I was having a late lunch one Saturday at a popular eatery near campus.  It’s a small dark place, but they have great tuna fish sandwiches, root beer floats, and they make their own crunchy version of potato chips.

It was during playoff season when they pile the games on twenty-four hours a day, it seems, and of course, this being a college crowd, all the TVs in the place were tuned to the local favorites.  I’m not much interested sports, but sometimes you can’t avoid it. I gathered it was a close game, to say the least, and there was considerable cheering and gasping and groaning as the ball bounced back and forth across the court.

Not far from my table I noticed one guy in particular who was sitting at the bar nursing a beer, apparently not sharing in the general excitement and hubbub.  He actually sat quite still and rigid.  His face was a mask.  And it interested me.

The game was coming to its raucous conclusion and people were in a frenzy –  but not my guy.  As it turned out, when the buzzer finally rang, the local team lost by two points, and there was a collective lament in the bar.  But people got back to their drinking and laughing.

My guy’s shoulders slumped, and a horrible expression spread over his face, such an expression of despair and anguish as I had rarely seen.  He seemed almost catatonic.  There, I thought to myself, sits a serious gambler, a gambler who this time obviously had bet the wrong team or the wrong point spread, and now he had to come up with some major jack before the collectors and their enforcers started making their rounds, and his life beyond miserable.

Wouldn’t be much peace of mind for studying tonight!

What makes a person gamble on something like a basketball game?  It’s probably ridiculous to try to apply logical reasoning to unpack such an illogical action.  There you are placing all your faith alias money in five people.  I wouldn’t place my money at risk if it depended on five guys I don’t even know.  Why do thousands, millions of people do it?  I don’t know.  The only thing I can think of is that they believe in magic, that somehow, mystically almost, they are able to foretell the outcomes of something as indeterminate as a basketball game, where pressures of a great many varieties – legal as well as illegal — are brought to bear on coaches and players.

The old canard that betting on sports is no different from the putting money in the stock market is too silly to merit serious refutation.  Just for starters, you’re not betting unless you’re a speculator, and those people probably lose as much money as the sports gamblers do.  Investing is not reliance on clutch performances by five guys just out of their teens and under a major squeeze.  Unless you’re doing it on margin, nobody is going to come after you for a pay out if you bet wrong.  There is just a touch more regulation in the market than with bets you lay off with your favorite bookie.  And so on and so forth.

I read once the that the dollar volume of betting on college sports among college students alone  is absolutely huge.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but that article gave some anecdotal evidence to back up its claim, including an account of travelling collectors who crisscrossed the nation’s campuses at all times of day and all days of the week to make sure that somebody’s books somewhere got cleared.

When I was a teenager I worked one summer (1954) as a lifeguard and made about 35 cents an hour or some ridiculous sum like that; one day my brother and I went out with a friend to the Del Mar race track north of San Diego and bet on the ponies, and I promptly – and, in retrospect, thankfully – lost all my hard-earned money (shades of the new and much-touted HBO series Luck that began last night?).  Right then and there I stopped believing in that kind of magic, and made a promise (never broken) to myself that I would never gamble again, even on an office pool.

But I do think about that slumped figure at the bar from time to time, and feel quite lucky that since that gut-wrenching afternoon at Del Mar all those years ago, gambling has never been among my vices.

That would be a tough one!

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2 Responses to Gambler

  1. Tried a casino once and left with a feeling similar to the one you describe.

  2. Helga says:

    From observing two of my friends who gamble (always claiming of winning), I think that gambling brings an excitement into their lives that is missing in their lives/their marriages. Sometimes it almost sounds like a revenge when they gamble their husbands money away. In limits fortunately.

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