"Is it wrong to gamble or only to lose?" - Sky Masterson in "Guys and Dolls"
If Damon Runyon, the brilliant story teller of Broadway's gamblers, was alive and stepping in our town,, five would get you ten he be hanging out with Kev Mac, the most over-the-top dice shooter ever to come from the streets of South Los Angeles' deadly and intoxicating street gang world.
But, since Runyon's writing skills have dramatically diminished since his death 69 years today, it was up to Kev Mac to pen his own stories and the result is the just-published "Sprung; Memoirs of a Legendary Gambler", 36 fascinating tales of a dice-throwing life winning and losing millions in the casinos of Las Vegas and in the backyards of south-central.
Kev Mac, 47 paints an often-thrilling - shooting dice with $52,000 at stake and winning - and often-agonizing - too broke to buy gasoline - portrait of his life as a gambler. He talks about how his addiction was like that of an alcoholic where he would get the shakes when he didn't gamble and the only cure - the equivalent of trembling drunk taking a drink - was throwing the dice.
Kev Mac, a full fledged member of one of the country's most notorious street gangs, the Rollin' 60s Crips, writes his first taste of the gambling life came at age 12, when an older guy from the neighborhood, Chipper, known for his skill with the old Intellivision baseball game, invited him to his house at 57th and Harcourt to play a game. Kev Mac won and Chipper's friends fell out laughing at him. Infuriated, Chipper demanded to bet Kev $20 he would win the rematch. In Sprung's first chapter, "A Gambler In The Making", he describes his reaction. "Twenty dollars?!" I asked in my Dennis the Menace voice. "You've got a deal".
You know what happened. Kev Mac gambling career had started out with a win. As he writes "Not only did this event spark the great "Kev vs. Chipper" games, it also introduced me to the seedy world of serious gambling."
But, it was nine years years later, at age, 21, when his father took him to the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas when the love affair - or pure infatuation - with dice began. Though the trip was a financial loser, it changed Kev Mac's life. On the ride back to Los Angeles he says his "competitive nature came to the forefront and my 'I can't be defeated' attitude was born."
He had been defeated at the Stardust, but he was determined to get even. "It's just like the streets," he explains. "When a guy beats you up, you gotta go back and get even. "
Kev Mac, proud Rollin' 60s Crip, often wearing their symbolic blue Seattle Mariners cap with an emblazoned "S" ( for, in his case, 60s) would fearlessly - or blindly - cross gang boundaries to attend crap games, even if they were in Bloods-dominated areas, most often in Rollin 20s Bloods hood.
Not only would he have to contend with rival gang members the LAPD was a constant threat.
Whereas Sky Masterson, and his cronies Nathan Detroit, Nicely NIcely Johnson and Harry the Horse had to deal with Lt. Brannigan, Kev Mac and company faced a far more perilous threat, LAPD's hard chargin CRASH units. In one story set on Brynhurst - the Rollin's 60s most notorious street - he write of how the police would often disrupt the craps games. "Police officer from the 77th Street Division were always turnt up,. speeding down the blocc, jumping out with their pistols aimed at us. How's a brother 'spose to roll a seven with a nine pointed at this head?"
The Six-Oh life is peppered throughout. This has to be the only book on gambling that has a chapter that begins with "While awaiting trial for a home invasion robbery in the gang module of the L.A. County jail, I turned to spades betting. " Kev Mac did some years for that robbery which was at the home of former NBA player Benoit Benjamin.
When he got out, he amped up his bets. Many times Kev threw the dice with $52,000 on the table. Often he won. But, like the classic addict, he could rarely walk away form the table
"I won millions and I lost millions," he said as he looked out last week at the old Summit Field baseball diamond in Ladera Heights where he played left field as a kid. "I was constantly fighting myself, not only after I lost a bet, but after I won one. I'd want more. And lose? I couldn't accept to lose. I'd be up tens of thousands and start to lose it and try and get it back and lost it all. Lotta times my life was a nightmare"
Through much of it, Kev had a full time job as a school bus driver, making $10 an hour. But, the cash he had on hand was no bus driver money. "I had cash stashed under the mattress, in pillowcases, even in the Encyclopedia Britannica."
When the times were good, and when Kev was single, he had to have a female escort and Las Vegas was loaded with hookers. Kev Mac eloquently explains the difference between an expensive hooker and a moderately price one – their purse. "A thousand dollar pussy and a hundred dollar pussy is the same thing. One might have a Luis Vuitton purse and the other a Mary Kaye purse, but that's about it. I've had a lot of good times with both."
Lots of those good times were courtesy of his sports heroes and the money he won betting on them He cites John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre and Warren Moon as his biggest money makers But, on one notable occasion Moon let him down after building him up
He writes of a chapter where he took Shana, the mother of his son, to Vegas for a getaway and some sports betting. The football game he bet on – a famous 1993 playoff game between Moon's Houston Oilers and the Buffalo Bills started out wonderfully. The Oilers were ahead 35-3 in the second half and Kev promised to buy her anything she wanted. Shana pointed to a huge stuff lion with a $700 price tag. He nodded.
"Are you really gonna buy me a $700 stuffed animal?", Shana asked.
"I'll buy you whatever you want."
Then the gridiron horror began for Kev. The Bills mounted probably the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history winning in overtime 41-38. Suffice to say, the rest of the trip didn't go so well.
That game was 22 years ago. Kev quit throwing dice in 2012, but he still bets on sports. He shows off the winning ticket of a Nov. 19 when he won $9,000 on football games
Still, that money is long gone.
"It's almost like I'm not happy til i'm broke. I have that trait of most gamblers. I'm greedy. I'm enjoying the lifestyle, but then I'm not enjoying the life style. it's really fun and sad at the same time."
To buy "Sprung" check this link. The book is only $11 and it might just save you thousands at the crap table.