Some will win, some will lose…Gambling, vice, and that Roeper book

I just finished reading Richard Roeper’s latest book, “Bet the House.”  In it, he documents his efforts to gamble 1K a day fora 30-day period.  It must be nice to be a bachelor who’s enjoyed a successful run as an on-camera movie critic.  If I were to gamble away30,000 dollars in the course of one month, I’d either end up in divorce court or prison. 

As a rule, I enjoy Roeper’s writing.  His columns are usually spot-on, and I adore his book on the Chicago White Sox.  That said, “Bet the House” just didn’t do it for me.  The gambling jargon used to describe various poker hands and betting rules found me skipping entire paragraphs to get to something more digestable.  Also, I had a hard time relating to Roeper as the focal point of the book.  When Peter Sagal threw himself into the world of vice, I believed throughout the book that he spoke for “me.”  Sagal was an everyman walking down the serpentine avenues of American vice, chronicling the journey through a shared lens. Conversely, Roeper, a successful, handsome, multimedia star on a first-name basis with Hollywood A-listers, doesn’t much work as a touchstone.  To reiterate, he gambled 1K a day for a month.  Even for the sake of editorial inspiration and investigation, I have a hard time stomaching the book’s premise.  The economy’s been a motherfucker for me and most of my peers. 

I’ve played Hold ‘Em twice in my life, both times as a participant in my office’s quarterly tournament.  My first time playing, I came in second place. For all the skill and experience of the other players, I managed to “catch cards” and bluff adequately enough to make it to the tournament’s intense, forehead sweating, one-on-one throwdown.  I walked away with $30, $25 better than the $5 I forked ove rfor the buy-in.  Easy money!

The experience was pure adrenaline.  I loved it.  I walked back to my car that night thinking that I’d missed out on years of paycheck-doubling opportunities.  I couldn’t wait to play again.

The second time out, I was one of the first people sent home.  All traces of enthusiasm felt from my first “big win” had disappeared. My poker career was over.  Reason had returned.

Gambling is a fun, momentary, rush, and I’m open to it on a very superficial, non-financially threatening, level.  Like most of my friends, I try to remember to buy a Mega Millions ticket every Friday.  When I’m in the Mega Millions moment, I’ll also buy a scratch-off or two.  When I had to stopover at the Vegas airport on my way from Burbank to Chicago, I happily zoned out in front of the slots for an hour to kill time, which found me blowing through $60 in 60minutes.  What happens in Vegas…is usually more interesting than that.  Not much of a story there, sorry. 

I know people who’ve made a career of gambling, sleeping in by day and clenching their buttcheeks by night as they go “all in” with pocket fours in an attempt to make rent.  Gambling for a living is an evolution of one’s vice, a transformation of “bad habits” into something consistent and viable. I’m not wired to even understand what that sort of life would be like.  Living paycheck-to-paycheck is stressful, sure,but at least the paycheck is a “sure thing” throughout the duration of one’s employment.

Roeper mentioned the solitary nature of gambling, and I believe that to be true.  I also think that most regular gamblers have a masochistic streak, something that’s written into the very games they play.  How else to explain the uttering of “Hit me” during Blackjack?

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