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A $1.5 million mistake! Do you just let it go?

15 Feb

Golden-nugget-dealer

I once made a painful mistake and was absolved. Recently, a much larger mistake was made by an Atlantic City casino. It, too, was absolved.

I considered my absolution reasonably fair. I’m not sure about the Golden Nugget’s.

It would be nice to know what others think, so please keep reading.

I was in college when I committed my blunder (neither my first nor my last). My classmates were finishing their final exam in political science when I realized I was supposed to be there. Upset and perplexed, I ran to the class and arrived as everyone was leaving. With exceptional humbleness I told the professor what happened and apologized, repeatedly.

His reaction stunned me: He laughed.

“You’ve had an ‘A’ all semester. Forget it.”

And so I wondered if the folk at the Golden Nugget were equally stunned – or more so — this week when their mistake was wiped clean by the State Superior Court of New Jersey.

golden-nugget-buildingAccording to the Associated Press, the case dates to 2012 and a game of mini-baccarat. Fourteen players who had been betting $10 a hand suddenly up their bets to $5,000 and won 41 straight hands. Their total winnings were $1.5 million.

The court, ruling in favor of the Golden Nugget, ordered them to give it back.

They didn’t cheat. They broke no rules.

What they did was notice that the cards being dealt had not been shuffled. As the cards came off the deck, they showed a consistent, predictable pattern. The players took advantage of this pattern to win.

The dealer was not shuffling the cards because the decks were supposed to have been pre-shuffled by the manufacturer. The cards came from a Kansas City company that admitted its error in court.

The judge’s ruling said New Jersey’s Casino Control Act requires that cards be shuffled. Since they were not, the mini-baccarat play was illegal, unauthorized and therefore void.

The court ordered the 14 players to return their winnings, minus their original bankrolls.

Years ago when I learned I had screwed up, I was willing to accept the consequences. Naturally, I felt that the Golden Nugget should accept its loss, or at least go get the $1.5 million from the company – Gemaco — that didn’t shuffle the cards. (They reached an undisclosed settlement.)

I changed my mind when I learned more about the case. Now I don’t know what to think.

The additional details and background came from the website Cardplayer.com.

It seems that back in 2012 a lower court actually ruled in favor of the gamblers. It was willing to award them their winnings – which they had not fully collected. The Golden Nugget suspected it was being scammed and paid out only $500,000. The 14 gamblers were forced to hold the rest in chips.

The gamblers, all of Asian descent, were not happy with this first ruling. They wanted more than their winnings. They wanted damages and made allegations of illegal detention and racial discrimination.

The owner of the casino, Texas billionaire Tillman Fertitta, said he would gladly pay the $1.5 million if all other charges were dropped. The 14 gamblers refused.

Now they have lost, and most likely will appeal.

Even for a guy who got As in political science, I’m not sure who is right or wrong; who is being fair or unfair. I’d like to hear from others on how they would rule.

The one resounding thought I’m left with is this: If I had been playing mini-baccarat and the cards started showing a pattern, would I have been smart enough to take advantage of this, or would I have been kicking myself for the rest of my life for missing the opportunity?

A final footnote: Gemaco, the company that didn’t shuffle the cards for the Golden Nugget, once manufactured cards for the Borgata that had flaws on the side. Ten-time World Series of Poker champion Phil Ivey was dealt those cards. He noticed the flaws and used them to win $9.6 million.

Lanny Morgnanesi

Get me out of this prison!!!!

27 Jan

Another Day, Another Time the Music of "Inside Llewyn Davis" Another Day-Another Time

Mull over, if you will, these few lines from a Woody Guthrie song:

It takes a worried man, to sing a worried song

It takes a worried man, to sing a worried song

I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long

You’ll hear a bit of that tune in a documentary called, “Another Day, Another Time.” The film, embedded below, features mostly folk and old tyme American music. Producer T. Bone Burnett got a bunch of very fine musicians together to celebrate the traditional approach to music, and the movie gives us both on stage and off stage performances.

As I watched it, enjoying every note, I realized a preponderance of the songs were about imprisonment and the destruction of individuals by authority. There were songs like:

  • Hang me, Oh Hang me
  • The Midnight Special
  • The Auld Triangle
  • House of the Rising Sun
  • Worried Man Blues

Spanning decades, these songs continue to touch people, which is why they prevail. They reach something inside us. You don’t have to be a criminal or a con to appreciate them. As I listened to all these prison songs, it came to me that so many of us, whether we have been in a cell or not, must fell imprisoned.

