hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 18, 2012

In Vegas, the hand is quicker than the eye

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — “There’s a sucker born every minute’’

Who said that? P.T. Barnum, wasn’t it?

You remember him. He’s the circus magnate who drew up a rather novel approach to alleviating the crowd one day. He drew up a sign that read: “To the egress.”

People thought it was some weird animal and followed the arrow. It pointed right out an open door and, if you wanted to regain entry, it would have cost you another ticket. Good old P.T. He certainly had a way for deception.

I couldn’t think of a better way to ending a two-week tour of the national parks than to spend a couple days in Las Vegas. You know, the city of ill repute. It’s also the city of broken dreams, where money can be lost in more ways than “won.”

After I held my own with the slot machines, off we headed to the strip for some resort-hopping. Actually, I enjoy visiting the casinos more than playing them.

We started at one end, walked a little, then hopped aboard a bus for a lift. It was hot this particular day — 98 in the shade. We were with some dear friends from Andover. I suppose you could consider us moderate gamblers.

We’ve done the Connecticut scene and even been to Vegas before. Add it all up and we may be a trifle behind in our earnings. But hey, that’s entertainment.

Walking along, we came to a small crowd of observers huddled around a table. Behind it was a man with the gift of gab. And dexterity.

He maneuvered three playing cards. Follow the action and pick out the red card for $100. Simple as that. But not so easy until you try it.

“All right now, just follow the red card and pick yourself up a C-note,” came the pitch.

Back and forth went the cards, in and out, up and down, over and under. My eyes were glued to the rotation.

“It’s the left card,” I told an observer. “Trust me.”

He did — and pocked a cool hundred. The guy thanked me and the game went on.

The card shark went through his routine once more with the three cards. One hand crossed another and the cards moved around deftly. The red card stopped in the middle. So it seemed.

“It’s right there, between the others,” I told the bystander, who whipped out the $100 bill he had won previously.

Bingo! He hit the jackpot again. The crowd let out an astonished gasp. Some even cheered. Whatever this guy’s game happened to be, I was on top of it. But why should he be winning all that money? It was then that I took matters into my own hands. Let the cash go into my pocket.

When the cards stopped a third time, no doubt about it. I had the red card pegged from the start.

“Right on.” I said. “Card on the right.”

The man turned them over and my guess was wrong. It was the card in the middle. I never lost a hundred bucks so quickly in my life.

“Let’s walk away,” my wife urged. “The guy’s a con artist. He’ll have you walking over a barrel in no time at all.”

I watched again as he repeated the routine. The red card went from left to right, middle to left, over to the right and into his hand before settling on the table. Back and forth it traveled as I watched with deep concentration.

When the motion stopped, the bets were being placed. According to my calculations, it was the card on the left. A correct choice would pull me even.

The onlooker next to me picked the left and so did I. But I didn’t have $100 in reserve and borrowed it from my friend.

“Quick, I need $100,” I told her as she reluctantly pulled out a crisp bill from her purse. “Money in the bank.”

I buckled at the knees when the cards were overturned.

How it landed on the right was totally beyond me. But there it was. Wrong once more. Out $200. And half of that belonged to my traveling companion.

“Can’t win them all,” the guy weaseled. “Let’s try it again.”

As we walked away broken-hearted, the obvious came into play. The bystander was probably in cahoots with the man, luring suckers like me into the fold. I never saw it coming.

All said and done, it taught me a valuable lesson. If seeing is believing, don’t look twice, it’s all right. Just walk away and you’re bound to come out a better man.

Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.