Sterling had never gambled before save one time in France at Divonne. There he won about $100 playing roulette at a table well stocked with people either richer than hell or doing a good job of dissembling.
The Gold Strike down the hill from Boulder City, Nevada, was more to Sterling's liking. Seedy. One lonely craps table. And a coffee shop sort of place with a buffet in back. There he could sit as long as he liked with his back to the wall, which he also liked.
He conceived the idea of being a pro gambler. Like many such souls, he automatically assumed no one had ever done the elementary math needed to render casinos powerless in the face of invincible minds. If the stated casino edge varied from a few to many percentage points, that was doubtless a lie put out for the general public.
It is a redemptive fact that Sterling was not inclined to be really stupid, only a little so. Where someone might plunge in, he would dip a toe. Where someone might be incinerated, he would put his finger quickly through a tiny flame.
He turned out to be not half bad at craps and to be almost sage at the black-jack table. He drove down to Binions in Las Vegas and managed to attract a reasonable amount of attention even though he was betting only a few dollars.
More than once, when parked somewhere with his notebook, he would be addressed as professor.
This was in the days when the stars were still visible over Las Vegas. Everything seemed to work. Sterling neither won much nor lost much. He could play or not play. No compulsion.
When he was asked why he gambled, he said it appealed to him more than getting a summer cottage somewhere. Discretionary income.
Amid all this tip-toeing, Sterling was entirely unprepared, several months into his new life, to return to his Boulder City Motel and find Christy sitting in front of his little room in a folding metal chair.