Holiday Gift Ideas for Gamblers

Preventative measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are limiting social contact and outings.

But that opens up some ideas for gift giving that meet the needs of the gambler stuck at home.

  • Content Subscriptions With the spread of legal sports gambling across the US (including a successful ballot measure in Maryland that should lead to options in the state in 2021) there is also a growing amount of quality content out there available for those that want to be better informed bettors or just see some more of the action.
    • VSiN, Action Network, and for football only, Football Outsiders all offer premium packages of statistics and betting analysis at prices between $100 and $250 per year. If you have a gambler in your life regularly putting that kind of bet in on games, then that kind of helpful information will be welcome. For the casual bettor, VSiN offers a subscription just to their streaming video content for $25/year. This is a bargain and a good gift of entertaining hosts delivering quality information.
    • If you have a boxing fan, DAZN (pronounced “da zone”) is available for $100/year and has fight cards available on the regular.
    • Poker coaching sites offer video series, self-contained packages, and even live coaching offerings. Run it Once offers a variety of packages in different price ranges.
  • Event Buy-Ins are a way to give a gift that gets them directly into the action. By arranging for the buy-in, or picking an event and giving the funds and making it clear wha they are for, you can let your gambler feel like they already won with a free-roll entry.
    • Daily Fantasy Sports – if you know they like to play Fantasy Sports, consider buying them into a one day event. Because these are regulated sites you may not be able to do this in every state. You should be able to find something that matches location, sport of interest, and price range. For instance FanDuel operates in Maryland and 42 other states, and has one-day single entry fantasy football tournaments at price points anywhere from $1 to hundreds of dollars for an entry fee.
    • Poker Tournament entry fee. Yes, there are online options but this is more restricted by state. New Jersey and Pennsylvania have regulated card rooms online. Maryland does not. But if your gambler plays with a group online, ask their friends what they do for contests. You might be able to find one and buy them in.
  • Retroactive Casino Souvenir – it has probably been a while since they were in a casino. And they might not be the kind to buy themselves a souvenir. So why not pick one up for them? A mug, glass, or cap from their last trip would be a nice way to invoke the good times and remind them that they’ll be able to make that trip again some time. You may have to call casinos as gift shops rarely have online store fronts, but the front desks will connect you and they will gladly sell and ship these days.
  • Home Office Setup – a common theme here has been the gambling experience online. So why not address that online presence by updating a display, or headphones, or even something fun like a backlit keyboard? To go more elaborate, a new chair might be in order. Gamers have lots of experience looking for a comfortable chair and this PC Gamer review of chairs is a good place to start shopping.

How to Watch Circa Grand Opening

Tonight, October 27, is the grand opening for the Circa casino on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. This social club has been making downtown its center of Vegas activity for years now, preferring to stay at The D, owned by Derek Stevens and the same group opening Circa.

In noted contrast to the publicly owned casinos on the Strip, Derek seems to embrace gamblers, cater to them, and promotes what gamblers want – a decent shot at the games and a damn good time.

Circa is a phenomenal addition to downtown. As a group we look forward to getting there sometime soon. But for tonight, if you want to get in on the action, here are some ways to do so remotely:

And although they will not be there, Vegas podcasters Five Hundy By Midnight will be doing a preview chat for their Patreon supporters at 7:30 PM Eastern tonight. Tim and Michelle do a wonderful job following Vegas happenings and sharing their visits. The community of listeners is also well informed, and should have interesting things to say ahead of the opening.

Tracking Social Club Resolutions 2020

The year 2020 has wrecked a lot of plans. With only 99 days left in the year, let’s look back at these social club resolutions for 2020 that we made back in December of last year, and see how we managed.

  • Get Doug to Vegas – Did we ever sneak this under the wire. We left on Sunday, and by the weekend sports were canceled and Nevada Governor Sisolak was preparing to shut down non-essential businesses.
  • Pay Up on the Game of Thrones Fantasy League – The winner was going to be treated to dinner at Midieval Times. The bill will remain past due, and who knows when we get to pay this off.
  • Host Another Manbarn Tournament – with the shift to online, we should be able to do this. We tried at one point and drew some casual visitors, but without the appeal of seeing people and sharing the good time, this may be a tougher sell.
  • Join the Super Contest – we did this while in Vegas. We are off to a rocky start, but as a group we are having a good time and managed to turn this into an internal contest, too.
  • 2021 Calendar Done in 2020 – absolutely no excuses on this one. Nothing but time, and the calendar should be available. Now what we feature in the calendar is another story.
  • Expand the Clothing Line – got this done. And the new items might be what you expect now but definitely not what you could have guessed back in December of 2019.

