The Corner

The Gamblers

TIME contrasts the candidates’ preferred games-of-chance:

Over time he gave up the drinking bouts, but he never quite kicked the periodic yen for dice. In the past decade, he has played on Mississippi riverboats, on Indian land, in Caribbean craps pits and along the length of the Las Vegas Strip. Back in 2005 he joined a group of journalists at a magazine-industry conference in Puerto Rico, offering betting strategy on request. “Enjoying craps opens up a window on a central thread constant in John’s life,” says John Weaver, McCain’s former chief strategist, who followed him to many a casino. “Taking a chance, playing against the odds.” Aides say McCain tends to play for a few thousand dollars at a time and avoids taking markers, or loans, from the casinos, which he has helped regulate in Congress. “He never, ever plays on the house,” says Mark Salter, a McCain adviser. The goal, say several people familiar with his habit, is never financial. He loves the thrill of winning and the camaraderie at the table. […]

Poker may be sedentary, but it is no less competitive. Obama played most regularly as an Illinois state senator in the late 1990s. The legislature met in Springfield, which had little to recommend it after hours, except on Wednesday nights, when “The Committee Meeting,” as it was nicknamed, convened in state senator Terry Link’s basement. Obama and fellow senators made up the “core four.” The game began at 7 p.m. and often lasted until 2 a.m. There were pizza and chips, a fridge full of beer, and enough cigars for a smoke-filled room. Obama usually showed up in a baseball cap and sweats. He cadged cigarettes and drank a beer, kept up with the boys’-night-out banter and roared at the off-color stories. When he lost a hand, Obama joked that he couldn’t afford gasoline to drive home.

But he always had his head in the game. The stakes were low enough — $1 ante and $3 top raise — to afford a long shot. Not Obama. He studied the cards as closely as he would an eleventh-hour amendment to a bill. The odds were religion to him. Only rarely did he bluff. “He had a pretty good idea about what his chances were,” says Denny Jacobs, a former state senator from East Moline.

I suppose McCainiacs should take comfort in knowing that their guy likes to play against the odds. 


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