During the oil boom days in East Texas just about every town around here had a saloon, a gambling hall, and a whorehouse. The drillers, riggers, and roustabouts worked hard for their money and they played as hard as they worked. One city in particular, I won’t mention its name, was a center for such illicit activity. It was also known to be a training ground for young men entering “the rackets.” They would start out working as change boys in the gambling halls and eventually work their way up to tending bar. From there they might find themselves dealing cards or dice. If they were good enough they got “promoted” to markets like Galveston or Hot Springs. When they were ready for the big time they moved on to places like New Orleans or Las Vegas. And eventually they might find themselves back in East Texas – this time as the “boss” in one of these underground casinos.
A friend of mine who is something of a dice control skeptic introduced me to one of these old bosses recently. He’s retired now, if you can retire from the rackets. At least he’s out of the gambling end of it. The FBI shut his operation down almost thirty years ago. But he knows the game, the big name players and personalities – and he knows all about precision shooting.
When my buddy introduced us he told the old boss, “Steve here says he can control the dice. I just wanted to get your opinion on it.”
I quickly said, “Not control – but influence. I can influence which numbers roll, and by doing so get a positive edge in the game.”
The old boss nodded. “Damn right you can. I can’t believe they let you guys get away with that stuff. Back in my day we wouldn’t tolerate it for a minute.”
“How would you stop it?” my friend asked.
“First time a guy tried to fix the dice he’d get whacked on the knuckles with the stick and the boss would tell him to just pick ‘em up and throw ‘em. Second time he tried it we’d take him outside and explain it in terms he’d understand a little better. Most of them never came back.”
Then he asked me, “Have you ever been tossed out of the casinos for fixing the dice?”
I told him I tried to play under the radar, but got heat on occasion and had been told in the past that I was “through shooting the dice for the day.” I mentioned that some of my friends have been banned at smaller casinos with a low tolerance for dice setters. But for the most part casinos tolerate us because we’ll do things other players won’t do.
“Like what?” he asked.
“Well, first off we’re free shills. We actively look for empty tables so we can get the dice back quickly. When we buy in at an empty table other players will also buy in. Next thing you know the table is full and we move on to another empty one.”
He nodded and turned to my friend. “Your remember old man “C” used to hang around at the shop all the time? He was a starter for us. We didn’t have to pay him a dime – just kept him in drinks and fed him once-in-awhile. He showed up every afternoon wearing a sports jacket and tie. We’d give him twenty bucks to play with and he’d play on it all day, then turn in the twenty at the end of the day.”
“You let him keep what he won?” I asked.
“Yeah, but we got that twenty bucks back every day. He’d win some and lose some. He was a personable old guy who brought players to the game. It was an arrangement that worked for all of us.”
My friend said, “I still don’t see how you can toss the dice ten or twelve feet down the table and control the numbers that roll.”
“Who said anything about tossing ten or twelve feet?” I asked. “Here, stand up here beside your desk and pretend you’re the stick man.”
The old boss nodded. “Watch this, he’d going to cut the table down on you.”
I demonstrated how to lean in and reach beyond the stick man to toss the dice, cutting the distance of the throw down to around five feet. The old boss said, “You get a lanky fellow with long arms – he’ll kill you doing that. Guy can just reach out there and set the dice wherever he wants them.”
I said, “I know guys like that.”
All in all we visited for perhaps forty-five minutes. We all had our war stories to tell – none of them incriminating. As our visit came to a close he said, “You know what? I still have some dice from the old casino at home – brand new – still in wrappers. Some pyramid rubber, too. You interested in them?”
“Make me a price and I’ll buy them from you,” I said.
“No,” he said. “I don’t have any use for them anymore. I’ll find them and leave them here for you – you can pick them up next time you’re in town.”
Somewhere in the distance I thought I heard the theme song from The Godfather playing.
“I’d love to have them,” I said.
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.