I wasn’t sure it was him. The cobalt blues and Crocodile Dundee hat hid most of his face, but there was an aura about the man in the rear of the hall at the Stonehenge Bar/bingo parlor on Culebra Road in San Antonio that prompted me to take a closer look. The silver earring in the design of a miniature poker chip hanging from his left ear was what gave him away.
He cast a quick glance in my direction. “Sit down, son. And keep your voice down.”
“I didn’t know you played bingo.”
He had 12 bingo cards spread in front of him and there was a wad of Pick 3 lottery tickets sticking out of a shirt pocket. I waited for his explanation.
“Don’t try the waiting game on me, son. I know what you’re trying to do.
“OK! But it’s just an experiment,” he said.
I waited for a better explanation.
“It’s this thing about ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล being legal. I’m trying to figure out how it’s different to lose the rent money at bingo than it is at poker.”
“This is your first visit?”
Poker God leered at me for a brief second then changed the subject. “The game starts in ten minutes,” he said.
I persisted. “You’ve been here before?”
“It’s taken you that long to figure out that bingo is or isn’t gambling?”
“It’s gambling. Same as slots or craps or the lottery.”
“Then you’ve accomplished your mission. Solved the problem, so to speak.”
More discomfort. “I missed the jackpot blackout by one number last Thursday. And I’m still trying to figure out the Crazy Letter Q game. And the Inverted Letter T with a twist gives me a migraine.”
Poker God didn’t get migraines. But he was hooked on bingo. “Have you read the JT Autry book, “Winning Big at Bingo?” I asked.
“There’s such a book?” Poker God perked up at the suggestion.
“Just kidding, PG.”
Poker God took a small notebook from the shirt pocket not stuffed with lottery tickets and scribbled a note. “Just kidding?” he said as he returned the notebook to his pocket.
“Do you really have to continue to come to the bingo, Poker God?”
“Not really. And it’s not necessary for the other four hundred regulars who show up here every week.”
“Four hundred. That’s equal to forty full hold’em tables. But they don’t spend near as much money at bingo. It’s more like a hobby.”
“See that elderly couple in the front row?”
“They’re on social security. And about half of the rest of the players are playing with real money.”
“Money they need to pay their monthly bills and to buy food.”
“But it’s a small amount.”
“$25 – $50 a night is small to you, son, but when it’s a weekly expense it can make a pretty good dent in the income of most of these people.”
“But sometimes they win.”
Poker God gave me a ‘how can you be so stupid’ look. “You have a better chance of winning at a $1-2 omaha/8 game with a $3 rake and a jackpot drop than you do at bingo, son.”
“You’ve figured that out?”
“Son. Haven’t you worked it out yet. I just know these things.”
I started to say something about him not being able to figure out the Crazy Letter Q game, but I decided not to push my luck. I changed the ubject.
“What about ‘the rake’ the state takes in the “Pick 3 lottery?” I cast a glance to the tickets in his shirt pocket.
Poker God laughed out loud. I hadn’t seen him do that before. “A buck a ticket isn’t going to break anyone.”
“They pay $500 for picking three numbers out of three. But the odds against winning are 999-1,” I said. “And I think it’s against the law in Texas to have a fixed payout in a game of chance.”
“All laws have their exceptions.”
“Even if it’s at the expense of the common man or woman?”
Poker God hesitated, then reached in his pocket for his Pick 3 tickets. “The odds against winning are really twice the payout?” he asked.
It was becoming increasingly clear to me that his gift from The Man was restricted to a profound knowledge of poker. I think Poker God had had enough of bingo and lottery talk for one night. He seemed to perk up when I told him I’d be playing in The Orleans Open in July.
“I know you’re playing in The Orleans Open in July, My Son.
Whenever he called me My Son it was time for a lecture.
Poker God sighed. “OK. I’ll spare you the lecture, but you’ll have to play tighter than you did last year if you expect to cash out.” he said. He ook out his appointment book and penciled in our regular tournament follow up visit for July 16.
“I didn’t tell you what dates I’d be there,” I said.
Poker God smiled. He was on familiar grounds again. “Just be there,” he said. “And remember, I’ll already know everything you did while you were there, so don’t try to puff up the report.” He quickly dismissed me as the first game of the night was announced. It was Letter Q. Poker God was penciling in a diagram of a Q on each of his 12 bingo cards as I returned to my seat.