It's not that I disapprove of gambling. It's possible, however, that I'm too much of a cheapskate to enjoy it. Though, I must say, when I was about ten I was a whizz on the Penny Falls in the very old-fashioned amusement arcade in Tenby. It was one of those where you roll a penny down a slot; and if you got the angle and the timing exactly right, then a whole load of pennies would fall off at the end and you'd be perhaps half a crown richer and feel like a millionaire. I absolutely loved it.
At what could perhaps be described as the other end of the gambling scale, I was watching Louis Theroux at the Hilton Casino in Las Vegas.
We followed the gambling fortunes of several people. There was a high-roller (oh yes, I picked up the terminology) who had made his money in mattresses. The Hilton let him stay for free in their best suite whilst lackeys looked after his every need and gave him three thousand dollars' worth of freebies. It was very clear that all this made Mattress Man feel extremely important. The bloke who was in charge of looking after him described him as "a friend" and didn't seem to notice the fact that I was yelling "Yeah, right! Course
he's your friend!" at the screen.
I wanted a quiet word with Mattress Man. I wanted to point out that if a casino gives you a free suite - the biggest in North America, apparently - and three thousand dollars' worth of free goodies, then it is because they can see that you are going to lose, in their casino, far more than the cost of the suite and the goodies combined.
In fact, therefore, instead of feeling important, he should have felt like a fool. He lost, and lost, and won a bit, and lost some more, but still felt important, because it made him feel good to stay in that posh suite and have lots of money to lose. He did mention that his wife hated his gambling, and I'm sure he was entirely correct in this assertion.
Then there were two middle-management types. One of them played until he'd lost as much as he'd allowed himself and then stopped. And that, in my book, is fine. If you enjoy the excitement of gambling, and can set a limit of losses as the price of your fun night out - well that's fine and there's nothing wrong with it.
The other one played until he'd lost as much as he'd allowed himself, and then played some more, and lost some more, and then got drunk and said things like "I'm not a quitter," and then played some more, and lost a lot more, and refused to stop playing, and got a bit more drunk, and lost some more.
Louis Theroux kept asking the staff what they'd do if someone was losing a lot more than they thought he or she could afford to lose. The staff weren't quite sure what to say.
Finally there was an elderly female doctor. She came every day and put in a shift on the slot machines. "She's the nicest lady I've ever met," said one of the staff.
I was shouting again. "Yeah, right! Course
she's the nicest lady you've ever met!"
Over the past few years this very nice lady had lost four million dollars at that casino.
Her rather bemused son said "Well, she enjoys it."
But a large bit of me says that well, if she was that
nice, she could have given her four million dollars to charity.
Or, if she wanted to spend it more selfishly - and it was her money to enjoy as she pleased, after all - then she could have gone on four million dollars' worth of travel, taking her friends with her. (Yes, I know, this might be what I'd do if I happened to have four million dollars).
But endlessly, endlessly feeding it into slots in machines, all day, every day, for the profit of the Hilton empire? I think that's just plain sad.
There's an old joke where a bloke says to a girl "Will you go to bed with me for a million pounds?" and she says "Yes, I will." And then he says, "Okay, then, will you go to bed with me for three pounds fifty?" and she says "Of course not! What do you think I am?"
And he says, "We've already established what you are. Now we're just negotiating the price."
So, as my love of the Penny Falls shows, I'm not against gambling and I could most definitely enjoy it. It's just a question of degree.