LAS VEGAS — The pair of Wolfman Jack lookalikes, sporting so much facial hair it’s difficult to discern if either has a beak, sit far to my left in a row of sportsbook cubicles.
Two empty seats separate them, so they know each other well. The one in the aisle seat wears sunglasses, at night and indoors, and only grunts — “Ah! Ah!” — à la actor Harold Sakata’s brutish Oddjob in “Goldfinger.”
His pal moans and whines, smacks an open palm on the wooden desktop, fists partitions on either side.
They have seven-point underdog Indiana, which leads late at Ohio State. The Wolfman near me pleads, “No OT. Please, no OT.”
Of course, the hoops game goes into overtime. “Not OT!” He slaps the table, covers his eyes with his left paw, pounds the right partition. The Buckeyes win 80-69. He cries, “Three! Hundred! Bucks!!!”
Utterly deflated, they depart. The next night, in that same seat, Malik wears a Harden-like beard and a cap backwards as he slowly rocks back and forth.
Iowa State beats West Virginia 84-81, sailing over the total by more than 30 points. He grins, rubs his hands together, throws soft boxing jabs.
He played Division II ball in northern California, and partaking in these games — via his wallet — makes him feel as if he’s in the game. He says, “Makes it more exciting.”
He also has Duke -7 against Virginia in the second half. The Blue Devils outscore the Cavaliers 43-31. The former hoopster goes 4-0 that night, earning more than $1,000 in profit. He displays the plays on his mobile phone.
“One of those days, you just can’t miss,” says Malik. “Doesn’t happen often. My gosh. I don’t like to sweat it out all the time, but it brings you closer to the action.”
PAGING DR. FREUD
The Sweat can be a combustible mixture of adrenaline, dopamine and endorphins that fuels sports betting.
“It means Game Day,” says a professional bettor who prefers anonymity. “I’ve got $5,000 on a game, my heart pounds, and two late games for $5,000 each. Amazing or devastating. You’ll experience The Sweat, and in a sick way.
“And we love it. Subconsciously, The Sweat always is ‘the reason.’ A wild subject — sports betting and the human brain.”
Many in Vegas sportsbooks have been simmering, bubbling and boiling during these conference tournaments. Thursday through Sunday, 48 first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games will provide the year’s best wagering theater.
South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews confirms that he often witnesses people relishing The Sweat more than the prospect of holding a winning ticket.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing at all,” he says. “Some guys just don’t handle losing all that well. You have to care, but I’m not sure if you should be going crazy. Human nature, I guess.”
Andrews has tried to tame a friend or two, to no avail. For expert insight, he says, “You should probably call Sigmund Freud, if he’s available.”
We’ll leave the deep interpretations and meanings to the neurologist Freud, the psychoanalysis founder who died in 1939. He penned an essay, “Dostoevsky and Parricide,” that examines the famous Russian author’s passion for gambling.
In his “The Gambler,” Fyodor Dostoevsky asserts that real gambling begins only when everything is at stake.
He no doubt savored a good sweat. Fyodor faced a Nov. 1, 1866, deadline to deliver the aforementioned manuscript or all of his writings would become the property of an unscrupulous publisher.
By Oct. 1, 1866, he still hadn’t started the manuscript.
Dostoevsky met the deadline.
In “The Gambler,” a woman in a Roulettenburg casino drops 2,000 gulden “and let out an ‘Ah!’ Some people around us even laughed,” says Alexei, the protagonist.
In his maiden casino visit, Alexei feels his “heart pounding . . . my hands shook, my legs trembled. I felt as if something had struck me on the head . . . sweat dripped from my temples.”
BetMGM director of trading Jeff Stoneback recalls former colleague Jay Rood reacting to a game by punching a wall in their Mirage headquarters. “He kind of just hit the wall,” says Stoneback, “and it caved in a bit.”
So they do sweat, too, on the other side of the counter.
On Thursday, Feb. 17, a SuperBook customer in Colorado risked “a new car” — maybe $30,000 — on Creighton plus 1.5 points at DePaul, says Westgate SuperBook risk manager Rex Beyers.
Three minutes in, David Jones, the Blue Demons’ second-leading scorer averaging 14.7 points, injured an ankle and didn’t return. The Blue Jays dominated the second half and won 71-59.
“Every day there’s a new sweat,” says Beyers. “It’s a glorious thing when you’re bookin’. I get right into it when I walk into the office and see what we need in college hoops, and I’ll start sweating pretty much immediately.”
He is not averse to backing his beliefs elsewhere with a few bucks.
“If I have a sweat on the other side of the counter, it’s not so enjoyable. Actual dollars, depending upon how many of them are at risk, can sometimes be horrific.”
The Sweat payoff, says Beyers, can sometimes be butterscotch sweet.
“When you win, the highs of getting through a sweat make you feel like you’ve sat in a sauna for a long time and lost some weight, and you run into a supermodel on the way out.”