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[Books I couldn't finish]

Lousy “Bet”: Roeper’s book manages to drain all the drama and fun out of gambling

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Illustration: Wes Gatbonton

A thousand dollars a day for 30 days—is that supposed to impress me? That’s a rhetorical question; of course it’s supposed to impress me. I mean, that’s the point of stunt memoirs like this: Do something impressive and then write about it.

Well, guess what: $1,000 doesn’t impress me. I see people gamble 20 times that much, and I see it every other night. Hell, I myself bet $1,000 on a single hand of blackjack, and, unlike Richard Roeper, I didn’t have a book deal to fund the bet.

The stakes couldn’t be lower in Richard Roeper’s Bet The House: How I Gambled Over a Grand a Day for 30 Days on Sports, Poker, and Games of Chance, but still, the author wants us to believe he has gambling issues: “I’d like to think (rationalize?) I don’t have a gambling problem, but I’ll readily acknowledge I do have gambling tendencies.”

Just how bad are Roper’s “gambling tendencies”? This bad: “Now I’ve got to sneak back downstairs,” writes Roeper, “and enter the dining room all smiles, as if I didn’t just drop $200 I don’t really have on this fucking Turkey Day game.”

Two hundred bucks? Not impressed.

Roeper, a film critic, wants to have his cake and eat it, too: He whines about small financial losses and then goes on about fame (as if fame didn’t come with a fat paycheck): “I’ve taken to wearing a baseball cap and sporting an unshaven look, so I can have the experience without the distraction of talking about movies or getting any kind of special treatment. Occasionally, though, someone will stop and ask me how the book is coming or ask me to take a picture with them.”

That must be so difficult—losing $200, and then having to take pictures with fans and receiving “special treatment.” Woe is you, Mr. Roeper.

Let’s look at another one of the author’s weak attempts to make financial drama where none exists: “I heard from a lot of folks who said … it was irresponsible for me to cavalierly wager thousands of dollars on games of chance at a time when so many people are out of work.” And now let’s look at the author’s response: “I’m not gambling with your money; I’m gambling with my money.”

Way to go, Mr. Roeper! Way to set that geriatric straw man ablaze!

Maybe I’m being too hard on Roeper. Maybe he isn’t trying to pull the dramatic wool over our eyes. Maybe the guy just doesn’t know what’s dramatic and what isn’t. Maybe before writing this book, he simply never got out of the house. That might sound silly, but what else could explain this line: “A few words here about the ever-sensitive issue of money, the last taboo subject.”

Ever-sensitive? The last taboo subject? Mr. Roeper, bestiality is a taboo subject; money is the second-most talked-about subject we’ve got (love is No. 1). Walk out the door and you’ll hear people talking about it nonstop. Have you ever been to the movies? I promise you they address the whole money issue frequently.

The Details

Bet the House: How I Gambled Over a Grand a Day for 30 Days on Sports, Poker, and Games of Chance
Richard Roeper
Chicago Review Press, $20
(Read 60 pages, skimmed the next 100.)
Related Story
Five random excerpts from Bet the House (5/17/10)

The most impressive thing about Roeper’s extraordinarily undramatic stunt is that he managed to stumble across the one way to make it even less dramatic: “If I reached a certain profit level, I would donate a percentage of the proceeds to charity.”

Okay, Mr. Roeper, here’s how gambling narratives work: The thing that makes them exciting to read/watch is the knowledge that the person doing the gambling will get to keep the money he wins. (And I’m sorry but you can’t say that you’re going to donate winnings to charity and act like you have a gambling addiction. You have to pick one or the other.)

The stunning lack of drama is the main problem with what I read, but it’s far from the only problem. Here are three more:

1. Miserable clichés Roeper begins his book with, “We begin with a dream,” and describes a strip club like this: “dead-eyed women with fake breasts undulate in various states of undress.”

My TI-82 graphing calculator could describe a strip club with more originality than that, and it hasn’t had batteries since the late ’90s.

2. God-awful one-liners “There are two types of people in this world: gamblers and the sane.”

“That’s how naïve I was, if you spell naïve s-t-u-p-i-d.”

“I put $100 on Megan Joy to win season 8 of American Idol, but Joy is soon eliminated. (There is no Joy in Mudville—mighty Megan has struck out!)”

3. Painfully dull passages Here’s one: “Hand No. 1: Dealer shows K. I have 4-2 and then I get a Queen for a 16. I hit again and get the miracle 5 for a 21. The dealer has 15—and he gets a 6 for 21. That’s a push.

Hand No. 2: I get 18. Dealer has a 20.

Hand No. 3; I get 17, Dealer goes has [sic] a 6 and a 6 for 12. He draws a 9 for 21.”

Now, if those three blackjack hand descriptions bored you, know that Roeper actually lists out 36 of them, one after the other.

If even Roeper’s editor didn’t read through this passage—note the [sic]—you probably shouldn’t read through it, either. Ditto for the book as a whole.

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