Something Tony said on Twitter the other day reminded me of this story that goes back at least 10 years or more. In telling this story today, I’m going to sound a bet foolish. I’m going to come off as a real nervous Nellie. But you have to remember it was years ago and things have changed.
What Tony said that triggered this was that he was uncomfortable using Lyft and Uber to get around Vegas carrying $8K in cash on him. I don’t blame him. I sure never had anywhere near that much money on me, either in Vegas or anywhere else. It would make me nervous, even if I never left the house with it.
But it did remind me of the time I panicked just a bit carrying around some cash in Vegas. This was before I played poker in Vegas. Back in the days when my pal Norm and I were visiting Vegas regularly, I’d never need a lot of cash on me. For most trips, my gambling fund was no more than $300 total, tops. If I had more than $500 on me (including $200 for expenses), I’d get a bit nervous.
Before I played poker, I’d play Blackjack and Craps. We knew the odds were always against me so we played the cheapest games they had. We pretty much stuck to the tables where the minimum bet was $2. Good luck finding that now! But they had them when I started going to Vegas. I’d buy in for $20 at the BJ table and $40 at the Craps game and that was it. When Pai Gow Poker came along, Norm and I started playing that. The min bet was $5 (or sometimes $10) but the pace of the game was so much slower than either BJ or Craps that a $40 buy-in usually lasted a long time. Plus, one of the reasons we played Pai Gow was that it was getting harder and harder to find $2 minimums at BJ or Craps. And the money just disappeared too fast at a $5 minimum table for those games (also virtually impossible to find now). We had a lot of fun visiting Vegas three times a year playing at those low stakes. Sometimes one (or both) of us would get on a good run and actually have a winning trip.
Even today, I try not to have much cash on me. But I need more than when my stake for each game was $20 or $40! Still, I rarely have more than $1K on me, unless I’ve had a couple of winning sessions in a row or have just had a $1K+ cash in a tournament. And these days, I have an account in a bank that has locations in Vegas. I’ll go to the bank to deposit the excess cash so I’m never carrying more than $1K for very long. Similarly, I can go to the bank to get more funds when I’m having a bad run. But again, I never carry more than a few buy-ins for the games I’m gonna play in. That’s not only out of safety concerns, but also helps insure I don’t lose too much in any one game if things go awry.
But back when this story took place, I was used to carrying less than $500 and probably never, ever had as much as $1K in cash on me. Maybe once or twice after a particularly good run at the craps table. It was rare.
Until I started playing poker, and until my life situation changed so that I was going to Vegas a lot more than three times a year (and mostly alone), I didn’t have any way to deposit money into the bank while I was in Vegas; I had to wait until I got home. Getting money was a bit easier of course, you can use ATM’s. But I never liked that idea, as there are always charges for using an ATM not owned by your own bank. So I had established check-cashing privileges with a few of my favorite casinos. To this day, I can still cash an actual personal check in one of the local joints, and always do so at least once a year to keep it active. Note: it’s check cashing only, they don’t give me funds on credit. I wouldn’t want that!
Actually, when I first started going to Vegas, it was actually before ATM’s were even around (or maybe they were, but you could only use the one at your own bank, and they weren’t in casinos). My first few Vegas trips, I actual got Traveler’s Checks to use in Vegas to get money for gambling. Do people even know what those are? Do Traveler’s Checks still exist? Today I can go to ATM’s all over Vegas (but not usually the ones in casinos) to get money without any fees.
But I digress (that’s so unlike me). At the time this story took place, I was either bored with BJ and Craps, or just frustrated because I couldn’t play the games at stakes I liked. Pai Gow was fine, but I needed a little variety. Pai Gow got me interested in poker, so I started occasionally playing Let it Ride and Three-Card poker to mix it up. Yeah, they were $5 minimum bets (at least) but the money seemed to last longer even if your luck was bad. And I didn’t play them too often.
On this trip, I was staying alone at a friend’s house. He had bought the house for his retirement but was still living in L.A. It was mutually beneficial. I had a place to stay for free and he had someone checking on the house and making sure everything was ok between his own visits. I think it was summer, so it was a vacation for me, not just a long weekend. My friend’s house was on the south end of town, not far from the M Resort and South Point (not sure if either of them existed when this story takes place).
So, one afternoon, I’m sure it was a weekday, I visited Circus Circus. Don’t laugh. We’ve established that I was looking for games with low minimum buy-ins and thus in those days, Circus Circus was always a stop on the gambling tour. I’m sure I went there hoping to find $2 BJ or Craps. I dunno if I found it or not. I might have played one of those first, but I somehow ended up at a Let it Ride table.
And I ran hot. I don’t remember too many details now. I don’t have any notes. Actually I probably do have hand written notes somewhere, but if I could find that notebook, I doubt I’d be able to read my own hand writing. I was running so well that I decided to double up on my bet—from $5 to $10 (which, if you know the game, was really from $15 to $30). I always did the opposite of Martingaling when I played pit games—increase the bet when running well, not when I was losing and trying to get even.
