Commentary

Slotted to win

Updated: June 1, 2010, 11:54 AM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

After college, I went to New York to learn how to become a stock broker for Merrill-Lynch and lived in a residence hotel that was on the west side.

The residence hotel had a fancy name but was like the royale burger with cheese in Pulp Fiction, it was noble in name only. Expressionless big men rode wordlessly to the top floor of this place, to do whatever they wished. When sharing an elevator with these local pillars, stockbroker trainees took to a corner. This residence hotel was around the corner from the Dakota, where John Lennon was shot and killed, and where "Rosemary's Baby" was hatched, talk about a history.

We were paid $1,000 cash on the first, and I was down to next to nothing by the middle of the month. Then it was on to my second job, taking the train to play the horses at Belmont Park. The OTB smoke pits were distracting. I also tried to make money playing three-card monte. Don't roll your eyes. It could be done. Here's how. Three-card monte is a hustle where you were asked to follow and identify one of three cards, usually the queen of hearts. The cards were moved and shifted at the speed of darkness, face-down on a cardboard box. Here's how you might win. You put down $50, and first-off, you eliminated the obvious card. Sometimes the con artiste would bend what appeared to be the red queen. After eliminating the sucker card, which the obvious loser, then the game was 50-50; and I noticed over time that the hustler-dealer liked to leave the red queen by his strong hand, outside right or outside left. What's not to like about fifty-fifty in the city.

There's no better way to get to the horse races than via train. It's a bankable tradition. A key part of the live horse-race gambling experience is the approach -- the first Vegas sparkle speeding in from LA, the first glimpse of the track standing above the tedium of routine. The proper approach to a bet can create a mindset worth money. True, the train to the track can be like the train to an IRS audit, victim-rich, as regulars prepared for more of the worst; but they were the competition.

Handicapping horses in order to eat, drink and make enough money to try to take out a Broadway dancer is different than today's "all or nothing" approach where a miracle or two will pull you even. If you will need $5,000 soon, winning $100 a race is nothing to be happy about. But if you have $17 in your pocket on the 18th of the month, winning $100 is gleeful.

Handicapping to be able to socialize teaches you how to quit ahead. I can recall shutting down my handicapping kit, up $70 with races to go.

When you focus on one track, you learn what wins, what's a crock, and you learn how to celebrate.

Despite an upcoming stakes race like any other, there appears to be good news concerning Belmont Park. It sounds like New York racing has finally learned from the sticks when it comes to sound race track management: slot up. We're tripping over slot machines and video games out here, as horses seemingly more suitable for parade duty are routinely running for $30,000. Word on the sidewalks of New York is that after only almost a decade, a suitable video game vendor will soon be selected. For assistance in hustling slots, come on out. In a recent TV advertisement made by a Tribal casino in the city in which I live, it was said that there was strategy to winning at slots, progressions to study; the Great Spirit help us all.

Anyhow, it seems that great Belmont Park memories will be rechargeable.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.