Playing Craps with Senator McCain

Twenty years ago, I met Senator John McCain - not at a political rally, town hall meeting, or even a D.C. restaurant – but at a Craps table in Vegas.

My husband and I were on a holiday from our demanding lives back home – no kids yet, but medical school for him, and a grueling litigation career for me, gave us reasons to escape every now and then. (My law firm salary also gave us a little disposable cash to squander at the casinos just for fun). We were walking through the table section of the then-newly-opened Bellagio Casino and we were drawn in by the loud and energetic crowd surrounding one particular Craps game – always a good sign of a lucky table. We jumped into two newly opened spots at the table, and only then did we notice whose turn it was to roll the dice – the Senator himself.

Senator McCain had a good long run rolling dice at the table – if memory serves correctly, he rolled for about an hour. I remember that we won enough at the table to pay for most of our hotel bill, including some fabulous dinners. When he finished rolling, we thanked him profusely for his service to the country (and the lucky streak!) and I remember him as gracious, stately, humble, and joyful.

In the years since, I’ve followed his public life in the same way many have – agreeing and disagreeing with political philosophies while unequivocally admiring his strength, conviction, and heroism.  When I hear his name in the news, I aways go back to that meeting at the side of a Vegas gaming table and smile at the memory. 

Over the years, I've shared the “We met Sen. McCain in Vegas!” story not just because it’s a unique one, (and one that pre-dated social media and iPhone selfies, so it has a sort of mythical lore about it), but because it is linked with such a genuine authenticity in my memory. And to those tempted to criticize us both for gambling (!), I roll out my "Craps is a metaphor for life" argument.

You see, the whole premise for Craps (bear with me, this is boiled down to the simplest of terms) is to bet that the dice roller will not roll a “7” – the easiest, most common roll on two dice. (Yes, there’s a little more to it than that, and yes, some people bet against the roller, and they are no fun at all, so we ignore them). In other words, it’s a whole game premised on betting against the norm, betting against the easy way out. I love that about it. It’s also a communal game – the table that supports the roller wins and loses together for the most part. Sure, some people will take bigger risks and make bigger investments – but still, the table as a whole will either be a winning one, or a losing one, and when played correctly, it's not a game where an elite few at the table win on the backs of the losers. There's an egalitarian feel to the Craps table – every player gets a turn to roll the dice – there’s no roller for the "house” – it’s up to the players to make their own luck – their own fortune. But you can pass the dice also; that’s up to you. If you think someone else can do a better job, you can send the dice their way – you’re just asked to remember to support them when they take up the slack.

I learned to play Craps right around the time I was starting law school; its rhythm always seemed to emanate a kind of fairness that I could embrace. Later on, when I left BigLaw, with three kids in tow, there was less disposable income to spend on gambling of any kind, so a big Craps game like the one that night with Senator McCain actually stands out in my memory for more than one reason. 

I’ll leave it to others to eulogize Senator McCain’s positions on national security, foreign policy, health care, social justice, our country’s current moral direction, patriotism and heroism. But I’ll pipe up from the back of the room and add to the mix: a memory of Senator McCain in which he was playing a game that at its core is a fun and lively instructional metaphor for politics and life.

And playing it well.



Amy Impellizzeri is a former corporate litigator, start-up executive, and award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction. Her debut novel, LEMONGRASS HOPE (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing 2014) was a 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Bronze Winner and a National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist. Amy’s newest novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA, (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing 2017), is a National Indie Excellence Awards Winner for Legal Thriller, and has been called “clever, mind-bending and darkly original” (NYT Best-Selling Author Heather Gudenkauf) “thrilling and well-plotted” (NYT and USA TODAY Best-Selling Author Julie Cantrell) and a “perfectly compelling read all the way to the shocking end.” (USA TODAY AND WSJ Best-Selling Author Kimberly Belle). Amy is also the author of LAWYER INTERRUPTED (ABA Publishing 2015). Amy is a frequent invited speaker at Lawyers in Transition Meetings, annual Bar conferences, and creative writing workshops across the country. She is a member of the Tall Poppy Writers and the Past President of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Keep in touch at

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