The “Good Beat”: A tale of sports betting Schadenfreude.
1996 USC vs Arizona State
The “bad beat” is a favorite of every sports bettor. Every gambler has a story about how he was wronged but very few will ever be honest enough to talk about the game in which they were on the wrong side but still ended up cashing. I have one game I like to remind myself of every time I get a bad beat.
I was new to Las Vegas back in 1996 and it was my first full year of legal sports betting in the city. My favorite two sportsbooks at the time were the Stardust and the Imperial Palace. Both are gone now but at the time these were two of the top places for degenerates to hang out and bet on sports. Both of these places were filled every Saturday with cigarette smoke, cheap beer, cheap food and wall to wall with sports bettors. On this Saturday I was at the Imperial Palace and I had a parlay on three college games.
Betting on College Football
I was in the sportsbook every Saturday to bet on college football and I would start off early with several parlay cards filled out for a day of “action”. Action? A strange term to use for sitting on my butt and drinking beer all day but that is what it is called when I have a bet on a game. I would make bets all day long and my last bet of the night would usually be the Hawaii game if they were at home. We called it the “get even game” because it was the last game and the last chance to get back any money we had lost during the day. Or, if we were up then add the Hawaii game onto our Sunday NFL parlays to get a little bump up.
The “Good Beat”
I had a three team parlay and the first two games had come in. The last game on my parlay ticket was the USC vs Arizona State game. That season the Arizona State Sun Devils were one of the top teams in the country and had a good chance of being the national champions.
My bet was on Arizona State -11.5 points. I was all in on the favorite to blowout the Trojans. However, it was a close game and it was pretty clear from the first quarter on this was going to be a dog fight. The Imperial Palace sportsbook was full of USC backers. It became appearant early in the game that I was one of the few ASU backers in the house. As the game drew to the fourth quarter and USC had the lead the guys who had USC on their tickets began to make there way to the sportsbook. I was seated at a small table near the sportsbook counter and just sipping my beer and hoping for a miracle comeback.
Arizona trailed 28-21 before forcing overtime on Terry Battle’s 7-yard touchdown run with 1 minute 30 seconds remaining. But, what good did that do me? I was giving 11.5 points. At that moment I became a USC fan. If I was going to lose I wanted the Arizona State players to lose too. The last thing a sports bettor wants to see is the favorite he bet on win but not cover. They all congratulate themselves but I am sitting there with a worthless sports ticket. I wanted those Sun Devils to feel my pain. I wanted schattenfreude.
College Football Overtime
College football games going to overtime is pretty standard now but this was just the second year of them playing overtime games. I really wasn’t sure of the rules but I knew that each team got the ball and if one team scored and the other didn’t the game was over. There are no 12 points scores in football so my bet was toast.
While I was waiting for the overtime to begin the people who had bet on USC started to try and cash their tickets. I was seated close enough to the sportsbook window to hear the sportsbook writer tell everyone that they couldn’t cash until the game was official. He even asked them to step aside so he could start cashing everyone else’s ticket. The whole line stepped aside. The line stretched around the sportsbook and even snaked around me. Great. I got to listen to every USC bettor talk about how obvious it was that USC would cover. “You had to be an idiot to bet on Arizona State”. Overtime could get here fast enough so these assholes could cash their tickets and I could go back to handicapping the Hawaii game.
In the first overtime both teams scored so we went to a second overtime. Great, another five minutes of listening to everyone boast about how brilliant they were to bet on USC.
Terry Battle gave Arizona State its first lead with a 25-yard run to start the second overtime. Arizona State lead 42 – 35 with USC about to get the ball for the second overtime. I really wanted USC to score. If I had to watch ASU celebrate while listening to all of the USC bettors crap at the same time it just might be enough to get me out of the sportsbook and go seek useful employment.