On Further Review, Better Money Plane Bets

Isabella (Katrina Norton) maintaining deep cover as a flight attendant on board the “Money Plane.”

When I was in high school, my friends and I loved to find and rent B movies and watch them for the fun of it. We loved the outlandish premises, gaping plot holes, budget scrimping techniques, use of stock footage, and general silliness of it all. We would relish spotting a particularly poor edit or howler of a line or scene chewing acting. Anyone could request a pause and rewind, and we often did that. It was a sign of our enjoyment.

I recall replaying one particular scene, I believe from “Small Kill (1992)” – starring Gary Burghoff (!), that we watched over and over because a friend spotted the papier mache replacement for a head that you could clearly make out before a gory kill shot.

We had cliches and tropes that we actively looked for in these movies: decapitation, defenestration, gratuitous nudity, death before title sequence.

The worst thing we could say about one of these movies was that they were boring. In particular I remember being just pissed at “The Plumber (1979)”, an Australian made-for-TV movie that failed to entertain on any level. We did not rewind or pause a single time.

So if you want a movie review of “Money Plane”, you are not approaching it the right way. All you need to know is you will want to pause and rewind several times. Have fun with it.

I will make the following positive observations:

  • Kelsey Grammer (The Rumble) has gas left in the tank. He delivers the movie’s best lines, and not just the ones you have seen in the clip about betting on a dude and an alligator. He has a set piece about creating his own artwork that is also memorable and maybe the most original line in the movie.
  • A delightful allusion to “The Matrix” delivered by Patrick Lamont Jr. (Trey).
  • Katrina Norton (Isabella) is highly photogenic and has genuine screen presence. She apparently has gotten a recurring role in Nashville. Here’s wishing her good luck and continued success.
  • Kudos to the stunt people. Fans of professional wrestling who found this through Adam Copeland (Jack) should enjoy the fight sequences. And there are a couple of amusing, novel kill sequences.

That said, I made up some prop bets before seeing the movie, and here are a couple I wished I had proposed (some of which are going to serve as a critique):

Number of deaths resulting from wagers – over/under 1.5 – This is a good line because you can be assured there will be one. But what are the chances there will be a second?

Will an animal other than a dog appear on screen – yes +200 Everyone has heard the dude and alligator clip. Will we get an alligator? Any animal other than an easily trained dog? Animal handling takes budget, so the chalk is on the no. And as it turns out, one comically acted scene would be the cause of a lot of debate.

Number of clear procedural errors in conducting a casino game – over/under 2.5 – Movie fanatics love to look for errors like continuity and anachronisms and so on. Gambling procedure is pretty well known, strict, and easy to spot on film. This would have made a great bet. As it turns out in one hand of poker there are at least three. I had to re-watch the scene multiple times just to make sure I was not mistaken in what I was seeing. In the age of televised and live streamed poker, how the film makers got this so wrong is really something.

Number of Jack’s crew to die in the heist – o/u 0.5 – real drama means real peril. How many of Jack’s crew will the film makers have the stomach to take out?

Number of scenes with Jake and The Rumble face-to-face – over/under 1.5 – You can see one in the trailer. It is the establishing scene for the heist. So what you are really wagering on is the resolution, the final confrontation. There has to be one, right?

Maybe. Depends on how many B movies you have seen.

Money Plane Prop Bets

If you have not seen this 15 second clip from “Money Plane”, please do.

Money Plane will be available for streaming this Friday July 10, and represents the kind of movie that is enjoyable because it is so ridiculous.

We are not going to bet on the dude and the alligator, but here are some things we will consider betting on for this movie:

Number of times someone says “Money Plane”, o/u 23.5

Even money bet.

Kelsey Grammer manages to say “money plane” 3 times in just this 15 second clip. The movie is only 82 minutes long, though, so you may be taking your chances with this one.

Adam Copeland executes Spear Finishing Move, Yes/No

Yes +125 (opening line +150)

The star of the movie was a professional wrestler, Edge, with a finishing move called the Spear.

Making this an underdog as the movie involves a flying tackle which may be tough in close quarters on the plane. More importantly, WWE almost certainly retains intellectual copyrights on these moves, and I doubt the budget allowed for the producers to license it.

