I was in Lake Tahoe once on some sort of vacation. The lake was beautiful. The weather was miserable. The main recreation of the other visitors appeared to be gambling. There were even busses which brought old folks from Sacramento, CA, to the casinos to gamble for the weekend.

You'd see them shuffling off the busses with their Social Security checks in their wrinkled hands on Friday night. Saturday mid-morning you could see some of them hunched over the slots, weeping silently. By Saturday night, they would be plodding along to the buffet with abject despair in their clouded eyes.

When the bus left on Sunday, it was like watching a bunch of Jews being put on a train by armed guards back around 1941.

I see it all around me now, with all the new casinos popping up everywhere you look. I don't get it.

I've had a lot of addictions in my life, but it was always so obvious to me that gambling was a dumbass way to throw your money down the toilet.

For an addictive type of personality not to understand an addiction is troubling.

"To gamble is to risk anything of value on a game of chance or on the outcome of any event involving chance, in the hope of profit." --Peter Arnold "The Encyclopedia of Gambling" Collins 1978

"Gambling under the common law is any activity in which: (1) a person pays something of value, called consideration; (2) the outcome is determined at least in part by chance; and (3) the winnings are something of value." --J Nelson Rose "Gambling and the Law" 1986 Gambling Times Inc at page 75

Participation in games of chance. An entertaining activity, due to a fluke in human psychology that makes people enjoy a bit of uncertainty.

Over the long term, most people lose money at gambling, but in the short term, there are drastic fluctuations both up and down. Know the odds, don't play with money you can't afford to lose, and don't let gambling rule your life.

Casinos make a business of helping people gamble, and assisting them in losing their money. There are also bookies for betting on sports, racetracks for betting on greyhound and horse racing. And if all else fails, start a poker night with your friends.

They stand there, eyes glazed, feeding the slotted maw, tugging the single arm. Flashing lights, electronic noises and free beer, pass them by, as they focus on the wheels, spinning strawberries and lemons and watermelons.

I wonder as I watch: do they know how they are being manipulated? Do they realise that the machine is set up by engineers who design every detail of the hardware and software, to take their money away. That the machine stashes the quarters away before it finally spits out a fraction of the sum fed into it. Do they know the odds?

At a blackjack table, the punter thinks he knows it all, while the dealer knows the house advantage. Chips pass across the table, sometimes this way, sometimes that, but the house knows the odds. The house sets the odds. The house is going to take 10 percent of the money staked that day. And the next and the next, here in this world where there is no night, where the desert heat never makes you sweat and the dry sand pours forth water in fountains and canals and rivers.

Gambling. I never saw the point, except perhaps when I could be the bank. I never felt the thrill of having one more bet. Never saw the excitement in double or quits; never needed to feed the slots. Never saw a more pointless way to give away my money for no return.

I know the numbers: know the odds, and yet, whenever they tell me about their trips to Vegas, or Atlantic City, or Monte Carlo, or Prague or Budapest or Hong Kong or The Hague, those friends who seek out casinos always win. I wish I had their secret. Eternal optimism, perhaps, or maybe just permanent denial of all losses.

I don’t understand gamblers. Maybe I’m a pessimist. Maybe eternal optimists remember only the wins, and never look at the net gains—or losses.

I went to Vegas. Once. If any modern city can be described as a miracle, then Vegas is truly a miracle.

Sitting in the desert, it gulps down water and consumes electricity. Everything seems inverted. Food and rooms are cheap. Alcohol is more readily available than almost anywhere else in America—or so it seems to the tourist. All because they want you to put your quarters in the slots and pass your chips across the blackjack tables and watch the pretty red and black numbers go round and round and round.

Poker, bridge and backgammon, I can understand. That’s not gambling; that’s playing a game you enjoy, with an added twist



Gambling began with participants betting on who would win at games of strength and skill. Eventually fans also began betting on the results.

Dice may be the oldest gambling device still in existence. Gambling was popular among ancient Egyptians. Ancient Chinese also gambled. Romans were great gamblers but had laws against it.

New Orleans was the first major gambling center in the USA. Between 1718 and 1811 gambling grew in taverns and coffee houses with rooms and tables for private gambling. In 1811 gambling was prohibited in Louisiana. This did little to actually stop gambling in New Orleans. In 1823 gambling was legalized again and a charge of $5,000 for a gambling license was required. The money was to be applied toward hospitals and colleges. From then on large public casinos came to dominate the gambling scene in New Orleans, making it America’s first gambling destination city.

Gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931. Many small casinos began popping up in Las Vegas and eventually in other areas of the state such as Reno, Tahoe, Laughlin, and Primm. The many motels and hotels and later the huge resorts that characterize Las Vegas now did not come around for another fifteen or so years.

Let me start with a sentence from Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler – “I look upon the generally accepted opinion concerning the folly and the grossness of hoping to win at gambling as a thing even more absurd. For why is gambling a whit worse than any other method of acquiring money? How, for instance, is it worse than trade? True, out of a hundred persons, only one can win; yet what business is that of yours or of mine?”  The attempt here is not to address a moral question, but to find out the thought process by gambling.

 

The tendency to gamble probably indicates the subconscious identification of the fact that one can lose everything in the fraction of a second. It also addresses the remote possibility of being able to gain everything which has been lost in a similar time interval. The gambler derives a certain joy in this suffering, the continuous uncertainty which remains the most exciting, if not fearsome aspect of his life. Most of the technological advances made by humanity are attempts to limit the uncertainty with regard to health, transportation, communication etc.  However, deep inside the human mind, one knows the certainty of the uncertain flow of events in one’s life and that the only certain thing that man is assured of, is death. All the material progress in the world is intended to take care of the uncertainty in life, whereas the all the spiritual endeavours are to take care of the only certain element – the closure of life.

Gambling is one of the few activities in life which takes care of both the aspects – the uncertainty of winning and almost certain defeat. Wins during a gambling session does not excite the gambler as much as the disappointment during the losses, if one were to measure the excitement/contentment and the disappointment by proper scales. The losses make the gambler more determined to win, he will be determined to not make the most obvious stupid mistakes, just as a sick person is determined to get back to well-being by not going on a binge. Whereas, the wins give him the false impression that he is solely responsible for it and the false hope that he will continue winning.

The prudence observed by the ‘good gambler’ is seen by the ‘sincere gambler’ as cowardice, because the sincere gambler is almost always the fool and the loser. The sentiment which goes through his mind is probably “I have risked everything and you are reluctant to part with a small share of your fortune!”

Even if he were in dire straits, the proud person upon losing a gamble portrays himself like the General in Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler, who in one instance, rises from the gambling table smiling, restraining himself from venting his disappointment. For me the pretentiousness in front of the gambling table is the mother of all. Gambling being a miniature model of life itself for the desperate and the hopeful (“there is no despair without hope”), one who pretends in that setting is more likely to pretend before everyone including the person who he loves most. Here I talk about the desperate and the hopeful and not the indifferent because, I believe that  hell is the unbearable state of being indifferent to everything and I am not there yet.

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