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Gambling is often called an addiction. Repetitive behaviors that are beyond the power of the individual to control may be addictions. Similarly, ideas beyond control are obsessions. There is an inability to get away from the slot machine or to get the horse race out of one’s mind. The terms “drug addict,” “sex addict,” “food addict,” and “workaholic” are used freely to describe people who can’t stop their activity. Gambling, however, has a special quality. There is always the dim hope that one can “break the bank” and be rich beyond one’s wildest dreams. Hope is one of the things we all need so badly. In this aspect of preserving hope, gambling works like belief in the afterlife. Your lucky number may come up eventually, so keep trying. Poor people are more likely to gamble on the numbers, or Lotto and Bingo, or at the race track. Wealthy people gamble in stocks, bonds, commodities, and leveraged buyouts. Rank saw a connection between human sacrifice and games (Rank, 1932, reprinted in 1989, pp. 294 and 303). At a later stage of sacrifice, a substitute (human or animal) could be found, and “an element of deceit crept in; a ‘gambling with fate.’” This gambling with or tricking of fate was a game of life and death.
The competitive character of games, too, seems to be primitive, though playing to win a prize is a very late development. The original victor in the competition … did not content himself with honor alone: what he won was his life, which the defeated rival usually forfeit. (Rank, 1932, reprinted in 1989, p. 303)
We all remember (from the movies) the Roman gladiators and the crowd that turns thumbs down on the loser. The gamble with death has become transmuted into a gamble for money and power in most major sports. If one has any doubt, think of the infamous attack by Tonya Harding and her henchmen on her fellow figure skater and rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Harding’s ex-husband and his co-conspirators arranged to hit Kerrigan in the knee with a baton, thus putting her temporarily out of commission. This enabled Harding to get on the Olympic team in 1994. There was worldwide shock, perhaps because a woman was
or even off the field. by Gerri Hirshey (1994. the divorced or . the “downsizing” of many corporations. reprinted in 1989. cards and numbers to be $43 billion. p. Ads for racetracks and gaming and professional sports (where illegal gambling is rampant) are legion. This loss of security makes a gambling “fling” more attractive. The most important of these is the depressed national mood. the discus). 36ff. p. recorded music and park and arcade attractions … The amount Americans spent on all forms of legal wagering last year. and boxing. More Americans went to casinos than to major league ballparks in 1993. Attacks during play. We all would like to know what “hand” fate will deal us. 1994. books. Gambling for money has been substituted for gambling for life or death. Ninety-two million visits! Legal gambling revenues reached $30 billion. p. Games and fortune telling are linked. 37) The legal take of 30 billion and the illegal take of 43 billion makes an estimated total of $73 billion dollars. (Hirshey. Rank (Rank. are in some derivative fashion a way of dealing with death. court. $330 billion—has set a historical precedent of its own. and the loss of medical coverage and pension plans. A second factor is the drive of politicians at the state and federal levels to raise money for governmental expenses without raising taxes. (Hirshey. Gambling and Wagering Business magazine. A third factor is the selling of gambling via the mass media.178 CHAPTER 14 involved. in its most recent survey. Let’s not forget that the Greek Olympic games were originally a preparation for war (running. whether sports or card games. or out of the rink or ring. such as football pools and card games where money changes hands. an article in The New York Times magazine.) gives some astounding statistics about its popularity in the United States. figured the aggregate illegal take for horses and sports betting books. since there is a lot of informal betting. the javelin. 36) Hirshey attributes this apparent sharp increase in gambling to several factors. Hirshey says the government takes in $25 billion on lotteries each year. There are billions to be made by corporations that finance the casinos and sports arenas. are common. So games. how many people does it damage? If people who are down on their luck in general—the jobless. p. forced retirements. triggered by the loss of jobs (especially good jobs). 1932. hockey. While I have not researched the prevalence of gambling in other countries. Yet gambling is widespread in such sports as football. If gambling raises the hopes of many. 1994. but the violent aspects of the Roman gladiator games linger on. 304) also describes how Tarot cards and other games foretold of death. which is more than the combined take for movies. and because it happened in a sport usually considered to be nonviolent. wrestling. This is probably a gross underestimation. basketball. which are political poison.
