With our last bet, we had apparently triggered some sort of bonus. We’d surpassed a spending threshold. Bovada comp’d us $10.

That’s a box of ziti to me.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

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Summer News

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Hey y’all, in lieu of a real post on this blog (though the Red Sox won in a big way today!), I wanted to let everyone know what’s going on with me this upcoming summer.

I found out last Saturday that I will be working in New York City as an intern for Esquire Magazine.

The guy I’m working with has not provided specifics on start and end dates, but I do know the program is 12 weeks. It is my hope that I will come home for roughly 10 days after school ends (May 4) and return 10 days before school begins (August 30). Though, I am skeptical.

I’m excited to work for Esquire – its 725,000 subscribers means it’s slightly larger than this site – but possibly even more thrilling, I’ll be in close proximity to Coney Island this July 4 in order to see arguably America’s greatest sporting event, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. (Though Joey Chestnut slacked last year. Only 61 dogs? C’mon, man!)

But really, I’m ecstatic to be working at Esquire. It’s significant to me.

The first time I ever read Esquire, my grandfather’s profile was in there.image1 (2)

I had never heard of the publication until then, but I remember my parents buying almost a dozen copies in a Maine mall one night after an extended family gathering.

Seeing my Papa carry it around everywhere, how much he loved it and what something like that meant to him…That’s something I’ll never forget. The fact that he had a bigger picture than Quincy Jones and many others in that magazine and how proud he was of it…seeing the effect of an article on a subject is one aspect which makes me love writing. The spread still sits on the shelving above my bed.

Esquire also published two of my three favorite sports articles of all-time. One about Joe DiMaggio in retirement and another about a crotchety old man named Ted Williams.

Logistically, it will be a challenge. The cost of living in N.Y.C. is bonkers, but I have a plan. I will live at an Uncle’s house, about a 30-minute bus ride from downtown. I’ll also be able to store LaVern, my car, there. A few friends live in the city, so I might be able to stay with them infrequently too, if only to spell my Uncle.

I have also pre-ordered 15 pallets of Ramen.

OK, that’s not true, but I have a few packages and am prepared to live a bare-bones lifestyle in order to make the internship work.

Moving from Strafford, New Hampshire, a town of 3000 people and zero stoplights, to the largest city in America in 12 months is a huge jump for me.

I’m a little nervous. It’s a big change. But here’s to hoping it goes well.

Cheers.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Year in Review: 2014’s Top Posts

YearInReview

After the 100 Weeks of “Purely For Sport” post about a month ago, this article will once again take you back into the past. It’s a retrospect to 2014, except without the things you were bombarded with anyway – I promise this is the only time Taylor Swift, Ebola, the World Cup, Malaysia Airlines, the Oscar selfie and Flappy Bird will be mentioned in this article.

Here are the five most-read posts of 2014:

T5. “When I Was A Boy…” (89 reads) – After attending my first college class, I sat down in a Syracuse study room and reflected on how I got there. The result is a mixture of me feeling old and curmudgeonly, but full of happiness and hope for what’s to come. This was all brought up because of the beginning of classes and playing the card game Strat-O-Matic with an old friend of mine.

T5. Matt Bonner: The New Hampshire Sandwich Hunter (89 reads) – He’s a red-head and so am I. He’s from New Hampshire and so am I. He’s 6-foot-11 and I am not. Matt Bonner is (a little) better at basketball than I am, so he called me up to talk about everything from signing his new sponsorship to Jalen Rose’s advice when Bonner was a rookie; from collegiate “one-and-done’s” to sandwiches.

4. Hostile in Buffalo (303 reads) – Beer cans, the burning filters of cigarettes and the vulgarest of any insults you’ve ever heard: All those things were hurled at my friends and I as we walked into Ralph Wilson Stadium to watch the hometown Buffalo Bills take on our New England Patriots. One other observation: They really, really hate Tom Brady.

3. One Man, One Reason, 64 Fantasy Baseball Teams (548 reads) – Working four jobs each summer, sleeping four hours per night and constantly loving baseball this is a profile about fellow SU student Justin Mattingly. A lifelong baseball fan, he reminisces about seven years filled with fantasy baseball and the thrill he still gets from “The most important day of the year – not your mother’s birthday, not Christmas – but Draft Day.”

2. Who’s To Blame When Idols Fall in Shame? (795 reads) – On the cusp of my 18th birthday, I reflect upon all the people who have raised me until this point. This evolves into a stream of consciousness in which I consider what it means to be a role model. Using Chris Jones’ “Idol Thoughts” column from ESPN the Magazine, I wrote an analogue connecting role models to stocks, including buying, trading and accepting flaws.