All I can remember is that I hit two really big hands. I don’t think I caught a straight flush, which would have paid 200 to 1 (according to what I just looked up online). But I must have hit a few straights and flushes and then a full house. I guess I was betting $10 per spot ($30 total), when I caught quads. Ironically now, I remember it was quad Kings! So I actually won a huge hand that started with pocket Kings, tho I didn't even know the term at the time. I know they actually had to stop the game and have the tape reviewed before they paid me off for the quads.
I played my hot streak out and when it seemed to be over, I cashed out. I’m not certain, but I seem to recall counting $2,200 in chips. Not sure what I bought in for, possibly as much as $100. So probably a $2,100 profit. Easily the most I’d ever won at one session in my many trips to Vegas. In those days, a $100 profit in any session was a fantastic result for me and quite rare.
But as extremely happy as I was, I was nervous as hell. With whatever was already in my wallet, this would be the most cash I’d ever had on me, ever. I just wasn’t comfortable carrying around that much cash. I realize that for Vegas, this was nothing (although it was more than it is now due to inflation), but for me, it was way too much cash to be carrying.
When I took the chips to the cashier, I was nervously looking around the whole time. Was anyone watching me? My eyes kept scanning. I didn’t take the time to put the money in my wallet, I didn’t want all that cash “exposed” for that long. I just grabbed it and shoved it in the bottom of my pocket as fast as I could. Then I exited the casino to head to my car as quickly as possible. It was mid-day, mid-week, but I was sure I was about to get mugged. Once I exited the casino, I pretty much ran to the garage to find my car, the whole time looking around for potential muggers.
The various garages at Circus Circus were not well maintained, and the elevator I had to take to get to the floor my car was on was old, creaky, and dirty. As soon as I got out of it, I ran to locate my car, and found it, got in, and locked the car right away.
Now, my original plan was to spend the rest of the day and evening on the Strip, playing. No more. I didn’t want to go anywhere with all that cash on me. As I said earlier, I had no bank I could deposit it in. I was still in town for another few days. The only thing I could think of was taking it back to my friend’s house and leaving it there. My friend may very well have had a safe, but I sure didn’t know where it was or how to open it and I didn’t think he would tell me. So I figured I’d just have to hide it somewhere in his house.
I drove back to his house as fast as I legally could. I was very happy to get inside his house. The only thing I could think of was to put most of the cash in a book in his book case, so that’s what I did. I left the house and returned to the Strip feeling relatively secure. Although I did have an irrational fear that his house would burn down while I was gone.
A few days later it was time to head home. Fortunately, I remembered which book I put the money in and retrieved it. Meanwhile, I had searched the internet to find the closest location of my California bank to Vegas. The nearest one was in Barstow, half-way between Vegas and L.A, about two hours from Vegas. I really didn’t want to wait until I got back to L.A. to deposit the money. I knew the L.A. offices would be closed by the time I got close to any of them. So I would have to keep the money at my house that night and not get it deposited until the next day (I might have actually had to work that next day—not sure—so that would have further complicated things).
I remember that the Barstow office closed at 4 PM. It must have been mid-week. I figured I had a chance to get to the Barstow branch by then. Of course, it would have an ATM, but there was no way I trusted the ATM with that much cash, I wanted a receipt from a human being who would count it. I’ve never been comfortable depositing cash at an ATM.
There was the matter of finding the bank in Barstow. This was years before GPS’s, and cell phones with GPS’s, and Google Maps phone apps. Fortunately the internet existed and I was able to get directions from that, which I had to write down with pen and paper. Before leaving town, I had to stop for lunch at a Subway, which made me nervous of course. Fortunately, it was near my friend’s house, a very nice neighborhood, and it was broad daylight so I was only mildly concerned. Then on the way home, I think I would have peed in my pants rather than stop anywhere for a bathroom break before getting that money in the bank.
Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary. But I almost didn’t make it to the bank in time. I guess there was some heavier-than-usual traffic on the I-15. Then, when I got off at the main drag in Barstow to get to the bank (Main St, which was also where the bank was located), it was close enough to rush hour that traffic on Main Street was stop-and-go. Who know a dinky town like Barstow even had a rush hour. I think there was also some road construction so that one or two lanes were closed. I kept nervously looking at the clock, and I didn’t know exactly where it was (I had never been there before, of course, and was driving on a road I was unfamiliar with, except the tiny portion right adjacent to the I-15). But I did see the bank ahead after awhile. It was still touch-and-go that the traffic would allow me to get there in time. I think I pulled into the lot at around 3:57PM or so. I ran from the car and got in the door just in the nick of time.
Phew. I filled out the deposit slip, got in line, reached a teller and finally could relax. I guess the teller commented about making a deposit so distant from my own branch. I explained that I had won a lot of money in Vegas and wanted to get it in the bank as soon as possible. She said that was a good thing, and then said that it is much more likely that they would get someone driving back from Vegas to withdraw money because they lost it all there.
Well, that’s the story. I know it seems silly now. Even to me. If I was “stuck” with $2200 from a tournament win now, it wouldn’t faze me (tho of course, I would be able to get it into the bank while in Vegas). But when your entire gambling fund for a trip is $300 or so, it was a lot of money and I just wasn’t used to carrying around cash like that.