The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, May 05, 2003  

And Mine?

I'll admit it: I love to play blackjack. I could play it for hours. In fact, I have played it for hours, though most often on the web and with "play" money. I've played blackjack with real money on only a handful of occasions, and when I've done so, I've usually done quite well. I'm quite certain that over the years I'm ahead of the game, so to speak.

Blackjack, as most experienced gamblers will tell you, is one of just two or three games in which you stand a decent chance of beating the house. "Video poker and high-stakes slot-machine play," apparently the preferred games of the High Priest of Neoconservative Morality, William Bennett, are suckers' games. They're practically rigged. Gee whiz, I thought everyone knew that.

Two of my most notable -- and lengthy -- visits to the tables were on cruise ships, on trips taken while I was working for the much-missed Individual Investor magazine. On the first occasion I had the pleasure of sharing the table with my then boss, Jonathan Steinberg, and his wife, Maria Bartiromo. They played for a reasonable and civilized length of time. I did not. I played until the casino closed for the "night," and I enjoyed every minute of it, in their company and afterward, particularly when I cashed in my winnings.

But I learned long ago that I have a compulsive personality. Why this is, I do not know. Thankfully, though, I have learned to watch for potential and actual danger zones, and gambling generally, and blackjack specifically, are clearly among my weak spots. Thus, I know enough not to seek opportunities to play the game.

And yet I recently moved to Philadelphia, a mere 60 miles from Atlantic City.

Uh-oh. Temptation?

No, not really. Not at all, actually.

I haven't been to Atlantic City in nearly 20 years and I don't expect ever to return. And I have absolutely no interest in going to Las Vegas, except to see the horrors at which archaeologists centuries hence will gasp in astonishment.

I don't play the lottery or "the numbers." (Actually, I despise lotteries and numbers games. I think they're an insidious tax on the poor, and the proceeds never seem to go where the state says they're going, e.g., New York and the schools.)

Yes, I visit the track at Saratoga Springs every few years, as most of my family is in the area and it makes for a nice late summer outing, but I typically have bet only on a few races and sometimes on none at all.

Oh, and before you throw out the obligatory anti-Catholic joke, I've never played bingo for money.

Now that I think about it, I haven't played blackjack, for real money, in more than two years. I feel pretty good about that. And while I enjoy the game, I don't think about it all that often; it's not on my mind at all. So I think it's fair to say that while I don't have a gambling problem, I suspect I have a potential gambling problem. And a gambling problem, ranging from mild to serious, is a disaster that I will not allow into my life. Please. I've made enough mistakes already.

What to do then?

I would be among the last to call myself a "virtuous" person. Avoiding millions of dollars of losses from gambling doesn't necessitate so lofty a concept. It's simply a matter of personal restraint, acknowledging and recognizing my real and potential weaknesses and vices, and taking responsibility for my actions.

Just a bit of "moral clarity," if you will.

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