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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/25/11

Gambling: A Malignancy that Thrives on Euphoric Hope Called "ACTION"

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Message Phil Klein
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When I was growing up in Saranac Lake, N.Y. in the "30's and 40's, I became acquainted with my first bona fide   "gambler."    His name was Sam Sherman and he was the proprietor of Saranac's only pool hall, affectionately known by everyone as "the hole."    A solitary door on Broadway opened to a flight of descending stairs, and as one entered, his nostrils were immediately accosted by the smell of stale cigarette and cigar smoke.   (I use "his" because the only female who ever entered the hole was Sam's wife, Fran, who happened to be a considerably larger-proportioned human than Sam.)   When she would make one of her occasional visits to the hole, Sam would alert all of the poolroom's clients to watch their language.   This struck me as funny, because I once heard Sam explode (in her presence) with a torrent of vile language, the likes of which would have made his poolroom patrons gasp and turn green with envy!

It was while I spent many happy hours in "the hole" that I learned much about gambling and Sam's many other activities.    They comprised accepting bets on horses and sporting events; selling what were known as "Treasury Balance tickets" (a version of the "numbers game.") and his participation on many afternoons in card games over at the Hotel Saranac, involving the winning and losing of considerable sums of money. I must not forget to add (for the sake of rounding out the picture) that in Sam's candy showcase in the poolroom, there were other items -" "naughty' ones - that were designated as "special products for men."   These were the days when going into a drug store and asking for condoms was a tense experience.   In those relatively innocent years, many young men who wished to pick up "rubbers" wasted money, buying items such as chewing gum or combs when accosted by a woman clerk.

And as far as gambling is concerned, massive changes have occurred since my youthful years. Today, in America, much sub rosa gambling is still going on, but how times have changed !  Indeed, it would be fair to say that gambling has become a huge public malignancy. This is a strong statement, but history reveals that governments which were involved on a large scale with gambling - for the expressed intention of earning money for social needs - were in the final stages of their existences!

Historically, gambling is nothing new.   But even as some humans can become slaves to alcohol, so can they become addicted to gambling.  I once had an enlightening conversation with a bookie called "Jimmy the Brute"   (he weighed about 100 lbs.) It was in the 50's, and I was playing the piano in a Syracuse restaurant.  What he told me, made me understand what gambling is all about. The driving force for all gamblers (including himself) could be expressed in a single word: action !   Action is the "rush" that an individual feels during the period preceding either winning or losing.   Quite naturally, winning brings euphoria. Losing creates a determination to win again.   Whatever happens, the gambler returns! Thus, Jimmy the brute made a decision that is made by many professional gamblers: to join the side of betting in which they experience much "action" while having an increased chance of making money. That is because of something called "vigorish," which is the fee one pays to be involved in betting with a pro. Simply stated, bookies attempt by many devices (such as adding or subtracting points from "the line" to make both sides of the betting equal. Another way of illustrating vigorish would be to say that one has to bet SIX dollars to win FIVE dollars. You might say that vigorish is a commission. So it turns out that a bookie's ambition is to have a result in which those betting on the winner(s) and those betting on the losers are as close in numbers as possible. That situation provides plenty of vigorish !! It might be noted, that if extra handicapping during the betting period is unable to slow down the betting on one side, the event is "taken off the boards. (No more betting accepted on that event.)   Handicapping is also expressed in odds of winning or losing.        

(By the way: Just about every form of gambling involves the extensive use of numbers , one way or another.)

If persons are genuinely afflicted by an insatiable desire for gambling "action," they are in an impossible and dangerous position. Winning and its accompanying euphoria induce the desire for "more-more-more." Losing often creates a powerful incentive to win everything back!

There are various types of gambling.   Casino gambling offers a variety of opportunities for action. There are the games, (Some of them listed here in the order of most favorable odds for the player.) Incidentally, "most favorable" does not mean that the odds are good! Indeed, all are heavily stacked the other way. The big three are Craps (dice). Blackjack and Roulette.  

Then, of course, there are "the slots," where countless become addicted to sitting - for hours - playing a monotonous statistical "game" featuring occasional large and many small wins.   Slots, offer odds that are close to the worst!   They require no skills beyond pushing buttons. There are other participatory games, such as Lotto and Poker. Their paces vary. Many folks journey to the nearest casino as a matter of sheer habit.  Again, the key word is ACTION in the forms above- some accompanied by a gaggle of bells and whistles and shouting.

Note: You'd be surprised at the number of businesses that become defunct because of their owners' casino habits!   (especially in nearby communities.)

I won't mention horse racing here.   Everyone knows about "the ponies."  The big races, especially the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont) receive mammoth and glamorous TV coverage. But there are countless other tracks AND the big addition of "Off-track betting."   So there are mucho opportunities for playing the ponies in your friendly OTB betting parlors.  P.S. in the latter case, you'd better be a non-smoker

The final "games"   are the ones sanctioned and run by governments.

THE LOTTERIES!                                                             

Ah yes, the State-run lotteries!   These monstrosities do not deserve to be categorized as "gambling."  Perhaps a better title for all of them would be "greed games." With widely repeated brainwashing catch phrases, such as New York State's "Hey"you never know! " they attract a mass of virtual zombies, who stand in line with sheaves of money in their hands to try to fulfill a truly impossible dream. The odds against them are absolutely staggering!

But, hey,"you never know!

Well there is something else that many don't know. That is that a large percentage of those who win the huge lottery jackpots end up being supremely unhappy.   I won't attempt to enumerate the many documented disasters encountered by the lucky winners..

I would be remiss, if I didn't mention another exciting "game" called Quick Draw, which you will find at your friendly beer joint.   There, legions can couple their desires for action with alcoholically-impaired judgments (and senses of responsibility.)

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I have spent a long and interesting life involved in music, as a performer (piano,) educator (at every level from elementary to graduate school,) solo pianist, bandleader, composer/songwriter; entertainer, storyteller and humorist. In my final (more...)
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