I believe it’s these feelings that keep such songs with us and inspire new ones.

Johnny Cash is famous for his “Folsom Prison Blues,” where a man convicted of killing someone “just to watch him die” longs for freedom and is incensed every time a train filled with free people passes near his cell. The song is so convincing many believe Cash served time in Folsom. Not so. He wrote the song while in the Air Force, stuck at a base in Germany and longing to once again be his own man.

So the song was a metaphor for him, and for us.

Why do we feel this way? Where do our shackles come from? More important, how can we get rid of them?

Although Woody Guthrie wrote about the imprisoned Worried Man, he also wrote “This Land is Your Land” – which joyfully describes a vast, beautiful country and the unfettered right we have to travel it. In the documentary, Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch and Willie Watson do a number called “I Hear Them All,” and combine it with “This Land.”

They received the loudest applause when they sung this Guthrie verse:

There was a high wall there that tried to stop me

A sign was painted said “Private Property”

But on the backside it didn’t say nothin’


This land was made for you and me.

Maybe we’d all be happier if we, too, focused on the back of the sign. Our minds have put us in prison. It is up to our minds to get us out. The freedom and expression of music will help, as will the film, “Another Day, Another Time.”

By Lanny Morgnanesi

She’s the first this, he’s the first that. But why?

18 Jan

Bess-Myerson

Bess Myerson died recently. The new stories about her said she was the first Jewish Miss America. They didn’t explain why.

If a Man From Mars visited Earth, he might come up with these possible reasons:

  • Jews aren’t pretty enough.
  • Jewish culture prohibits women from entering pageants.
  • Jews hadn’t heard of Miss America.

If he possessed special powers of insight, he might get closer to the truth and say: Jews don’t become Miss America because some people don’t like them.

While the Man from Mars might say this, the many obituaries on Miss Myers did not.

Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson

This defies the journalistic tenet to never leave questions unanswered. Reporters sometimes even explain things most people know, like who O.J. was, or that Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK. But when reporting on “firsts,” they avoid the truth. Maybe they just don’t know how to say it.

The stories almost always include a sort of wink and nod or a code that we all are supposed to understand — mainly that certain groups of people receive unfair, unjust, discriminatory treatment, which makes awards and honors difficult.

I did see one article that tried going deeper into the “why” of Bess Myerson. Writing in the Daily Beast, Emily Shire said:

Kat Dennings

Kat Dennings

“What perhaps affected people more on a day-to-day basis were the pervasive anti-Semitic stereotypes that Jews were cheap, weak, big-nosed, swarthy, and ugly little creatures.”

But she considers other reasons as well, saying that Jews make up only about 2 percent of the adult U.S. population and statistically are long shots. She also suggests that the Jewish-American emphasis on education and intellectualism could be keeping Jewish women off the runway.

Still, she points out that there are scores of Jewish beauties in Hollywood, which ain’t Harvard. She mentions Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman and Rashida Jones. She could also have included Alison

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

Brie, Kat Dennings and Scarlett Johansson. There are so many web pages devoted to “hot and sexy” Jews that it’s hard to believe they comprise only 2 percent of the population. At the bottom of this post is a video on Playboy magazine’s top picks.

It could be argued that the strong Jewish influence in the movie industry permits bombshell Jewesses to become stars, while the Miss America pageant is without a similar tradition of semi-inclusiveness.

Alison Brie

Alison Brie

It’s a shame we can’t talk about such things and get to the heart of them.

Shortly after Bess Myerson died, Edward W. Brooke III passed away. His obituary said that in 1966 he became the first African-American popularly elected to the United States Senate. It didn’t say why.

But I think we all know the reason. Cheers to us.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

Like Ben Stiller, he felt the pain of an unfortunate act. Unlike Ben, he couldn’t discuss it.

9 Jun

franks_and_beans

The Ben Stiller movie, “There’s Something About Mary,” was on the other night and it reminded me of Bill Foley.

 

Bill Foley was a reporter who always carried a notebook and pen. He needed them for work but also because he couldn’t talk. When you asked Bill a question, he’d pull out the notebook and write his answer. Often, it was only a word or two. Usually, it was funny.

