Why Risk It All?

July 12, 2006

Gambling can be fun — as long as it’s a choice, not an addiction To give something up in the hopes of getting something better has long been a vaunted American tradition. In this decade, it has been fueled by an economy that has given capable workers not only a job but a choice of job opportunities and a stock market has rewarded almost every investment in time, no matter how capriciously made.

This 1990s prosperity came forth from global macroeconomic forces that few of us fully grasp. Even the most erudite economist acknowledges, however obliquely, the factor of luck — and if luck worked in the stock market, why not try it in casinos or lotteries?

Such games of chance arguably boost the economy. Indeed, the selling argument for legalized gambling has for decades been its potential boon to good causes — a logical extension of the church cake raffle. State lotteries won favor as a voluntary way to boost education treasure chests, casinos as a economic savior to long-impoverished Indian reservations.

Such factors make gambling more socially acceptable — just in time to appeal to the growing numbers of Americans in search of a lucky break. The pursuit of that has become an American obsession and an Asian American one as well. Walk down the streets of the Tenderloin, and if you look carefully, you’ll find coffee shops that front as illegal gambling rooms filled with poor Asian men, whose dreams are fading even as they bid another hand. They may work 20 hours a day, but they still can’t afford a car, new clothes for their children or a decent place to live. At this point, their American dream comes down to a hope of hitting a lottery or winning a jackpot, even though the odds are several million to one at best.

The rich are not immune, either. Take basketball star Michael Jordan, who could well afford to throw thousands at gaming. For a while, it was fun — and then it became an all-American addiction that ironically tainted his all-American image.

Not everyone who finds gambling fun goes on to become a problem gambler, of course. So you go to Vegas twice a year and drop a couple of rolls of quarters, or buy Lotto tickets twice a week or even sneak into a Saturday afternoon card game among friends. So you lose $5 or $10,or win $10 or $20.

Not a problem to most. So does it become a problem when you start buying Lotto tickets every day or maybe move to the dollar slots or start going to the track? Not a problem, you say, and you may be right.

But why risk it?

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