Dining on Schadenfreude
There were so many people in the sportsbook I did not have a good view of the USC vs ASU game in overtime. In truth, I really wasn’t watching it closely at that point. I just wanted the game to end so the sportsbook would clear out. USC was trailing 42 to 35 and the quarterback went back for a pass and threw it into the ground. I watched one of the Arizona State players pick up the ball and he started running with it. Why? It was a pass and he was just wasting time. The rest of the team ran to the endzone with him and then they all started celebrating. Why? At that moment my view of the TV was blocked by all of the USC backers who were just waiting for the game to end to cash their tickets.
A few guys went to the window to cash and they were told not yet. When the TV came back from commercials they had the announcers talking about the ASU win but they never mentioned the score. This was before cell phones so the only way to ‘get the score was the ESPN ticker or the ticker in the sportsbook. The Imperial Palace had a big ticker than ran around the full length of the sportsbook and it gave out scores and time remaining in the game. When the score game around it still had ASU 42 – USC 35 but it still had the game in overtime. A few more minutes went by and several of the guys at the window were getting upset. They wanted to cash their USC tickets and go. I wanted them to cash their USC tickets and go.
Then it happened. “Bullshit!”. “That’s bullshit!” echoed through the crowd. I had been in the sportsbooks long enough to know every week there are some guys who get upset and start cussing. Even one or two fights. But, this is the first time I saw this many angry people. “They fucked us!”. “They fixed the game!”. These were all USC backers complaining so I was enjoying it. Then someone finally said that USC didn’t cover. What? I stood up to see the betting board but the game was at the bottom of the board and the whole counter was full of USC bettors trying to cash their tickets. There were so many of them I couldn’t even see the sportsbook writer or the counter.
I’m a Sports Betting Genius
Finally I got close enough to see the score. Arizona State 48 – USC 35. That pass was called a fumble and the return counted. The refs didn’t blow the whistle because as long as the runner had the ball the play was live. If the defensive player had fumbled the ball then the offense could have picked it up and returned it for a touchdown. Not likely to happen but neither is covering an 11.5 spread in overtime.
I did it! My ticket was gold! I am a sports betting genius!
I was about to go to the counter and cash when I noticed there were a lot of very pissed off people. If one guy had climbed over the counter and started taking on the ticket writer there would have been ten more to follow. I was worried. If that happened then they would shut down the sportsbook for the night and I wouldn’t be able to cash my ticket.
I went back to my table and sat down and started listening to all of the complaining. Pure schadenfreude. I was enjoying the misery of others. The more they complained the more I liked it. It must have taken a half hour before most of them left. A couple of new ones would come in to cash there tickets and then they would be told the final score and the dumbfounded look on there face was gold. Yep, just sip my beer and watch. This was more fun than any game on TV.
Finally, I had enough and it was time to cash my ticket and go. I handed it to the writer who had spent the last half hour listening to all kinds of abuse. He ran the ticket started to put it in his tray when he got a strange look on his face. He told me he had USC and he shouldn’t cash my ticket. He just stood there glaring at me. Back then almost all sportsbook writers were from New York and customer service was a joke to begin with. So this guy just stood there glaring at me and he was a little red in the face. I loved it. More schadenfreude. I just told him to do his damn job and pay me.
He did. But as he paid me he kept mumbling about that it was bullshit. Hahahah….good times.
Instead of betting on the Hawaii game I decided to take my pocket full of sportsbook money and go out on the town. All of my hard work and dedication to my craft had paid off and it was time to enjoy the money I had earned. On my way out of the building I passed a small bar downstairs and there were a couple guys at the bar and one of them talking loud enough I could hear him talking about how that game was bullshit. He had been ripped off. I decided to stop and take in one more round of schadenfreude. The bartender had also bet on USC and he agreed with them that they had been ripped off. I just started laughing and decided it was time to go.
The “good beat” doesn’t happen often but when it does, remember it. Not only for how it feels to win but, also for how it feels to see other guys get hit with a “bad beat”.