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The Untold Story of the Night the House Lost

When it comes to casinos and gambling, the House always wins.

Except Trump.

And I have firsthand proof. It was the early nineties in New York, when Donald Trump was still just America’s lovable uber-narcissist in chief, there was no High Line, and no one would have imagined that Brooklyn was about to become whatever the hell it became. So when my parents were in NYC to visit me in my new apartment, I decided to empty my bank account and take my dad on the Trump Helicopter to the new Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.

The place looked pretty nice and had the excitement one associates with a new casino (which is really more of a mix of excitement, melancholy and the half-suppressed awareness that you’re about to flush your money down the toilet).

When we were in the elevator on the way to the room, my dad (who built himself into one of Northern California’s top real estate developers) sniffed a couple times and said, “You can smell the kitchen from here. That’s a sign this place wasn’t well built.”

At that moment, I didn’t need any more evidence that the Taj Mahal would fail. But I got some.

After checking out our room — which had a mirror over a heart-shaped hot tub — we hit the casino. And we started winning. And winning some more. At the end of the evening, we went back up to the room to count our take. We shoved enough chips to one side of the table until we’d covered the entire cost of our trip, including the helicopter, the room, the meals and even the cab rides to and from the heliport. (Because as the children of successful real estate developers know, every moment is a teachable moment.)

My dad (because he is a winner) went to bed knowing his work was done. While I (you do the math) took the handful of leftover chips back downstairs and figured I’d have a little more entertainment as I lost them all. But again, I couldn’t lose. I kept winning for hours.

I’ve never won like this at anyone else’s casino. Because the whole system is rigged. The fix is in. The odds are stacked. The house always wins.

The next morning over breakfast, my dad asked how long the extra chips lasted me. I lied and said I was broke in about an hour. When we went to cash in, I surprised him by pulling out two pocketfuls of extra chips, far taller than our original stack.

He looked down at the chips. He looked up at me. And looking back now, I realized that he gave me a look that said, “You could smell the kitchen from the elevator, the house always wins but Trump has figured out a way to build a casino where the house loses, and one day, he’ll embark on a presidential campaign that will bring America to unimaginable new lows because if you can’t even make money with a casino, there’s almost nothing left but to run for higher office.”

Looking back, we’re both a little sorry we took the Trump Helicopter. Considering his track record in other business endeavors, it was an unnecessary risk.

Dave Pell writes the excellent NextDraft. It’s worth taking a gamble on.

I write NextDraft, a quick and entertaining look at the day’s most fascinating news.

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