Were there actually people like Bernie Lootz, the character that William H. Macy played in “The Cooler?” I did some research to see if I could find anything written about Coolers. Was this an urban legend like chupacabras, or did casinos actually hire professional losers to put the kibosh on a hot player?
I finally came across an account of one such Cooler, Eddie Davis, who could very well be the inspiration for these urban legends. In an article titled The Cooler: The Real Story written by Kenny Pearlman for The Las Vegas Dealer, Ken writes about an interesting conversation he had with an old-timer who began dealing in Vegas in 1964:
It was in the early '60s when the only known cooler worked the tables on the Strip but nobody seemed to remember his name. No one knows where he came from or what ever became of him, but I came to find out that there were some letters he wrote that gives us a peek at the stranger side of superstition and gambling. The story of him and his run-in with Wilber Clarke, the owner of the old Desert Inn, is known to only a few.
If anyone knew if this was for real or not, it would be my old friend Alex who started dealing in this town in '64 and finally retired in '97. He had a memory like a trap door and could remember things even the best historians didn't know.
"You ever hear of a guy that the called The Cooler or a cooler or something?" I asked.
Alex sat up from his lounge chair with a startled look. "Wow man, where did you hear that?"
"Just curious, man."
Alex and I went down to his basement, he opened a drawer and pulled out a file with some papers and handed me two sheets that were a letter.
"This is the last I heard of Eddie Davis. He was a cooler, the only one I ever knew. Read this, it's his story and I'll fill in the rest. Yeah, I knew Eddie Davis. He was a strange one too, let me tell ya."
Eddie Davis was an older guy by then. He was 62, but looked like he was 82 when he was introduced by a business card to Wilber Clarke, the owner at the time of the Desert Inn, then considered the classiest casino in Las Vegas. Eddie came with references from a friend of his that owned the Cal-Neva Casino in North Lake Tahoe. A sentence on the back of his business card just read: "Wilber, I'm loaning you my favorite cooler, don't break him. Frank".
"What do you do that I should give you a shot?" Wilber asked.
"I'm a cooler."
Wilber had heard the term, but wasn't sure. "What's that?"
"You tell me who's hot and I cool them off, I stop their winning streak. That's all I do," Eddie replied. Wilber laughed, like everybody else did at first.
"A what? You gonna tell me you can stop a winning streak? How the hell you gonna stop a winning streak short of kicking the guy out of the casino or kicking him upside the head?"Wilbur asked.
"Is anyone beating you?"
"You gotta be kidding; you can't really do that can you?"
"Give me a try," Eddie answered.
So, they walked up to the old catwalk where the surveillance guy was laying on his stomach eating a cheese sandwich and watching the action on BJ 6 through the two-way mirrors. He handed the binoculars to Wilber, "He's on first base at BJ 6 and he's up almost $20 grand". Wilber winced, then handed the binoculars to Eddie, who said: "I don't need those, I'll be right back."
Eddie walked down to the casino floor, went over to the table, watched a couple of hands, then put his hand on the guy's shoulder and said, "Hey, you mind if I play?"
The player said, "Sure pal, come on in, I can't lose no matter how bad you play." He was now playing three hands at $500 a hand and by the time Eddie fiddled for his wallet the dealer dealt three or four hands, and the guy lost them all. Eddie smiled and quickly glanced up to the two-way mirrors on the ceiling, just below the catwalk where the two men were also smiling. Eddie never even bought in; he said he didn't want to bring the guy bad luck, but the bad luck just continued. With two Aces against the dealer's 5, he screamed "I got you now." He split the hand, caught another ace and because they allowed up to four splits and after making an 18 and a 20 another ace fell, now he caught a five and doubled down for a 20 for a total of $2,500 when Eddie patted him on the back and said, "Good luck."
The dealer flipped the six in the hole, hit it with a ten and, strangely enough, the chandelier on the ceiling above the table shook as if a ghost was shaking it. Eddie bit his tongue to keep from laughing and hoping that Wilber didn't fall through the goddamn ceiling altogether. The gambler pumped up his bets, but lost one after another until he had only $300 left. He went to another table and, after twenty minutes, he won $1,500 back. When Eddie walked up to that table, there were two others playing $300-$400 a hand and Eddie just put his hand on the back of the chairs the three were sitting on and all of them lost one hand after another until Eddie walked away, too late for any of them to make any substantial comeback. After another twenty minutes, all three were broke and broken.
Wilber and Eddie met in his office.
"Just tell me that was just a fluke. You couldn't do that again could you?" Wilber asked.
"If I can't then I have no business bothering you do I?"
"Eddie, you're trying to tell me you have some kind of magical powers, are you f#@!ing kidding me, and you expect me to believe that?"
Eddie went back down to the casino floor and walked to the Roulette game where a few people had some stacks of chips. Eddie just stood at the table, watching the game when the dealer went on a tear where if there was even one spot without a chip, the ball would fall in that spot. In just minutes the bank was full and the players were digging for more money.
On craps, if there wasn't a bet on a number that number would hit. When everyone had everything on the line, a 7 would come whenever Eddie even touched the table. He leaned against the Big 6 Wheel and it never hit anything but the $1. When the players figured it out, they put all their money on the $1, which was too late because by then it was hitting an empty 40 to 1 payout until they chased that bet, then it went back to the $1 spots.
