Sunday, January 21, 2007

Gambling... A Sucker's Bet?

Is it possible that gambling is a growing phenomenon in the United States? It sure seems like it lately. From my circle of friends to the nation-at-large, everybody seems to be falling in love with it. It makes me wonder what I am missing. Is the prospect of "free money" that alluring? I would think that just about anybody with average intelligence would understand that gambling is a sucker's game. But that's simply not the case. It even has a fancy new psudonym- "gaming". Does that really make it more fun?

All over the country people are rediscovering the joys of throwing their money at chance. A google search for "sports betting tips" brings up over 1,700,000 hits. Poker is now a spectator sport on television. State lotteries are thriving. Communities across the nation are considering proposals to bring "gaming" to their towns. It's been big local news here in Pittsburgh over the past couple of years. They are bringing slots to town. That's right... slots. It's fun, ok? You put your change in a machine and it returns up to 92 cents (by average) on every dollar you spend. Moronic is what that is. I'll make change for anbody that will take 90 cents on the dollar. And I'll even smile and wish you good fortune. But people get addicted to it. They sit on uncomfortable stools and stare robotically at a series of rotating symbols. And wait for a courtesy drink of alcohol. Not in Pittsburgh though... no free drinks at the new casino. So what's the point?

I'm sure it was different when gambling was confined to Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Go to the ocean and stroll the boardwalk after you blow your load. Grab a hooker on the strip in the city of lights. Send your wife and kids off to see Siegfried and Roy get mauled, while you sit unperturbed at the blackjack table. Whisk away your pregnant girlfriend and get married in an Elvis-themed chapel. These were exotic destinations that for most Americans had broader appeal than a trip to France. For godssake, people would even drive a couple of hours to get to Wheeling, WV. Granted that it's exotic... but c'mon. Who's really going to care when they can go to the nearest city to do it? Just the addicts I'm sure.

I avoid watching sports on television and equally avoid most people that do so. So sports betting has absolutely no appeal to me. It's world lurks on the periphery in the after-hours club, or around the water cooler. It doesn't usually bother me because I'm not around it. I'm sure it makes seeing the games more interesting. But I couldn't care less. I learned my essential lesson about betting on sporting events by putting together my own weekly football pool with a friend in middle school. I collected the money and he won the first week. The next week our mutual friend was miraculously ahead. On the third week my partner won and people began to get suspicious. We pocketed our profits and retired. Of course... the only way to win is to be the house. It's that simple.

Now even my intelligent, artistically-minded buddies are getting into the act. No... they won't watch sports either. They now have poker night. It started out harmlessly... just something to do to pass the time while bullshitting about diverse topics. Penny ante stuff... just for fun. A year or so later and people are dropping a hundred bucks (and more) in a night. And they are still trying to get me to join in. They dangle the attraction of being around an interesting group of folks. Not me though... no way. I know that they look at me as "fresh meat". They say, "Oh, but you'd be really good at it. The psychological aspects would intrigue you." But I haven't broken down yet.

The only thing in the way of gambling that has been the slightest bit intriguing is horseracing. I'm not talking about off-track betting. That sounds like an opportunity to blow a month's salary in an environment with all the charm and substance of a sports bar in a strip mall. No... what attracts me to the idea of the horses is seeing them run live. I like the idea of the atmosphere of the track... grizzled old men smoking cigars and dropping peanut shells at their feet. Blue-haired ladies having a hi-ball in the lounge. A legless guy on a wheeled tray tooling around and selling tip-sheets. Now that sounds like fun.

I even think that I would find studying the racing forms compelling... with the colorful names of the horses with their past times marching across the pages. The old-style analog board with the changing odds displayed... the scratchy P.A. system announcing the winners... the dust rising from the track as the thoroughbreds thunder by... this is all quite appealing to me in its cinematic qualities. But even though I've been wanting to take such a trip for awhile, I haven't done so. Because ultimately I wouldn't want to find out that I was a sucker just like everybody else. I guess I'd rather keep my illusions.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'll never be a mark worth calling in.

12:52 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

That's right. In the English sense, I guess I could be referred to as "mean".

11:41 AM  
Anonymous marc v. said...

yes, gambling is coming to our fair town soon... As one who lived in Nevada for about 12 years, let me just tell you about a few things. For one, there is a saying that is well known around those parts: "Casinos are build on losers money".
I saw a small, gambling city burgeon and swell within a few scant years. I've seen the lack of proper foresight, and the social ills. I have been witness to gambling addicts. None of it is any good. None of it is a contributive factor towards establishing a new identity - especially in a town that's been struggling with that for a couple of decades now, and that I thought was getting a lot closer lately.
What will the benefits be? Perhaps the casino will be the first "green" LEED certified casino in the world? Perhaps, like Nevada, the state will exempt it's whole population from a personal income tax? Neither of these is very likely..... I know this city and county have seen better days economically, but is this the answer?

12:32 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

marc,

Thanks for adding your informed perspective. I agree with your position.

If "this" is the answer, then I think we've asked the wrong questions.

9:42 PM  

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