Frank Sinatra the gambler
A crazy head
Sinatra's association with and part-ownership of Las Vegas -in the 1960s he owned a 9 per cent stake in the Sands Hotel- is a potent part of his image. One of the most famous stories about Sinatra's approach to gambling was told by the vibraphonist and bandleader Red Norvo. "I've seen him go up to the baccarat table with ten thousand dollars", said Norvo, "sit down, put a bandle on the table, ride it up to thirty thousand, lose it, and walk away with a shrug." But as the comedian Don Rickles said about Sinatra: "He gets up in the morning and God throws money on him." For most of Sinatra's professional life, cash-flow was not an issue.
It should also be remembered that much of Sinatra's gambling was bankrolled by the venue, especially at the Sands. He used house credit to gamble, so if he won, he kept the winnings as a perk of the job, and if he didn't, he didn't have to pay his marker. He did, after all, part-own the place.
Faber fortunae suae
So Sinatra's gambling had little to do with gaming: it was all about the way he ran his life, in wihch impatience and vision led him to make risky decisions and turn his world around. He could have had a comfortable few years with Tommy Dorsey, but he gambled on a solo career, which at the time was unknown territory for a singer. He could have carried on making movies for whoever paid him, but he chose to take a risk with his own production company. He could have carried on making records for Capitol, but he gambled on Reprise and pioneered the artist-run record company. The odds of success were in his favour because he wasn't just waiting around for good luck. Things didn't happen to him: he made things happen. And of course, sometimes he failed, but he rarely sat around long enough to nurse his bruises.
The biggest gamble of all was trading his family for Ava Gardner, and it didn't come off. Permanent losses included his press agent and his sense of where home was. Temporarily, he lost his confidence, his voice, his fans and his will to live -and eventually he lost Ava too. The failure created the energy that he would bring to the rest of his life to fill the void; but his daughter Tina wrote of a man who became racked with almost catatonic depression, full of the pain and regret that he had staved off for years. "I should never have left you", his first wife would hear from her aging ex-husband, "I should never have left home." It was the one bet that he was unable to walk away from with a shrug.