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Been There, Dunked That by Brian Dunkleman: Double Down

6-3-16BrianDunkleman

I love to gamble. I hate losing money, but I adore the act of gambling.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my dad’s lap during poker games with family and friends and throwing in the money when it was his turn to bet.

When I was about 12, they were short handed at one of these weekly events, and since I knew all the games from watching so long, my mom let me play. I won 50 bucks. At that age, it might as well have been a million.

From that night on, I was allowed to be a regular in the game as long as I played with my own money. Thanks for the life-long vice, Mom.

I played in that game all throughout high school, every Friday night. Once I was up a few bucks, I’d leave early and meet up with my friends with beer money in hand. I taught all my buddies the games we played. In my late teens and early 20s, Mom would come home from bingo, sit in with us and play till she won 20 or 30 dollars, then yawn and say, “Well, I better get to bed.”

One of the great things about living in Los Angeles is that it’s so close to Vegas. The first time I ever went there my eyes almost popped out of my head.

There are two types of people in the world – people who think Las Vegas is everything wrong with humanity and those who think it’s the greatest place on earth. I am of the latter opinion.

My go-to move whenever I started seeing a new girl in L.A. was to bring up Vegas while out on a date. If she said, “I hate Vegas,” it was most likely the last time I’d see her. If she responded, “I love Vegas,” or “I’ve never been,” I would immediately respond, “Let’s go!” They’d agree that we should totally go sometime, and I’d reply, “No, let’s go right now!” About four or five girls said yes. We’d hop in the car at around 10 or 11 and be there in about four hours. Sometimes the drive there would be extremely enjoyable. We’d drink and gamble all night and then get a cheap hotel room, usually downtown. It was always a great litmus test of how a future relationship might develop.

My most memorable trip to Vegas wasn’t with a girl. It was with two of my buddies from back home.

I had been out west for just a couple of years when the Eaton boys gave me a call. They were flying to San Francisco for a conference and suggested they fly down to meet me and then all drive together out to Vegas for a few days of debauchery. Yes and yes.

I picked them up from the airport with a 30-pack in tow and we hit the road.

Maybe it was the excitement and anticipation of the adventure that awaited us in Sin City, or maybe it was the two dozen beers we’d consumed, but we ran out of gas before we got there. Like six miles before we got there.

Luckily, the last stretch of highway is all downhill, so two of us would push for awhile to get up enough speed so we could coast and the hop on the trunk while the other manned the steering wheel. Finally we got to an off-ramp and rolled into a gas station. We literally limped into town.

Not a real good omen for a three-day gambling trip.

We checked into the Maxim hotel and casino. It’s not even there anymore, and it certainly wasn’t anything fancy. We weren’t there for gimmicks or shows. We were there to hit the tables and booze. We didn’t leave that casino for two and a half days. We took breaks to sleep, and then went right back to gambling. All the dealers knew us by name. We’d go on hot streaks, then cold. If one guy was up big, he’d lend the other enough to get out of the hole

On the last night, the cards went cold. Every time we’d walk up to a new table, the dealers would have a look on their faces like, “not again, fellas.” Around midnight, the Eaton boys had had enough and went to the room to crash.

Now, I was in no position at that time to go on a three-day Vegas bender. I was waiting tables and catering while I struggled to get a foothold in the entertainment business.

I’d lost all the money I had. I actually called my mother and left this message on her machine: “Hey Mom, it’s Brian. Great news! I just got a commercial agent and things are really starting to go well. The bad news? I’m in Vegas with the Eaton boys and I might need a little help with rent this month.”

After I hung up, I thought I’d hit the ATM one last time. I knew there was no more money in my account, but in my delirious state, I thought maybe it would malfunction and spit out some cash. It did. A hundred dollar bill! I was back in the game.

I knew I had to make something big happen, so I sat down at the Caribbean Stud table, arguably the worst odds in the casino. You get dealt five cards and try and beat the dealer. But there’s a progressive pot you can win if you hit a royal straight flush, and it was up to $100,000. A smaller straight flush paid ten percent of the jackpot.

I chain smoked and drank at that table with that same hundred bucks for hours. I kept thinking to myself, four of a kind only pays $500. I need better than that. I need a straight flush.

Finally, at approximately 6:15 a.m., I fanned my cards open to see the 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of spades. I hit it. Straight flush.

I immediately started crying. All the other dealers that we’d befriended that week rushed over and started high-fiving me.  A pit boss came over, checked the cards, then called upstairs for the tape to be reviewed. It was good.

I couldn’t believe it. It was almost as if I had willed it to happen. They gave it to me in cash. All hundreds. I tipped the dealer $500, then paid a security guard $40 just to walk me to our room. As soon as I opened the door I started screaming: “wake up!” and threw 500 bucks at each of them.

I called my mother again, but this time the message was, “Hey Mom, it’s Brian. Yeah, disregard that last message. I just won $10,000 on one hand of poker!”

I lived off that money for the next six months. In that time, I got my first manager, signed with my first acting agent and booked my first television appearance.

That hundred dollar bill that miraculously came out of the ATM? That was from my rent check that hadn’t cleared yet.

So what’s the moral of this story? Simple. When things are at their darkest and you’ve run out of all other options, turn to gambling. What do you have to lose?

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