THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Thursday, August 20, 2009

LV Casino/Hotel Projects Take a Hit

Most people realize that even "recession-proof" Las Vegas is as vulnerable as any city due to the economic downturn. Check out Las Vegas Now TV's Web site to find out what's a go and what's on hold:

Pictured above: The Palazzo Resort on the Strip.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Online Poker NOT Gambling...

...says George Will, a Conservative Republican and award-winning editorial writer. Mr. Will is obviously a person who understands that poker is not a game of chance, but rather one that's based on skill. His editorial in yesterday's Washington Post, while scholarly in tone, is worth reading. Only hope Congress takes note.

A New Deal Worth Fostering
Why congress should allow Texas Hold 'Em players to ante up over the Internet.
By George F. Will
Sunday, August 16, 2009

Howard Lederer, a.k.a. "the Professor," is a professional poker player, not a gambler. If Congress will acknowledge this distinction, it will rectify one of its recent mistakes.

In 2006, Congress, cloaking cunning with moralizing, effectively outlawed Internet gambling by making it illegal for banks or credit-card companies to process payments to online gambling operations. This was more than moral pork for social conservatives. It also blocked online competitors from poaching gamblers from the nation's most aggressive promoters of gambling -- state governments. They are increasingly addicted to revenue raised by lotteries -- the 42 states that have lotteries spent $520 million in 2007 promoting them -- and from taxation of other legal gambling. The law exempted Internet state lotteries and two powerful and vocal interests -- online betting on horse racing and some fantasy sports betting online.

Having turned gambling, which once was treated as a sin, into a social policy, government looks unusually silly criminalizing online forms of it. Granted, some people gamble excessively (although not nearly as many people as eat excessively). Granted, gambling becomes addictive to a small minority (although it is not nearly as addictive as smoking and drinking). Granted, gambling is morally dubious when it is only the unproductive pursuit of wealth without work (although gambling is productive of pleasure for tens of millions of Americans for whom it is a frequent pastime). But never mind whether government should try to tightly circumscribe a ubiquitous human activity that generally harms nobody.

That is beside the point that Lederer and the Poker Players Alliance are toiling to make, which is that by sweeping online poker into its proscription of online gambling, Congress committed a category mistake. Congress, Lederer thinks, should revisit the work of John von Neumann (1903-57), the Hungarian-born mathematician who, after working for the Manhattan Project on implosion design for the atomic bomb, became a defense intellectual specializing in the relevance of game theory to strategic thinking. Chess involves logic; roulette involves probability theory. Poker involves logic, probability and something pertinent to military and diplomatic strategy -- bluffing.

Von Neumann's "Theory of Parlor Games" (1928) and, with Oskar Morgenstern, "Theory of Games and Economic Behavior" (1944) established the field of game theory. Another of today's leading professional poker players, Chris Ferguson, is the son of a mother who is a mathematician and a father who teaches game theory at UCLA.

When you play chess, Lederer says, there is symmetry of information: Both players have all the information provided by the location of the pieces on the board, and both are equally ignorant of the opponent's intentions. A computer can be programmed to "play" a powerful game of chess, but not of poker, wherein your opponents' cards are concealed.

Lederer is confident that a brain scan of someone playing poker would reveal a lit-up frontal lobe but the lobe of someone watching television would show up cool blue. A poker player -- unlike someone playing roulette, a lottery or "video poker" (which Lederer says is a misnomer; it is a game of chance governed by a machine) -- is trying to apply skill, acquired by experience, to increase the probability of winning each hand.

The son of an English teacher at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, Lederer decided to spend a year studying chess before matriculating at Columbia University. Instead, he discovered poker. He started at Columbia but left, reasoning that he had found his vocation. He has won about $5 million.

