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