1. 24 Hours in Death Valley: 8,000 Pounds of Pork and Saturday Football (10,619 reads) – I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life, the outpouring of support and kindness in response to an article. I traveled to Clemson, S.C. to see the Tigers take on my SU Orangemen. I blogged about it and, thanks to my friend Chandler who goes there, a lot of people got to read it. An alum told me the next time I made it down there, dinner was on him, Granny Wilson emailed me saying, “Y’all come back, ya hear?” and an admissions counselor from Clemson sent me a message saying they would love to admit me if I’d just send in an application. I admire Clemson for their incredible support for their football team and taking a short blog post from a New England kid to the heights of 10,000 views. Here’s to more just like that.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and using the word “wicked” as an adjective. He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

The Best of 2014

As 2014 draws eerily to a close, I look back at all the reading I’ve done this year and pick out a solid 20 stories to recommend.

I am a college student, reporter gratis for my campus’ newspaper and employee of Syracuse University guest services, which doesn’t leave me with a ton of time. I’m also not a professional writer who has the luxury of reading obscure material from far-flung parts of the nation, so if you’re looking for exposes on New Mexican runners named “Caballo Blanco” – a great story told here – then I am not your man, unfortunately.

I have, however, read plenty of material from two magazines I subscribe to – Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine. I read from other sources as articles are recommended to me, but for this article I shall stick to recommending SI and ESPN because that is what I know best. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a collection of the best stories I have read this year, ones I believe are worth your time. (Those in bold, more so.) Without further ado, here they are:

From Sports Illustrated: 

“The Other Side of A Miracle” by Thomas Lake

  • This is a powerful one-year retrospective at the 2013 Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama. The tragedy for Alabama fans, the triumph of Auburn, but more than that: The microcosm of Alabama state’s thirst for seriousness in football told through two sisters, whose tragic story unfolds to the reader.

“Inside An Agency” by Austin Murphy

  • Blake Bortles plummet down the 2014 draft boards is captured by Murphy’s terrific piece. But the real story is the Jacksonville Jaguars skulduggery which included fudging their own draft board to feign disinterest in Bortles. Murphy’s reporting is stellar.

“The Comeback Kids” by Thomas Lake

  • The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Class-A affiliate squanders an 18-1 lead only to lose in extra innings.

“Beísbol Prospectus” by Eric Nusbaum

  • Guerrilla sabermetricians trying to locate the best talent in U.S.-embargoed in Cuba. Need I say more?

From ESPN the Mag:

9 Exits on America’s Football Highway” by Wright Thompson

  • 540 miles on America’s super highway through its second-largest state helps Thompson find the stories that make Texas football, Texas football. He travels through Odess, TX. the birthplace of “Friday Night Lights” to track down Boobie Miles, the cast-off Running Back from the book as well as two high school underclassmen on their journey to high school football greatness.

“A Family Kind of Town” by Joel Anderson

  • Adrian Peterson is suspended from the NFL, his appeal denied and he is ostracized for punishing his child harshly with a snitch. Bring up these allegations in his Texas hometown and everyone shrugs. They’re still behind his back, because they spank their children’s backsides too. It’s the Texan way, they say.

“Held Up in Customs” by Kate Fagan

  • Britney Griner forgoes the WNBA to play in China under the described tyranny of a coach who’s formerly of Korean military.

“I Am Not Very Good Yet” by Eli Saslow

  • Joel Embiid came to America from Cameroon, started playing basketball, and – in the subsequent two years – flew up recruiting lists and draft boards until he was considered possibly the best player in the draft. And he’s just starting.

“The Man With 200 Teammates” by Eli Saslow

  • Semi-professional basketball is tough. Vander Blue of the ____ (What team could he be affiliated with? He’s been with 15+ just this year) is one of those guys going through the cycle. Saslow’s reporting is superb in finding Blue’s tricks to game the system.

“Off Balance” by Andrew McNeill

  • Matt Bonner, San Antonio Spurs Power Forward and off-court comedic genius, takes to Twitter to find a pair of shoes.

“Shadowed by the Hand of God” by Wright Thompson

  • Set the scene: Argentina, pre-World Cup, struggles with whom to associate: Diego Maradona, the country’s hard-partying world champion, or the little, quiet, assassin in Lionel Messi, who has yet to bring them home a cup.

“Portrait of a Serial Winner” by Wright Thompson

  • This piece as the best of the year from either of these magazines. I’ve argued with others who have read this if Thompson should have picked a different lede – for example, the fact that Suarez is a modern day Gatsby because of his girlfriend – but this is a sensational piece that digs at the core of following a story to verify an anecdote oft-associated with a player.

“Awakening the Giant” by Seth Wickersham

  • Y.A. Tittle, the former Quarterbacking great, battles Alzheimers as he prepares for a family gathering.

One bonus, from Grantland

“Keyon Dooling’s Secret” by Jordan Ritter Conn

  • Keyon Dooling’s shame from an incident when he is 14-years-old is triggered when a man touches him inappropriately in a Seattle bathroom years later. Dooling battles shame, regret and understanding as he fights to accept himself and advocate for others.