Wilbur was spooked, to say the least. When Eddie walked back into his office according to Eddies' notes, Wilbur Clarke was speechless for the first time in his life. He picked up the phone and called Frank in Lake Tahoe. (At this point I checked the past column I did on North Lake Tahoe ["Greetings From Lake Tahoe"] and sure enough, that was the year Frank Sinatra bought in for half of the Cal-Neva club with Sam Giancana, the Chicago mob boss. Sinatra held the gaming license, owned the casino portion and "Momo" Giancana owned the hotel half, supposedly)
But Wilbur still wasn't quite sure, so he picked up the phone.
"Frank, it's Wilbur Clarke. I got Eddie Davis in my office and I wanna know if this guy's for real." After a minute he said simply,"Yes sir" and hung up the phone. It was the first time and probably the last time he called anyone sir besides his dead father. He turned to Eddie and said, "He told me you were good, you could do this anytime, anywhere."
Eddie just smiled and said, "All I want is a cut of what I save you and I'll tell you what that is."
Wilbur Clarke didn't do business that way. He didn't like playing on someone else's terms, but if this guy was for real he would be worth his weight in gold.
"What kind of money are we talking about Eddie?"
"You'll just have to wait and see," Eddie replied. Wilber called downstairs and set Eddie up with a room. Just an hour later he called the room. "Eddie, I need you downstairs, I got a guy beating us out of $12 grand and I think he's marking the cards or something." (Back then all the games were single decks; there were no shoes and card counting systems weren't in use.)
A week passed. Eddie had saved the casino tens of thousands of dollars by doing nothing more than hanging out by a table that was losing and within minutes the table would around. But there was a problem. Wilber gave Eddie $500 at the end of the first week.
"What's this?" Eddie asked, "I expected much more than five hundred bucks." Eddie was steamed. "Frank always cut me in for 10%."
"Listen Eddie, Wilbur said, "that's four times more than most people make around here. I thought it was pretty generous."
"But I saved you thousands of dollars and I can keep doing this, but five hundred isn't enough." Eddie said clearly angered by the disrespect.
"Well Eddie, let's see if you can keep it up and we'll talk next Friday."
People in Las Vegas blame everything on good or bad luck. But nobody really believes there's a force that can make people lose just by being around them, like some kind of force field that makes people lose or for that matter, could make people win either. But it was just that idea that settled in Wilber's head. If this was for rea,l then he had found the golden goose, and for $500 that was a basement bargain. He called Eddie up to the office.
"Let me ask you something Eddie, can you turn it around, this power you got, and make people win?"
"How do you think I do this, this is just bad luck rubbing off. You'll never see me gamble, I can't win either. There's so much bad luck in me that it just doesn't seem to end."
"So you were a gambler at one time?" Wilbur asked.
"I used to play a little," Eddie said with a sheepish grin. Wilber took a C-note out of his pocket and handed it to Eddie.
"Here's another hundred, go try your luck. Don't worry, when you lose, come back up and I'll replace it."
Eddie took the hundred, just grinned and walked down to the casino. Whether you believe in luck or not, when you hit Las Vegas, the word "luck" will fill your mind, as well as your vocabulary. It will be all you'll think about. The dealers say good luck; the cocktail waitresses say good luck when they drop off a drink. The players come to the tables with, "anyone having any luck?" Eddie struggled with the thought of gambling, he has sworn it off, not because he was bad luck, but because once he started winning there was no stopping. It had ruined his marriage and his family, not because he was broke, but because he was never around except to drop off some cash to his wife. But this time it was personal. Wilbur Clarke had disrespected Eddie with the $500 when Eddie had figured he saved the casino owner over $50,000 in that week alone.
He took his favorite place on the blackjack table, bought in with Wilber's $100 and began to play at 7pm. Wilbur had a dinner date with his wife and left a phone number at the restaurant if anything happened. No one called, so Wilbur just went home to bed. But by daybreak, Eddie had cleaned out the rack and the fill that was brought in at 2am. That was well over $42,000 when the shift boss finally made the call. He had fully expected Eddie to start losing it back and he didn't want to have to make the call to Mr. Clarke, but now he had to. Wilber was awakened at 5am. to the sound of his shift boss begging for forgiveness for waking him up but by now he was almost at $50,000.
"He hasn't lost three hands in a row Mr. Clarke. I was going to kick him out but I know he's your friend and I figured he's bound to start losing sooner or later but he hasn't."
"Is he there? Put him on the phone." The shift boss called Eddie into the pit and handed him the receiver. Eddie picked up the phone and said. "Frank always gave me 10% of the action, if you ever insult me by handing me $500 and I'll be on the next flight to Tahoe and we'll let Frank handle it from there."
That was the last time Wilbur saw Eddie. He cashed out the $50,000, handed the dealer the five $100 bills Wilbur paid him and just said to the dealer, "Don't gamble with this money, it's bad luck."
That was the last we heard of Eddie Davis. With his luck, he's probably dead by now…cooler than ever.
Courtesy of The GameMaster Online, Inc.