You can’t run from whom you are. Our destiny chooses us. That was the last piece of advice my friend needed before he started betting on the NCAA Tournament.

Paul Wong
Raphael Goodstein

We’ll call him “J.P.”

J. P. watched the movie “Rounders” a couple of times, played a couple of midnight games of poker, and decided he would finally put his knowledge of sports and gambling to use – he’d start gambling on sports. Specifically, the NCAA Tournament.

After all, pools are exciting, but only for the first weekend that you’re mathematically in it. Gamblers need constant excitement. The constant buzz of winning or losing close games. Put $50 on Duke in the first half, $80 on the under in the Maryland game, $100 on UCLA … before he knew it, J. P. had quadrupled his bank role, going 13-2 in the first weekend of the Tournament.

But more than just winning money, watching the games became non-stop excitement for the entire length of the game. Indiana’s nine-point win over North Carolina-Wilmington was a thriller, considering the Hoosiers were an eight-point favorite.

And it appeared that J. P.’s hot streak was going to last through the Sweet Sixteen – he took Duke in the first half minus-8 against Indiana, only to then double down his winnings on the second half under, a bet he won by one Jason Williams free throw.

Yup, the rat took the cheese.

But the ides of March soon caught up with him, as it does with most gamblers – and it did so without even reading him his rights.

Before he knew it, J. P. couldn’t pick one game right. Maybe he lost his money because he started betting on the NBA and the NIT. Maybe he lost his money because he stopped thoroughly researching games and started betting on silly signs that showed up; Ja Rule’s on the radio, Oklahoma’s bound to win the national title – it’s a sign.

Or maybe that’s just the nature of betting on a lot of games, sooner or later you’re going to miss a few. But whatever the reason, J. P. soon lost.

Very few gamblers are disciplined enough to bet a little amount of money on a tough game to pick when they’ve already made a lot of money. Considering J. P. had already made $500, why not bet $44 on Kentucky to beat Maryland. It pays 2-1, and it will make the game fun to watch. It didn’t take too many $44 losses to dissolve the bankroll he’d built. Typically, a gambler has to pay 10 percent extra to the bookie just to place the bet.

Soon the House was up. J. P. had forgotten that the House always wins, except when that perfect bet comes along. That’s when, and only when, you take the House. J. P. believed he was always going to take the House.

Soon, he’d lost money. Desperate to get back the money he’d lost, he continued to place more and more bets, losing more and more money. Finally, he bet all the money he had left on Maryland minus-4.5 in the first half against Connecticut. The first half was back-and-forth, and when the Huskeis had the lead with less than three minutes left in the half, his chances of winning looked slim. But a Maryland rally left the Terrapins up four with seconds left on the clock.

“What are these fools doing?!?” J. P. screamed at the TV.

But they knew what they were doing. They were setting up a play for their backup center Tahj Holden to shoot a 40-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer – all net.

Rather than leave, J. P. bet again on the second half over.

As Mike McDermott says, “You can’t lose what you don’t put in.

“But you can’t win either.”

So after he paid a few bills, he was back where he started – though with a little less than three stacks of high society.

Raphael Goodstein wishes Oklahoma had found a way to win the national title. He can be reached at raphaelg@umich.edu.

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