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Madden: Losing in Las Vegas is easy, even in a luxurious setting

Saturday, August 16, 2003

LAS VEGAS -- There is one clock on the floor of the Rio casino. It's not suspended above a blackjack pit or a craps table. Clocks placed there wouldn't facilitate losing a.) track of time and b.) all your money.

The Rio's lone clock sits on the wall of the race and sports book -- the better to make sure you place your bet on time (and, ultimately, lose all your money).

You can't pick a finer place to drop your cash than the Rio. Ask Jaromir Jagr, who (casino rumor has it) lost $1 million here not long ago. No wonder the Rio makes the stunningly mediocre Washington Capitals a semi-reasonable 22-1 shot to win the Stanley Cup. A million buys respect in Vegas.

The Pirates are 200-1 to take the National League pennant. Pitt is 25-1 to finish No. 1 in college football. The Penguins are 50-1 to hoist the Cup. The Steelers are 7-2 to win the Super Bowl. Successfully parlay all those bets and you get to own the Rio. Make that clock in the sports book a little bigger, OK?

You can bet on racing at 28 tracks around the country. But the Rio wouldn't let me bet on the result of "Secretariat," the movie.

You can bet on the WNBA. But the Rio won't let you bet on the Little League World Series. That's probably because it would be easy to fix. Ice cream and video games are a cheap bribe.

You can bet on the Chicago Bears to win the NFC. The odds are a shockingly low 5-1. Didn't anybody tell the Rio about the quarterback change? You can't bet on what game Tommy Maddox will get flattened. I guess somebody did tell the Rio about the Steelers' offensive line.

I attacked the Rio's sports book this past Sunday. (I attacked their breakfast buffet a few hours earlier, thereby guaranteeing me no worse than a split of the day's hostilities.) My bets were as follows:

A $100 parlay on the New York Jets to cover against Cincinnati (+4) and for the game's total score to finish under 35 1/2 points. The Jets led, 7-0, going into the fourth quarter and 14-7 with only a few minutes left. Then Cincinnati rookie quarterback Carson Palmer served up two interception-return touchdowns and one touchdown for his own side to cost me $360 (including the original bet) while making himself the most despicable Heisman Trophy winner since O.J. Simpson. Palmer never will amount to anything.

$20 on the San Francisco Giants to beat Philadelphia. Former Pirates pitcher Jason Schmidt was scheduled to start for the Giants, but was scratched because of tendinitis. After I made my bet, naturally. I always said Schmidt was gutless. The Giants won behind some no-name pitcher, but I made only a $10 profit because Schmidt's excellence this season had driven the odds down. Schmidt never will amount to anything.

$20 on the Boston Red Sox to beat Baltimore. Another former Pirates pitcher, Jeff Suppan, started for Boston and got lit up. I always thought he stunk, but at least it never cost me money. Suppan never will amount to anything.

$20 on the Oakland A's to beat the Chicago White Sox. It was quite the pitching matchup, with A's rookie phenom Rich Harden (who looks 12) facing yet another former Pirates pitcher, Esteban Loiaza. Loiaza was dominant and helped the White Sox win easily, but I still say he never will amount to anything.

$10 on the Pirates to beat Colorado. The Pirates won, and the fact that they will never amount to anything delivered long odds and a $20 profit. Beat 'em, Bucs!

My total loss: $110. The entertainment value: Priceless.

Well, maybe not exactly priceless. There isn't a better place to watch games than the Rio sports book. You got 80 individual cubicles, each with its own television and plush leather chair. You got 77 desks. You got 15 leather booths for the high-rollers. You got 31 TVs besides the 80 in the cubicles. You got scantily clad cocktail waitresses schlepping free drinks. A deli is just a few steps away.

But you still got jerks. When I was at the Rio sports book, a bunch of college kids sat around and loudly cheered the baseball action based on who they had in their fantasy leagues. You're in the city of fantasy, kids! Make a bet, have a cocktail, do something -- anything -- that doesn't openly label you a nerd.

And while having a bet down can make any game more fun to watch (except the aforementioned WNBA), you can still lose. Most people do. That's why the Rio is so big, I think.

The losing doesn't come all at once. That's too easy. If you're like me, you sit in the sports book and watch it unfold. At best, the misery gets compounded. At worst, it really gets compounded if you react to, say, $110 worth of losses by running to a blackjack table and throwing around $100 chips.

At one point, the following events all happened within 30 seconds of each other: The Rockies scored a run to hurt me. The White Sox scored a run to hurt me. The Bengals scored a touchdown to hurt me. A cocktail waitress spilled a free drink in my lap.

My final action was a long-term (or "futures") bet. My $1,000 wager could return $200,000. All the Pirates have to do is get to the World Series. Hey, they aren't mathematically eliminated, yet.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show 3-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1250.

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