Thomas Jane shares the screen with another speaking cast member, Yes/No

Yes +200 (opening line +250)

While Copeland is the star, Thomas Jane brings more star billing to the movie. He has The Punisher and the HBO Series “Hung” to his credits.

But a review of the trailer does not show him in the planning scene (“this is insane!”) and it does show him operating a drone. A drone? For an actor with solid action movie credits?

This seems to indicate the producers were able to secure Jane for a day and film him, but without anyone else from the billed cast available. So they contrived a way for him to join the action remotely.

This is pure handicapping based on the trailer alone, but could be a fun bet and could stir debate with the grading. Speaking of which…

Number of times someone calls the Thomas Jane character, o/u 5.5

Even money.

Related to the above bet, but gives that bit of fun every time someone reaches for the telephone.

Death Before Title Credits, Yes/No

Yes +200

Always a reliable trope – will there be an on screen death before the title credit? If this were a horror move, shade it to the yes. But in this case, if they use any action before the title sequence, it is to establish Copeland as a thief in the robin Hood mold, and that does not usually involve killing.

‘7 Days to Vegas’ is Fun and You Cannot Talk Me Out of It

Duke (Vincent van Patten) on the long walk to Vegas.

“7 Days to Vegas” (2019) tells the up and down story of Duke (Vincent Van Patten) and how he ends up in an all-or-nothing bet that will grant salvation of finally ruin him.

Or, more accurately, Duke tells the story through narration that persists through the entire movie.

Arguably, this is necessary for a movie that deals with a sub-culture like gambling and whose central dramatic plot is a proposition bet that might seem completely implausible to those not familiar with gamblers and what they are willing to wager. It could also be said that movies like “California Split” and “The Gambler” have done a fine job of establishing their protagonists’ willingness to bet on anything (the seven dwarfs bet in “California Split” comes to mind) without the need to explain everything with voiceover.

This is all just for debate, though, because narrate is what the director Eric Balfour has Vincent Van Patten doing.

Duke goes from actor with some mild success to a has been doing infomercials, to just a has been. But Duke is an affable guy with a knack both for attracting players to his home poker game and enough skill to beat them out of their money.

With the aid of his convivial wife KC (Eileen Davidson, married to Vincent in real life), Duke sees his stable of players increase both in raw number and in the size of their bank rolls. A central part of the attraction of Duke’s growing game are the creative proposition bets that players participate in, both financially and physically.

As the name implies, a prop bet is a wager made on the proposition that event has or has not happened, or a feat can or cannot be done. A hallmark of a group of gamblers is their willingness to bet on a wide array of things. The social club this Web site is built around is no exception. We have bet on weight loss, current events, who will spend the least amount of time in their Las Vegas hotel room over the course of a weekend trip, and how many of our kids someone could successfully name from memory.

Anyone that is part of a gaming group will recognize the dynamics in play with Duke and his friends, enjoy their hijinks, and envy the action. Those that are not can still appreciate the collection of personalities that Duke has assembled, and their willingness to put significant money at risk.

Eventually the game moves out of Duke’s house and into the upper level of a swank Beverly Hills bar. The personalities get bigger, too. Beyond a small time magician (Willie Garson) and his name-dropping publicist brother Carl (James Van Patten, brother to Vincent in real life) new players include colorful names like Angry Jim and Squeeze, and successful figures in the entertainment industry. One in particular, is movie director Sebastian (Ross McCall).

Angry Jim (Don Stark) tries to swing an eating prop bet his way.

Sebastian is a foil to Duke, not just in terms of his Hollywood success and wealth, but also in how he approaches the game and the gamblers in it. While Duke happy to drink along with his friends and play on the level, Sebastian is more keen to see them get drunk and use that to his advantage. Duke shears sheep, Sebastian wants to slaughter.

At some point this includes stealing the game itself out from under Duke. That strains Duke financially, and coupled with the rivalry between the two, leads to the prop bet that defines the movie and gives it its title. Duke bets Sebastian that he can walk from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 7 days.

Duke stands to win $5 million if he can complete the walk. The challenge strains his marriage, his friendships, and his endurance. His cohorts use it as a backdrop for more gambling and carousing. There are attempts to influence the bet, changes in stakes, and a surprise appearance or two.

If that sounds like fun to you (and it does to me) you will enjoy the rest of the movie.