 

Because of throat cancer, Bill had his voice box removed.

 

Everyone assumed he could not utter a sound. Through odd personal circumstance, however, I learned this was not true.

 

It happened while we both were in the men’s room at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. As we stood side-by-side at the urinals, I noticed Bill was in a hurry. Upon closing up, he – like Ben Stiller’s character in “There’s Something About Mary” — caught the frank-N-beans between the teeth of his zipper. And just like Ben, but not as loud, he let out a sound of agony and helpless distress.

 

The Stiller character, comically, was unable to free himself. Bill quickly fixed things and exited.

 

And there I was, with a secret to share: Bill Foley can’t talk but when it’s necessary he can moan! I tried being discreet and limited in my telling of the tale, but the worst got the best of me and the story spread. I never heard back from Bill and don’t know if my disclosure ever made it to his ears, which worked just fine.

 

Bill was a wonderful, witty columnist. Some knew him before the operation. I didn’t. I knew him only from his column, his actions and his laconic, handwritten retorts.

 

For a quiet guy, he brought lots of personality to the newsroom. I remember the time when lunches were being stolen from the office refrigerator. Members of the Refrigerator Users Group – RUG – went on a tear, sending out threatening memos and edicts to all possible suspects and devising multiple strategies of defense. Bill’s running commentary on the crisis was hilarious and ultimately silenced RUG.

 

It was pleasant to think of him again.

 

He died in 2001 at age 62 after working in newspapers for 40 years. I left the Times-Union in 1993 and never read his obit. I looked it up today.

 

Among other things, it said that, “Mr. Foley had written columns about generations of visionaries, bootleggers, politicos and hapless saps whose exploits helped shape the city.”

 

It said, “His wry humor and precise, staccato language attracted a following of readers that ranged from schoolchildren to corporate executives.”

 

It mentioned that he had played catch with Hank Aaron and spent time in Cuba with Che Guevara.

 

It didn’t mention Ben Stiller, frank-N-beans or “There’s Something About Mary.” For that I am grateful. I’m also grateful that Mr. Stiller, via his one-of-a-kind performance, was able to bring back some nearly forgotten memories of a man who could say a whole lot with so very little.

 

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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Is the son of a god a god? The problem of famous sons

13 Apr

 

charlie  parker

 

In Bob Dylan’s remarkable autobiography, “Chronicles Vol. 1,” there is a retelling of the evening he went to see a performance by Frank Sinatra Jr.

 

It was an unusual turn in the book. After reading about the young man from Minnesota finally winning the day amongst all the competing voices of Greenwich Village, we have him stopping in – very deliberately – on someone so apart from folk culture that the attraction cannot immediately be understood.

 

Dylan very much liked the performance. He liked the voice and style of the man who could never, ever, stand outside his father’s shadow. In the book, Dylan expresses true sadness for the predicament of the junior Sinatra, perhaps knowing that someday his own children would face this struggle for meaning, purpose and acceptance.

 

bobdylan1I’m not sure why, but we expect greatness from the off springs of the great, or at least some semblance of distinction. And like Dylan, we take the disappointment to heart.

 

There was a great man of jazz that many young people may not know. His name was Charlie Parker, but everyone called him “Bird.” He played the saxophone and was an incredible innovator and force in the world of music. “Birdland,” a jazz club in New York, was named in his honor.

 

Frank-Sinatra-jrJust recently Charlie Parker’s son died and I read his obit. I hadn’t known this man even existed, but apparently he lived a couple towns over from mine, in Lansdale, Pa. Learning of his simple, pedestrian life, one of relative failure, troubled me.

 

The great man’s son – Charles Baird Parker — had for a time worked in the bakery of his local supermarket. But for many years prior to his death he was unemployed. He lived off the royalties of his father’s music.

“The jazz world expected Baird to fill Bird’s shoes,” his late mother, dancer Chan Woods, wrote of her son. “Those expectations almost destroyed him.”

 

I’m sure his father, who died in 1955 at age 34, wasn’t around much to guide him. Bird, for all his success with music, had nearly destroyed himself with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes he would play on the street for drug money. It is even said that he once pawned his instrument.

 

Yet Bird is a music god, and the common belief is that the son of a god also deserves worship. Because it is impossible to worship a supermarket baker, we end up feeling sorry for the baker and for the god.

