Perfectly Dark and Perfectly True

Bet on the house...

Written by Jimmy Mengel
Posted September 21, 2021

The world got a lot less funny last week…

Norm Macdonald — perhaps my favorite comedian of all time — died after a private battle with cancer. That term “battle” is thrown around a lot in these situations, and it’s only natural that Norm had already used it in a joke. 

“In the old days, a man could just get sick and die. Now, they have to wage a battle,” Macdonald said in one of his last stand-up specials. “The reason I don’t like it is because in the old days, they’d go: ‘Hey, that old man died.’ Now, they go: ‘He lost his battle.’ That’s no way to end your life: ‘What a loser that guy was! Last thing he did was lose!’”

It’s dark humor for sure, but Norm was anything but a loser.

He hosted Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update for years, had several of his own television shows, and did stand up all over the world. I had the privilege of witnessing him in person several times and he killed it with his irreverent, dry, and complex humor.

If you want an example, look no further than his moth joke.

But there was something else Norm MacDonald was known for that can be a tool in your portfolio...

Gambling.

Norm was well-known for his intense love of casinos. In one tale recounted by GQ writer Michael Caplan, he watched Norm’s notorious gambling up close for a weekend and documented it.

Norm Macdonald read Beat the Dealer at age eight and learned to count cards. Growing up on a farm in rural Canada, he passed time by dealing himself endless hands of bridge and whist. Before he’d finished high school, he had developed into such a strong backgammon player that he was competitive on the tournament circuit. Around the time of our weekend together in 2006, he had perfected an impressive memory trick: Remove any card from a deck and Norm could quickly sort through the 51 remaining cards to tell you which one you selected. It’s precisely the stunt that Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, a legendary figure in that era’s poker boom, performed on ESPN. However, there’s a critical difference between famously brainy Jesus and Norm: Norm did it quicker.

However, like any gambler, he didn’t always come out on top. In fact he had quite a few bad days in Vegas, as Kaplan recounts after loaning him a thousand of his own dollars:

 “Oh, well,” he told me. “I bet the $1,000 and won. Then I kept doubling until I ran it up to $8,000. Then I bet table max [$5,000] and lost. Then I bet the remaining $3,000 and lost that.”

“You kept betting all your money?” I asked, a little incredulous, trying to focus on the poker.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I always do at the end of a trip. But if you had loaned me $10,000, I’d’ve run it up to at least 30, and I’d still be playing.”

The old dilemma of gambling...

Now, I’m not here to demonize or glorify gambling. But as someone who has been to Vegas more times than I’d care to disclose, I do know this: the casinos always win. And gambling itself is moving to places far outside of Vegas...

We’ve already seen states like Virginia and Tennessee legalize gambling this year. 

Sports betting is legal in 21 U.S. states right now, including New Jersey, obviously, and Pennsylvania. People go to other states to gamble, which led my own state of Maryland to legalize gambling to avoid people going to other states to spend their money.

I personally have been to the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Baltimore — for a Norm Macdonald show, I should add — but witnessed a lot of money being parted from the customers that would have gone to Delaware otherwise.

But there are four pillars that have not legalized it: California, New York, Texas, and Florida.

My bet is that at least two of those will fall, opening up billions in additional revenue and jobs.

Here are two ways to play it...

The first one is an ETF with the perfect ticker: (NYSE: BETZ) Roundhill Sports Betting & iGaming.

It tackles the online stuff pretty well, as its major holdings are Penn National Gaming Inc. (NASDAQ: PENN), Flutter Entertainment PLC (LSE: FLTR), and the big one this year, Draftkings Inc. (NASDAQ: DKNG).

It even focuses on SPACs betting on sports-betting technology and data providers. It has an expense ratio of 0.75% and 40 holdings.

It’s up 80% since it debuted last year.

The other more traditional play is VanEck Gaming ETF (NASDAQ: BJK).

While the pandemic has again curbed visits to “Sin City,” that will pass and these casinos will go back to making money hand over fist. 

BJK has holdings in the real world, like Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ: WYNN) and Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS) — which Norm frequented along with thousands of other gamblers. People will start flooding these casinos as soon as they can. It should do quite well this year and beyond. 

Though I have my issues with Vegas — and gambling — I like money where I can get it. Considering that Wall Street is the house and you are the mark, I would suggest betting on the house.

Rest in peace, Norm Macdonald. I’ll leave you with this: “The only time I went to a psychiatrist, it was for gambling. And he was like, ‘You gamble to avoid life.’ And I was like, ‘Isn’t that why you do everything?’”

Perfectly dark, and perfectly true.

Godspeed,
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Jimmy Mengel

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Jimmy is a managing editor for Outsider Club and the investment director of several personal finance advisories, The Crow's Nest, and The Adventure Capitalist For more on Jimmy, check out his editor's page.

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