If I were a gambling man, I’d wager that the gambling bill that’s occupied so much of the Alabama Legislature’s time this session will die when the session ends. I’m sure if I look hard enough, I could find a bookie or an online gambling site that would take that bet. But I’m not very motivated where gambling is concerned.
That’s not to say that I’m not a gambler. I was looking through a desk drawer last week and found a red and white casino chip I’d picked it up in what some might consider it the casino — Casino de Monte-Carlo. It’s imprinted on the chip, along with the numeral 500. We’d been in Nice several years ago, and took a train to Monaco, then weathered the inhospitable terrain to climb a steep grade to the the Place du Casino, flanked on three sides by the casino, Café de Paris, and Hôtel de Paris. We had a glass of prosecco al fresco in front of the café and watched a procession of exotic cars, and then I decided I wanted to hit the casino.
They’ve got it all figured out — “they” being Société Anonyme des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers à Monaco (Anonymous Society of Sea Baths and of the Circle of Foreigners in Monaco), a hastily arranged cabal of investors who took over the fledging gambling house 150 years ago to better fund the ruling House of Grimaldi.
What they’ve figured out is how to bankroll the small nation-state with other people’s money. The casino is still the major source of revenue for Monaco, but no residents are allowed to gamble there. And they’ve learned how to keep out riff-raff and amateurs like me – put an admission charge on the main gambling floor and tuck a handful of slot machines in the corner of one of the public spaces. I quickly lost 20 euros, but won back about 7, then strutted out like I’d broken the house. If you’re wondering about the 500 chip, I bought it in the café gift shop for a couple of euros.
When I was a teenager, some friends and I stumbled upon a place outside Chattahoochee, Florida, where you could bet on jai alai. We’d never heard of jai alai, and didn’t know anything about it. But it didn’t take long to realize that you could place a $2 bet and, if the stars aligned, you might wind up with more money than you came in with. That was what happened the first go-round.
But the second and third, it didn’t pan out that way. Twelve games at $2 a game is a $24 loss for the afternoon. Two weekends of that would wipe a kid out. We were lucky to afford gasoline to get home.
But I hadn’t really learned. When I was in college, Victoryland opened a short piece down the interstate. Dog racing. Some of my pals and I went one evening. We thought we knew what we were doing because we’d been told that all we had to do was watch the dogs beforehand, and bet everything on the dog that squatted just before the race.
It’s bad advice that left me eating buttered noodles for a week.
I knew enough not to bet on sports, because I didn’t know anything about sports. But a few years later I found myself in Macau, and soon in front of a slot machine in the Casino Lisboa (the old one, not that new monstrosity). I bought tokens with a hundred Hong Kong dollars, about $15US. Within about 10 minutes, all hell broke loose on my machine, but all the writing was Chinese, so only knew that I had won. I had a bucket to stick under the chute, and it filled with silver tokens. I cashed out and we left. I don’t know how much I won, but it paid for dinner in the hotel dining room and jetfoil tickets back across the South China Sea to Hong Kong.
So I adopted a new rule. Never more than $20. And gamble $20 whenever a casino materializes.
It has served me well. Except in Cairo, where I wandered into a casino in the Nile Hilton. It was empty except for the staff at the cash window — swarthy Arab men dressed in thawbs and wearing keffiyeh. I wandered up and greeted them with a nod, not knowing if they spoke English. I slid a twenty across the counter and looked around at baccarat and poker tables, and a gleaming roulette wheel. The gentlemen’s smirks were partially hidden by Yosemite Sam moustaches. The guy at the window slid a few coins back to me. “Don’t spend it all in one place,” he said in perfect English.
I disregarded his advice, and within five minutes, my Egyptian tokens had disappeared into a slot machine.
It wasn’t until after my turn in Monaco that it dawned on me that I was experiencing the Monte Carlo fallacy, the belief that something that has happened many times in the past is less likely to happen in the future. In other words, just one more time; I’m due to win. But it doesn’t work that way.
I do have one thing going for me: I can lose $20 in many languages.
Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of the Dothan Eagle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-712-7901. Support the work of Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.