GAMBLING 179 separated.” Of course. and eating food. The government wasn’t promoting gambling then. Even if we assume that the economic outlook in the United States is not always positive or stable across the socioeconomic range. 53) Again. can it account for the widespread gambling urge? If 10% of our households (perhaps 20% of our population) visit casinos each year. More basic than economics is the fact that each of us is gambling every day. If you look outside an Off Track Betting (OTB) storefront. or may not be able to pay his losses. a special employee training program helps spot customers losing control. the minorities—are more likely to gamble. it is unlikely that there has been a sharp increase in gambling lately. and some unknown but greater number bet on horses. the staff may intervene. and cards. We take chances crossing the street. . When a customer is so reckless that the casino thinks he will be a troublemaker. this is probably a severe underestimate. and road building. and as old as mankind. trying for “one more chance. Estimates on the percentage of the American population at risk for the problem vary between 1 and 3 percent. p. the crippled. You could homestead and get 160 acres free if you farmed it. it is hard to believe that this was due to a contraction of hope. You don’t have to be a fundamentalist born-again Christian to be against the government’s promotion of gambling. You could join the gold rush (an opportunity. but also a gamble). the government is taking their last dollar to finance schools. It just grew by itself. or to save it to pay their medical bills. wars. numbers. and the gambling (and killing) over cards throughout our history. prisons. you will invariably see a collection of the outcasts of our society. 1994. Betting was a booming business just as the westward expansion took place. If you look back at the riverboat gambling. We might die of a heart attack brought on by stress in some corporate jungle. They generally do not plead with clients to keep their money for the house or car mortgage. welfare. working in an office or factory. gambling is not limited to the United States. Gambling is a worldwide phenomenon. Murder by guns and knives is part of the main course on nightly television news shows. And what of the great middle-class of gamblers? Are some of them at risk of self-destruction through gambling? At Harrah’s (a casino). and thus contributing to their downfall. or get injured by machinery in a factory or a mine. Even CEOs are vulnerable to sudden dismissal at the hands of stockholders (especially holders of mutual funds) and through hostile takeovers. Sex in this age of AIDS is a bet with death. Food poisoning reports are in the papers every day. We might be hit by a car. sports. as are stories about environmental contaminants that kill or disable us. (Hirshey. then they are inevitably going to slide further down the slope. The nation had never been so brimming with hope and opportunity. however. and profit is their motive. They are not psychotherapists. And of course. the aged. We gamble with our lives.
which is to be born human and fated to die. Each hand we win gives us hope. we tempt fate. and living happily.180 CHAPTER 14 By betting. The most we can get from the Dealer is a helping hand—the worst is the Ace of Spades. . A game of cards (or any bet) is a small test case of the final hand of Fate. living creatively. by gambling on sports. laugh in the face of our finitude. The only odds that are minimally realistic are the odds of living long. of “seeing our ship come in. we would all like to see what hand Fate will deal us. To return to Rank’s idea. The odds of dying versus living to age 200 are infinity versus zero. and they are almost impossible to predict for any one individual. horses. even though the odds are against us. We court “lady luck. numbers. living well. The repetition–compulsion of gambling finds its power in the repeated efforts to trick Fate. We keep up our hopes of a breakthrough. Yet the odds in cards.” then. and even in slot machines are much better than the odds of our living forever.” In effect. We defy death. but know we cannot predict the future. to force her to spare our lives and give us security. or numbers. dogs. we take our attention away from our daily gamble with death. is in its power to conquer our fear of death—to give us an occasional victory over our basic bad luck.” We want this mother figure to be good to us. No one gets through life alive. and hope for life eternal. The strength of this “addiction.
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