 

The obituary did not list the time and date of the funeral. Had it done so, I might have gone. I can’t say why. It would have been strange … about as strange as Bob Dylan going to a performance by Frank Sinatra Jr.

 

Lanny Morgnanesi

 

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Art and the importance of suspending belief, even for Shakespeare

2 Jan

theater-disney

On my own, I’ve been studying filmmaking. I have even made a few short films, including this one. From my studies I know the craft is in turmoil due to vast changes in technology. Critical decisions have to be made on what new technology to use, how to use it and what from the old to keep. With high-definition digital cameras, a film can be as realistic as life, but most filmmakers see this as bad.

Audiences, they say, are used to the imperfections and inexactness of 35 mm film shot at 24 frames per second. For feature films, this “old look” brings the viewer into a world that is not his own, a world where he can suspend belief and enjoy the fiction being created on the screen. If a film is viewed in high-definition, all one may see is a bunch of actors walking around.

In such a case, the real world treads on the world of fantasy.

And so movies are shot with digital cameras but the images are converted later to a format that looks much like 35 mm film.

ShakespearI had a taste of this necessity to suspend belief during the Christmas holidays. It was not at the movies but rather at the gorgeous Academy of Music in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Ballet was performing George Balanchine’s version of “The Nutcracker.”

This was a first-class production. I was enjoying myself when suddenly, while watching costumed dancers swirl, jump and create visual poetry, I saw on the stage a painted sheet. Then I saw painted boards. Belief was no longer suspended; the magic had disappeared.

It was just for an instant and it occurred for no apparent reason. While outside the spell of the stage, my mind entertained a passing thought of using digital effects to duplicate a Russian winter. That thought quickly left. I returned once again to an illusion that I was willing and able to accept as real.

In the golden age of radio, that medium was referred to as “the theater of the mind.” But no less a personage than William Shakespeare has pointed out that even theater needs the cooperation of the mind.

I know little of this man and would not dare to interpret him. Still, it seems clear that in the prologue to “Henry V” he finds it necessary to ask his audience to suspend belief.

He seeks pardon for “the flat, unraised spirits that have dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object,” and ask rhetorically if the stage can “hold the vasty fields of France?” He explains, through his chorus, that one crooked figure will have to take the place of a million, and actors of no world standing will pretend to be historic figures, and that the imagination of the audience is required to dress the king.

He pleads, “Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them.”

This from a man who, with a few words, can induce hypnotic visions.

Had some muse or god given him the power to actually bring all of France to the stage and allow a thousand horses to romp across it, would he have accepted the gift? I think not, nor would the best of our filmmakers, nor would the Pennsylvania Ballet.

The power and force of fantasy is, after all, fantasy itself.

In the theater or at the multiplex, please do not watch too closely.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

The rich and famous are not to be envied

14 Sep

Bowie

The curse of fame cannot be understood by those who don’t have people chasing after them; who aren’t made to wonder in astonishment if they are perhaps more popular than Jesus; who aren’t under intense pressure to please the multitude by outperforming their past selves each and every time they re-mount the stage or appear again on screen.

I’ve heard enough reasonably sane celebrities discuss it to know it is a world apart. Dave Chappelle, the comedian who walked away from millions in order to avoid self-destruction, was one. He’s back now, after learning to navigate again in calmer waters.

But the most concise explanation of what fame is like might have been given by rocker David Bowie in Cracked Actor, a 1974 BBC documentary. Bowie was an addict at the time but had it together enough to convincing explain things.

He said fame was like being “in the car when someone’s accelerating very, very fast, and you’re not driving … and you’re not sure whether you like it or not …”

So when celebrities conduct themselves in ridiculous ways, especially young ones, the common folk should try to understand. It’s doubtful we could even begin to withstand what they go through. I once had a local public access cable TV show, worse than Wayne’s World and way down on the dial. Some guy who walked and talked funny recognized me in the supermarket. He wouldn’t leave me alone, acted as if I was somehow special, seemed to want to bathe in an aura that he thought I was giving off.

It happened just that once, if you don’t count the elderly woman who said, “I watch you, and, you know, I think you are getting better.”

I can’t possibly imagine what this would be like multiplied millions of times. And so I never envy those who are rich and famous but scared to death to go to the corner, unshaven, for a cup of coffee. That’s not life.

And now the question: Is it their fault or ours?

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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