Couch Slouch: Do Americans like to gamble? You bet.

By Norman Chad
Monday, June 21, 2010

LAS VEGAS

On another 100-degree day in the desert, I am taking the temperature of America while sitting in the Rio Casino sports and race book. Yes, Sin City has been devastated by tough times, but the gambling economy, my friends, never dries up completely.

With a bank of 32 screens in front of me, I am again reminded that Sports Nation is controlled by two entities: Television (lately ESPN) and gambling.

Where there is a will, there is a way. And where there is a line, there is a wager.

By late morning here, a half-dozen racetracks already are in action, and by late afternoon there will be a dozen baseball games from back East, plus golf and soccer filling the room.

It is Wall Street, minus the inside trading; trust me, Gordon Gekko would go bust within one year of betting the ponies. The house is the only one with an edge -- you never see a sports book downsize, do you? Sure, once on "Seinfeld" that bookie buddy of Kramer's didn't have money to pay Jerry for his winning Knicks bet, but in real life, real bookies shop at Benetton and drive Cadillac Escalades.

You can bet on what's happening today or what might happen six months from now. In either case, you are pinning your financial future on athletic performance of which you have no control. Frankly, you have a better chance of scaling Mount Everest in a Hyundai than you do of beating the game.

Still, with the odds against us, we can't stop trying to buck them. Heck, if I were a betting man, I would've taken Slovenia +250 on the money line last week against the United States -- that means, for a $100 wager, I would've won $250 if the Slovenes beat the Americans in the World Cup. But I had one extraordinarily bad betting week many, many years ago, and now I only gamble on marriage.

Ah, but my gaming misery doesn't stop others from flooding into sports books such as the Rio.

(Kicking it up a notch is chef Emeril Lagasse, who opened Lagasse Stadium -- a sports book-sports bar-dining emporium -- last year at the Palazzo here on the Strip. Let's say you're visiting from Pittsburgh and plunk down $50 on your beloved Pirates -- while watching them get beat, 9-2, on one of 100 high-definition screens, you now can enjoy Ahi Tuna Melt with Creole Tomato Glaze. Note: Bring cash for your losing bets and two credit cards for your bill.)

A sports and race book is like a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, without the introductions. Everyone just goes about his business and no one cares what you're doing. At the Rio, the sports book is just across from the thrice-daily buffet, which now offers a $39.99 "all-day pass." Considering that cocktail waitresses come by every few minutes offering free drinks and bathrooms are nearby, realistically -- if you bring a change of clothes and a razor -- you likely could spend up to a week in the sports book without having to leave.


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