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Weekly Confessional: Not a gambling problem, but my problem with gambling

I confess for a list of reasons I won’t go into, I had said I would never visit the casino that was built in Toledo. I confess that Saturday my wife and I were sitting at a pizza joint eating lunch, and she said she wanted to drive up to Detroit to hit one of the casinos. I’m not crazy about essentially throwing $100 or more away, but such excursions can lead to other fun discoveries so I was game.

As time approached to leave the restaurant, she theorized that it didn’t make sense to drive an hour to Detroit in case we dropped whatever we were willing to gamble quickly. We should just go to the casino that was five minutes away and literally on the way home. Whatevs.

It was immediately clear that Ohio’s enforcing its non-smoking laws in the casino was a humongous advantage over the casinos in Michigan (which are exempt from Michigan’s non-smoking laws). Once you’re over that refreshing novelty, though, it’s just another casino.

So, like we always do when we hit a casino, we searched out the video poker and each plugged in a twenty. My credits were gone in literally less than five minutes. My wife didn’t fare much better. So we each threw in another twenty. We may as well have lit those on fire as well. On the third twenty (which hit our allotted gambling amount for the day) my wife, who was playing “Deuces Wild”, hit four deuces for 1,000 credits ($250). Look at that! Gambling IS fun!

My luck had remained unchanged, though, so with my budget blown I was just sitting and watching her try to hit another big hand. Now flush with cash, she announced her “cash out” point (the point at which she would cash out rather than go below this point) and gave me the last twenty we had brought. Not far in, I was dealt two aces and two fives.

Typically, I would hold both pairs and hope for the full house but this particular game’s odds paid very well for hitting four aces. Not only that, but having a pair of aces paid the same as two pair. Knowing this, I used my dabbling in game theory and probability to surmise I should hold just the aces. When I was dealt three fresh cards, two of them were aces. Four aces for 800 credits ($200). I swear to God I was more excited that my playing the odds properly paid off than I was about the money. The money was nice, though.

Now, here’s the reason I dragged you through that boring “I hit at the casino” story. The joy of hitting was incredibly fleeting. We hadn’t even cashed out and my wife pointed out a small list of things we needed or wanted that would absorb these winnings. This was a little deflating, but not as much as the realization that this list could easily grow to include any winnings we could reasonably expect. If we each hit for three or four more four of a kinds or whatever, home repairs, cars, student loans….all could rise up and make themselves known as the responsible way to spend our winnings.

I’m glad we hit for monetary reasons, but I’m also glad we hit because it had the paradoxical effect of showing me the pointlessness of gambling – even aside from the odds being so heavily against winning. Even when you do hit enough to walk away with more money, it’s always just money. There’s always places it needs to go and having unexpected amounts just highlights those obligations. If you ignore them, it’s just a new source of guilt. It’s possible I would’ve paid the amount we had budgeted for the day just to avoid the realization of what feels like a neverending queue of collectors making demands for our gains.

Not only does the house always win, but the house is everywhere.

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March 27, 2013 - Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional

4 Comments

  1. I confess we had a baby. Phoebe Ray K-sky, 3/19/13. 9 lbs 3 oz. She’s so awesome.

    I confess that we named her Phoebe in reference to my Papa Frank (adapting the Jewish tradition of a deceased ancestor’s first initial) and to my Grandma Diane (a mythological echo between moon goddess Artemis/Diana and moon titan Phoebe).

    I confess that additionally, when my sister was born 35 years ago, we had a cat named Phoebe, and I demanded (unsuccessfully) that my sister be named after the cat. So you could say I’ve had this one in my back pocket for a while.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | March 30, 2013

  2. Congratulations, to both you and your wife, Josh. Little Phoebe is adorable, and the numbers guy in me likes that her birthday is a numerical palindrome (as written).

    Comment by mattintoledo | April 1, 2013

  3. Congratulations, 19 is way awesomer than 14. I like Phoebe and I like Ray.

    Comment by Guido Nius | April 1, 2013

  4. Thanks, guys.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | April 5, 2013


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