Dream On …

He was so close to the payday of a lifetime ... and then he fumbled

I went to bed on Dec. 3 with $10,500 in my pocket … and it was literally the saddest fucking moment of my life. Because only a small fraction of the cash was really mine. It’s not that I robbed anyone. Instead, I felt like I’d been robbed. By the gambling gods. Again.

Before I get into the specifics of how $43,800 slipped through my fingers, here’s a little backstory: I’m a square, a betting sucker, a casino’s best friend … or as I like to think of myself, a dreamer. Instead of playing video poker at the bar in search of a royal to help pay the rent, I’d rather jam $20 into a Megabucks machine and cross my fingers for the warm beach life. I know the odds of getting attacked by a shark are quite a bit better (1 in 11.5 million) than my hitting a Powerball jackpot (roughly 1 in 176 million), but twice a week I’m on the phone reminding my mom back in Kansas to pick up lottery tickets.

On occasion, my foolish betting ways have proved profitable—I’ve probably hit about 15 five-team parlays in my five years living here. More often, though, my wallet has taken a beating—I probably have torn up five times as many parlays that went 4-1.

Of course, this town was built on dreamers like me. We’re everywhere, from the airport to the poker room to the grocery store, all looking for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Which brings me to my near-jackpot. Last year, I entered Station Casinos’ Last Man Standing college football contest. The premise is simple: For $25, you get the privilege of picking one game (from a select list) each week against the spread. Win and move on; lose and go home. It took me all of one week to experience the latter scenario last season. I picked Iowa (minus-7½) over Iowa State. Iowa lost 44-41 in triple overtime. I was hardly alone in the one-and-done club; out of the 2,132 entries last year, 1,420 were wiped out in Week 1.

The beautiful thing about Last Man Standing, though, is you’re allowed to purchase multiple entries. And you better believe this bet-a-little-to-win-a-lot sucker took full advantage of that rule. So although Iowa killed my first shot, my second one survived to Week 2. And Week 3. And Week 4 …

By Week 9, those 2,132 entries had dwindled to 35, and I was one of them, thanks to some shrewd handicapping (including backing Oklahoma State multiple times during the team’s seven-game spread-covering winning streak) and a couple of lucky breaks. Mind you, I had been in this position before; in the 2009 Last Man Standing, I made it to the final 36 before bowing out. That year, I didn’t take home a dime. And I was determined not to let that happen again. So I started hedging my picks—in other words, betting the opposite side of my contest selection, ensuring that if I got eliminated, I’d at least walk away with some cash.

Arkansas took care of my first hedge bet, then I took Kansas State (a tough call for a born-and-bred Jayhawk) plus the points against Texas A&M. Kansas State nearly gave me a couple of heart attacks before winning a quadruple-overtime thriller, 53-50. At this point, I was down $500 from lost hedge wagers, but still alive in the contest. The following week, I once again backed my new favorite team, K-State, plus-8½ at Texas, and the Wildcats won outright, 17-13.

This time, I dropped a cool grand—bringing my hedge losses to nearly $2,000—but I knew I was still in the hunt for the winner-take-all $43,800 prize. In fact, because so many hot teams went down in flames that weekend, I thought the cash might actually have been mine. Instead, I went to the Green Valley Ranch sportsbook and found out four of us were still alive.

The next week, I hedged again, lost cash again, won my pick again … and discovered 72 hours later that everyone else did, too. Here’s what else I discovered: This was the first time in the history of the contest that this many contestants were still standing heading into the final week. (Did I mention that a couple of years ago, on Easter Sunday, I blew through $100 in a Megabucks machine, got up and not more than a minute later, the $33 million progressive jackpot hit up in Sparks?)

Anyway, with only conference championship week remaining, my mission was clear: Make one more correct pick—I had gone 12-for-12 to this point—and I walk away with at least $10,000 (in the event of a four-way tie). After flip-flopping for days, I reluctantly settled on Virginia Tech (coincidentally, the 13th selection on the spread sheet for Week 13, and 13 is my favorite number). I needed the Hokies to beat Clemson by seven points in the ACC Championship Game. This time, I raised my hedge bet to $5,500 (to win $5,000), so if Virginia Tech didn’t cover, I’d cash out for $10,500, which would cover my losses from my previous hedge bets and leave me with a $900 profit.

You know how this story ends: Not only did Virginia Tech not cover, it lost the damn game … 38-10! The only thing that took more of a beating than Va-Tech that night was my conscience. You fucking IDIOT! Why didn’t you pick Oklahoma State again? Or LSU? Or Baylor?

The next low blow came a few days later when I returned to Green Valley Ranch and found out that, not only did I lose my last pick, but so did two others. Meaning one guy took home the entire $43,800. I took home a small profit and a bad attitude.

I didn’t snap out of my funk until I learned that the true Last Man Standing—some dude named Robert—was a regular square, just like me. “See,” I thought to myself, “a dreamer got his due!” Which is why, just the other day, I returned to the sportsbook and signed up for the maximum five entries for this year’s Last Man Standing.

One of these days, I’m gonna win it all.