Several of my friends were in the crowd Thursday night when the cops raided a high-stakes poker game in Chattanooga and my first thought was Henry Ford’s classic answer once when he, too, was caught in an awkward and embarrassing position. The fabled auto builder grinned at a horde of media types and dismissed the whole thing in one short sentence: “I don’t complain and I don’t explain.”
The fact of the matter is that boys the world over like a game of chance. If you’ll look in the Bible you’ll find the Roman soldiers “cast lots” for Christ’s garments at the Crucifixion. An estimated $10 billion was bet on Super Bowl XLII by more than 200 million people and – if the truth be told – there is a game on every corner of every town and it happens every day.
The trouble with Thursday’s incident, of course, was the fact that maybe the dumbest guy in Chattanooga happened to be there. The worst thing anybody can ever do is run from the police and any grammar-school terror knows the cops always have the back door well-covered before the front door is ever knocked down. But you can’t fix stupid and to pull a pistol, as we have just learned, will promptly get any dummy shot.
My first rub with “real” gambling came when I was about five years old at a backwoods country store in Mississippi. On Saturdays when the field hands would get paid there would be six or eight of the more lively ones who would go back where the Coca-Colas were swimming in a big tub of icy water and play “Far Away.”
Each would take a dollar and put it a pile and then all of them – looking at each other with stealthy eyes - would pick out a Coke. Back then the glass bottles had the cities of the different bottlers on the bottom of the bottle and I’ve seen days when they’d have to use a tape measure on the big United States wall map to settle the winner. They’d never let me in the game, but I watched pretty carefully.
One particular Saturday I happened to be in the little story earlier than the customary afternoon visit and a big John Deere tractor, with a hay rake attached, jerked to a stop. The driver was Robbie and he darted to the back of the store, snuck a peek at about six bottles, and nestled one in particular in the far right corner of the big tub. He didn’t buy a Coke, mind you, and scampered out to roar off on his tractor before somebody saw him.
Not 10 minutes later along came one of my favorites, Mott, and he left the feed truck idling while he did the exact same thing, putting his chosen bottle at about 5 o’clock in the tub, but one away from the side of the bucket. After he also hurried out empty-handed, I asked “Mr. Tom” what in the world those guys were doing. He kind of smiled and said in his syrupy drawl, “Sonny boy, they fixin’ to gamble after a while.”
Well, I was just five at the time but ever since I’ve been leery of a stacked deck. Don’t ever play another man’s game unless you know him and the game real well. Go inside any neighborhood bar and there is some type of game every day. Basketball pools, straight bets, fouls and tips, golf calcuttas, left-right-center, parlays, and anything else somebody can think of are the norm.
Casual gambling is more impossible to police than marijuana. Every state government is trying to tap into lotteries and more sophisticated ways to separate a fool from his money right now. Football parlays, where you have to guess three or more winners against the spread with nary a loss, are hurriedly being introduced by state operators.
So help me, there are big poker games all over town on a given night and the police, in candor, aren’t going to worry much about a friendly $5 game. The trouble comes with high-stakes games, not because the players bet for “lots of zeroes” but because a serious criminal element gets involved whenever there are thousands of dollars on the table during some of the more dramatic hands.
Its low-hanging fruit, don’t you see? Thugs will rob and kill for much less than the huge pots hold and, of course, the victimized players ain’t about to call the police to report big money has just been forcibly taken. The police, on the other hand, aren’t exactly after the players - that’s just a misdemeanor – but are more worried about the threat of real crime and violence rearing its ugly head.
I’d venture to guess that if our village idiot hadn’t pulled his pistol, and gotten himself shot for doing something so stupid, we would have never heard that anyone was arrested at a poker game. But the fact there was a pretty hefty heist in Rossville at a similar game not long ago isn’t something that a vigilant police force can ignore nor tolerate.
Now, if you think Thursday’s raid will dampen any man’s enthusiasm for “a little action,” be it on the golf course or filling out an NCAA bracket, you are just the kind of mark the best players are eager to meet and a startling variety of games, believe you me, are still real easy to find.