But what is his stake in decriminalizing online poker? After all, he plays much more on green felt-covered tables than online. His interest is threefold. First, his libertarian temperament -- he lives in Las Vegas, where almost anything goes -- is offended by mother-hen government. Second, he wants as many people as possible to have access to poker's delights. Third, the more poker players there are, the larger will be the ranks of competitors, and the television audiences, for professional poker competitions. Hence the larger will be the potential winnings. This year, Lederer says, there were 6,494 competitors in the World Series of Poker Main Event, down about 1,000 from 2006, largely because more players used to win their $10,000 entry fee in online tournaments.

It is a poker skill to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Congress probably should fold its interference with Internet gambling and certainly should get its 10 thumbs off Americans' freedom to exercise their poker skills online.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hey Slick, Remember Hurricane Charley?

Top l. to r. Faint outline of
Florida seen under Charley;
House devastated by Charlie
Bottom: Hurricane Charley,
Cuba & U.S. Gulf Coast

...Yeah, It was 5 years ago when all hell broke loose. You and I have experienced a number of adventures during the 9 years it took to write Thief, your true story. But nothing could compare to the magnitude of that awsome event.

JJ, our mutual friend, called 2 days ago to remind me about the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Charley which hit on Aug. 13, 2004. I'd nearly forgotten. So after we hung up, I donned my "I survived Hurricane Charley" T-shirt, the one you helped to create, to commemorate that fateful day. JJ said I called her from your place on my cell phone just before you, Herman and I were all set to barricade ourselves in your bathroom with your mattress. We had holed up in your 10th floor apartment during the storm. If you recall, we had TV and power till quite late. At the last minute, after predicting the storm would hit the Tampa area well away from Fort Myers, newscasters said it looked a lot like Charley could come up the Caloosahatchie River, right by your apartment. We would have taken a direct hit.

In 1960, Hurricane Donna did just that. You see, hurricanes feed off of warm water and the river was really warm that year. I saw actual photos from old newspaper clippings at the Sanibel Library showing how Hurricane Donna had sucked up all the water in the Caloosahatchie and carried it out into the Gulf. You could see the bare river bed for miles. When the wind died down, the water slowly trickled into the river again.

Back to Charley...At the last minute the category 4 hurricane veered northward up to Port Charlotte cutting a swath of water across Upper Captiva Island. I marvel at that new channel whenever I go out on boat patrols. It's called Charley's Pass for obvious reasons. JJ said I called her in case something happened and I wasn't able to get through on my phone the next several days, which is exactly what occurred. You and I watched in amazed silence as palm trees and other large debris blew by your north-facing front window, luckily sparing it. The north side took less of a hit than the south side. The yachts below in the harbor looked like toys someone had dropped from the sky, they were in such a jumble.

I was actually one of the first people to venture out in my car after Charley. It was still raining quite hard and the wind was still blowing quite hard. But I was determined to get home to see if my apartment, that faced southwest, had sustained any damage. Earlier I'd stowed my computer and a few other important things in my bathtub, the only room with no windows. It was like trying to maneuver through a mine field snaking my way along Fowler Street. Downed powerlines and telephone poles made going difficult. Think I saw one other vehicle, a fire truck. Together, the firemen and I moved a huge limb out of the street so we could get by. An hour later (usually a 10-minute drive) I made it home. I remember I had no running water for 4 days and no electricity for 7 days at my apartment, but at least no major damage. The wind had been so fierce that it forced water up through my cement floor on the south side of my apt. That was nothing compared to what folks in other areas experienced. Some are still recuperating!

Boy, what an experience! But it was only a minor inconvenience and I was soon back to writing Thief.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Slick Needs Your Help

William "Slick" Hanner, co-author of THIEF, is writing another book. It's about the old Las Vegas when the mob still ruled. He's looking for authentic stories about the heyday of Sin City, which he'll include in a chapter of his new book. So if you have a good story for Slick's book and would like to be credited by him, he'd like to hear from you.

You can contact him at Yeah...I know he spelled thiefts wrong, but he never did claim to be a great speller.