I know I did, and no amount of narration can ruin that for me.

Textbook Engineer

As the degens have moved to online poker to keep playing while maintaing social distance, we have gone through a couple of online options before finding a very nice solution in Poker Mavens.

The Poker Mavens software is stable, rich with features, and sophisticated in its ability to run an online card room. I am quite taken with it and have enjoyed deploying it and customizing it. An excellent solution for our group to play together online and I recommend it highly.

I have also grown to appreciate the author of the software, Kent Briggs. Kent is a lone operator, having produced Poker Mavens for a over a decade, improving on the offering, expanding its capabilities, updating technology. Kent used off-the-shelf Flash technology originally for the UI, but has since adopted more open and secure HTML5 and JavaScript, rolling a lot of his own libraries when existing packages did not meet the needs of the software. He adopted JSON in favor of earlier colon-separated formatting for his API (or I should say in addition to, because of course he left the old format around to be backwards-compatible).

The software takes security and privacy into account, but ultimately trusts individual operators to deploy responsibly.

I am sure he is busier now than he has been in a long time, as demand for online solutions for home games surge. But he was plugging away at his work long before now, continuously updating the offering.

Kent Briggs is a textbook engineer. His work is rigorous, documented, tested, and built to standards. It is therefore stable and interoperable.

He is also textbook in the connotative sense, very much a typical engineer I have encountered through my education and career. Driven, independent, conventional, orthodox. Certain.

He prefers simple, accessible design. A lot of beige and brown.

There is a forum on the Briggs Softworks site, and this bit of its configuration says a lot about Kent Briggs and how he operates:

But you can also dive into some specific forum posts and get a feel for his approach to this software and his work in general.

Here are some great examples I managed to piece together.

On putting in a mandatory straddle (or even just calling it a third blind):
If you’re looking for home game gimmicks then you’ve picked the wrong software.

On changing the limit for max buy-in:
You can’t edit settings on a running table and that’s not how ring games operate anyway. The max buy-in is typically set at 100 BBs. If you want higher stakes, you need a separate table with higher stakes.

On button straddle:
Button straddle gives the button player too much of an advantage, IMO.

On practicality of dealer tips in person versus adding them to the software:
That’s because those are human beings who have to earn a living. No one tips a computer. When you play slots, you don’t give the machine a little extra on your way out.

On the gender identity required for registration in the UI (so much to unpack here it could make its own post):
It’s not required by AccountsAdd in the API. It will default to Male if not specified.

On changing number of hands in mixed games to current number of players on the table:
Players come and go so that would make the cycle very inconsistent.

In a discussion about WebSockets, and a question from someone if Kent is using a package like ZeroMQ or Kafka to implement it:
I just read the [standards documentation] and manually handled the extra header handshake required in the TCP component I use (Indy Sockets).

I would bet that one of the biggest compliments you could pay Kent was to tell him he made something built-to-last. And I bet he would consider flashy to be an insult.

I feel like I have known Kent my whole life. And he made a really great piece of software.

Home Game Online – Faded Spade Card Club Review

This social club has been playing poker weekly since 2008, missing only a handful of weeks over that stretch of time.

Our last in-person game was in March, but we have been managing to play together despite social isolation by going online using private tournaments at

That has worked out well, but the tournament format means people need to show up at the same time. Stars has the ability to play a ring game, but in particular we like to play pot limit Omaha Hi-Lo (PLO/8) and the options for ring games did not really meet our needs.

So as soon as I learned about Faded Spade offering a private card club online, I was eager to give the platform a try.

So far, the experience has been very good. If you are interested in getting a private group together online to play poker, Faded Spade is a must see.

Ease of Use

There are two entry points for the Faded Spade card club: a public room, called Hearts, where games are open to all; and a private area of reserved game, called Spades. Players register to get a username and password. There is no charge for a player to register and join games.

Reserving a private table is done through the Faded Spade online store.

Options currently include reserving a table, hosting a regularly scheduled multi-table tournament, and co-branded options for commercial entities that want to run marketing events.

We selected two tables of PLO/8 for $20 per month per table. You have to choose ahead of time what game you will be playing at the table (more on that later) but the variety is good, including Hold ‘Em, Omaha, 5 card Omaha, Stud, with lowball and split pot variants available, and various limit structures as well.

You name your table, choose a password for players to access the reserved table, and can even provide a logo to go on to the table surface.

The logo looks snazzy on the Faded Spade table.

