Other People’s Money

Michael Flack

ACCORDING TO OXFORD Languages, the word invest means to “expend money with the expectation of achieving a profit.”

I like this definition better than some others because it includes the word “expectation,” which therefore should exclude casino gambling and sports betting. But what if you have an expectation of winning? Couldn’t casino gambling and sports betting both be considered investments? As Zach Galifianakis’s character said in The Hangover, “It’s not gambling if you know you’re going to win.”

How can one create this expectation? Much like eating steak at The Capital Grille, it’s best done using other people’s money.

I first put this axiom to the test during my Grand Tour of Europe, when I visited the Danubiana Art Museum outside Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. After inspecting some ridiculously expensive but rather pedestrian pieces of modern art, I came across one of those racks that contain brochures of local must-see tourist attractions: balloon rides, ghost tours, ancient caverns and such. One of them offered €10 in chips for visiting the nearby Olympic Casino. Well, I picked up two, one for me and one for the missus.

The casino gave us €20 in special chips—the catch being they needed to be wagered. My inner arbitrageur kicked in and I started to figure out how I could most efficiently turn these funny euros into real ones.

I knew the house edge for blackjack and craps could be as low as zero for a skilled player, the only problem being I was not a skilled player. That left roulette and, as European roulette does not have a double zero, the house edge was only 2.7%.

I think the house was on to me. The croupier would not let me play roulette with my special chips. Instead, I made my way over to the blackjack table and tried to remember my basic strategy: always split aces and eights, double down on 11 and stand on a 17. Tyche, the Greek goddess of chance, was on my side. As soon as I lost my last pretend chip, I converted the real ones I’d won into 40 real euros.

Sky Bar’s monkey head cocktail

Those were promptly taken across the street to the Sky Bar for delightful views of Bratislava and, if I remember correctly, four equally delightful cocktails—one of which had dry ice vapors shooting out of a monkey’s head.

The next time I entered a casino was four years later. My wife and I had a house guest who may have had a gambling problem. Before she’d even arrived, she inquired about local options and was quite adamant that gambling was on the itinerary.

There used to be a time when there were only three gambling options in this country: Vegas, Atlantic City and the local bookie. Now, you can’t throw a pai gow poker table without hitting a casino.

Back then, a casino was filled with romance and style, a place where James Bond in a tux and Plenty O’Toole in a low-cut evening gown played baccarat and sipped Dom Perignon. I caught the tail end of this glory in the 1980s when I was in the Navy and visited the Monte Carlo Casino. A jacket and a modicum of manners were required for entry. I felt like James Bond— without Ms. O’Toole’s company, unfortunately.

My wife and I reluctantly joined our house guest’s gambling adventure. Once in the casino, she made a beeline for the slots, squeezing between a woman in a wheelchair breathing from a portable oxygen tank and an old man using a walker. This definitely wasn’t the set of Diamonds Are Forever.

Meanwhile, we made a beeline for the cashier and signed up for first-timer’s free play: $10 in slot play or $20 in food. We chose the sure thing and treated our now-poorer guest to a free lunch. The chicken wings tasted fine, but it wasn’t steak.

In an effort to secure a free steak, I subsequently contacted FanDuel, which offers online sportsbook gambling. It offered me $150 for placing one $5 bet. The catch was that the $150 was in non-withdrawable free bets. My plan was to turn this $150 in funny money into something more than $5 in real money.

To get that $150, I placed a $5 bet on the Chiefs to cover the 3.5-point spread against the Chargers on Sept. 15, 2022. While it didn’t matter whether I won or lost, a win to kick off my venture would have been nice. Unfortunately, with just two minutes remaining in the game, Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert dashed my hopes by throwing a fourth down 35-yard pass—a pass that set up a touchdown that resulted in the Chiefs winning by just three points.

I knew a calmly calculated scientific plan was now required. Three days later, after I settled down, I initiated one. I figured a series of $5 bets would best ensure investment success. With the house’s 9% take, I estimated this investment should yield about $61.

I’m from New York. Besides standing on line, walking fast and talking faster, there’s one thing that makes New Yorkers stand out—their utter indifference to college sports. This left the NFL, Major League Baseball and… tennis? I decided that a little internet research might be useful and found a large number of sites that offered expert betting analysis, almost as many as those offering expert stock analysis.

The FanDuel steak

I perused a few, but much like expert stock analysis, the advice offered seemed quite cursory. In the end, I decided to bet based on a sophisticated internal analysis—my gut. This had the added benefit of making watching these games all the more exciting. Before this “investment” scheme, I’d never bet on sports. I can subsequently understand why this excitement can cause problems for some people.

After wagering my last non-withdrawable dollar, I cashed out and determined that my profit was $110, almost twice my expected gain. Much like my stock market profits, I’m going to chalk this up to superior analysis—though I have no plan to wager any of my own money.

To keep with the theme of this article, I used my FanDuel investment profit to buy me and the missus the best steak in town. It tasted pretty damn good.

Michael Flack blogs at He’s a former naval officer and 20-year veteran of the oil and gas industry. Now retired, Mike enjoys traveling, blogging and spreadsheets. Check out his earlier articles.

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