Monday, September 23

Lessons learned by a self-proclaimed gambling addict


Hi. My name is Sommer. And I have a gambling problem.

At least, I think I might. But it’s just so hard to be
sure these days. As you might have noticed from our cover story
this week, it seems like everybody and their dogs (or “Dogs
Playing Poker?”) are hooked on poker right now. I mean, where
exactly do you draw the line between healthy passion and
destructive obsession?

A little over a year ago, I would have argued that my case was
the former. Heading to Las Vegas in my tiny, beat-up Korean car for
a night or two had, by that point, become a bi-monthly ritual.

From the first time I stepped onto the floor of a Las Vegas
casino, I absolutely loved it. Here was a place where you could
smoke, drink for free, buy collectable spoons, spend too much money
on an over-produced circus act, eat a shrimp buffet for $10.99,
visit a miniaturized stucco version of every major city in the
world, and win money, all at the same time. I mean, what a town!
It’s like the biggest, baddest cruise ship in the world,
minus the rampant communicable diseases and Kathy Lee Gifford. Oh,
and they have hookers! (If you’re into that sort of
thing.)

But I haven’t been back to Las Vegas in a year. The
reason? Well, let’s just say that I had a long, bad night at
the blackjack tables. By the end of it, I had lost all the money I
had to spend on textbooks for Winter 2003, and then some.

Of course, I learned several valuable lessons from my
experience. I learned, for example, that almost all professors
place copies of their required texts on reserve in College Library.
And I learned that if you check out a reserve book within one hour
of closing, you can keep it overnight with no additional
charge.

But did I also learn gambling can be a dangerous hobby, that it
leads to both moral and literal bankruptcy, and that I must vow
never to sit down at a blackjack table again?

Not really. Yes, I did decide that for the remainder of my time
in college, funds being as tight as they are, I should stay away
from Vegas. Going without textbooks for a quarter is one thing, but
what would happen if I had lost even more? I eat cereal or Ramen
twice a day as it is. Does food cheaper than Ramen even exist?

But post-college is a different story. Having spent the last
year in a self-imposed Las Vegas celibacy, I have to admit
I’m itching to go back. And if I actually manage to find
gainful employment at any point after I graduate in a few weeks
(which is definitely in doubt, but the subject of an entirely
different column), I would like to think that I could take my
hard-earned dollars to a casino if I saw fit. It’s my
(theoretical) money. It should be my (theoretical) decision,
right?

Well, maybe not. Maybe I really do have a gambling addiction
that could be characterized as out of control. I’m sure if I
ever went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and shared with the
people there my sincere feelings of absolute euphoria while
gambling, they would agree that I should stay away from it.
Something that feels that good, but can lead to such real and
serious consequences, has to be bad for you.

But I’m still pretty confused about the whole thing, and
it’s easy to see why. Gambling is a hugely popular industry
in this country, and it seems like it is becoming more so every
day. You can hardly turn on the television anymore without seeing
Ben Affleck or one of his celebrity buddies enjoying a Texas Hold
‘em tournament.

Even the government seems to be sending mixed messages about
whether gambling is something people should be careful about.
Casinos around here are relegated to Nevada and Indian
reservations, but playing the Lotto is practically a civic
duty.

I guess in the end, gambling is like any other semi-legal
activity for which people need to take personal responsibility. And
since I’ve managed to stay away from Vegas for a whole year,
I think I can safely argue that I am capable of exercising an
appropriate amount of restraint.

Students who don’t have much money should definitely be
careful about gambling. But if I’m ever fantastically rich,
you can bet you’ll be seeing me on the casino floor.

Maybe that is the real distinction: You only have a gambling
problem if you can’t afford to lose.

E-mail Mathis at [email protected]

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