One set up, you are good to go. Players can find the reserved table from the lobby and start playing.

The list of reserved ring games showing our two tables.

Feature Rich

Faded Spade offers a rich set of  features and configuration options for players:

  • A four-color deck is available
  • Various audio cues (dealing sounds, check and bet sounds, etc) for the game may be turned on or off individually
  • There is a note feature available to record observations on varioous players
  • In game chat, with the option to break it out into a larger window
  • Full hand history with a save feature
  • Game stats
  • In game controls that you expect for options to sit out, check, call, fold, raise in variable amounts or fixed portions of the pot
  • There is even an option to straddle!
The text on the table here is the result of hovering over a player name. It shows details including any player notes.

Game play is done through a Web browser. There is no client to install. We had players logging in from various OS and browser combinations, as well as tablet devices.

Solid Start

That is not to say we had no issues. Our first foray saw a lot of our players getting the same error message when trying to sit at a table. We reached out to support and there was a fix within 12 hours, but those were some critical hours over Saturday night where we would like to have been playing.

Moreover, it would be great if, as a subscriber, there were an admin panel available for basic maintenance of table settings that did not require contacting support. In particular it would be nice to switch games to take advantage of the wide variety offered already.

But overall the service has been good and responsive. Which is what makes it worth paying for a subscription when the competition is free. Stars is a good option for home games right now, but it is a marketing tool for the site. I would not expect Stars to respond to any issue, and indeed there were outages of the home tournaments just last week.

The reserved tables at Faded Spade are already a solid offering, and I expect new features to be rolling out to make it an even better place to play (again, game rotation would be a great one, for all those home games that play dealer’s choice and a mix of games, and adding some draw games would be a nice treat).

We will be using it and reporting on updates. Definitely give it a look as an option for your private game.

Most Popular Tweet to Date

We maintain a modest online presence as a social club.

Most all communication happens via an email list. This site is mostly for archiving material, and to serve once in a while for posting opinions and reviews, almost all gambling related.

And there is a Twitter account that does much of the same, mostly retweeting items of interest around gambling, drinking, humor, Las Vegas, Baltimore. The common interests for a bunch of middle aged guys who meet weekly for poker.

Not a whole lot original there, not a lot of followers, and so not a lot of amplification.

Today, though, your correspondent tweeted this in response to what is itself the original funny comment on fragile masculinity.

It is by far the most amount of faves and retweets the account has received.

In case you are wondering, here are the other most popular tweets (and one of those was a reply as well).

Gambling and Calendar Notes for “Uncut Gems”

Note: potential spoilers ahead.

A central part of the plot of “Uncut Gems” is betting on an NBA playoff series between The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

The movie is set in 2012, and indeed the Sixers and Celtics played in the second round of the NBA Playoffs in 2012. There was a decisive game 7 in Boston on May 26th.

May 26th fell on a Saturday that year. Based on the timing of the auction in the movie (repeated remarks about getting a program ready for Monday after only receiving the gem on a Friday) that does not line up.

Another inaccuracy to note is that Passover was in April of that year, well before the games, whereas Ratner’s family is seen celebrating the Seder in the middle of the series.

Then there is the issue of Garnett making so many visits to New York – including one seemingly on game day. Need a little suspension of disbelief there, for sure.

Ok, that’s it for the trivial stuff.  Now let’s look at that big bet.

From a betting perspective, the Celtics were a heavy favorite in game seven. According to OddsPortal, the money line for the Celtics was -350 (meaning you had to bet $350 to win $100 on a Celtics win).

Howard Ratner does parlay that with two other bets: over on the total of Kevin Garnett total points plus rebounds, and Celtics to win the opening tip.

Individual player prop bets like points and rebounds tend to be even money bets.

Kevin Garnett had a size advantage over Sixers’ starting center Elton Brand, but Brand was quite good at jump balls. For the sake of argument, we can make this a relatively even money bet, too.

Parlaying -350, -110, and -110 does not add up to a million dollar plus win on a $155,000 bet. The payoff would have been more like $577,000. Still a large payday, but not over a million.

That is, if Mohegan Sun had a sports book. Connecticut did not have legal sports betting in 2012, and still do not as of the movie’s debut in 2019.

While the size of the payoff on this bet may not hold up under a bit of scrutiny, the degeneracy of it is clear and believable. Parlaying the opening tip is the play of a true sicko, and the movie makers did really well with this one overall.