Winners &Losers

Winner & Losers
The Black Jack
American Statistical
Returned Casino
jam-packed gambles
Blackjack Heaven
Spooking & blackjack

Oh Not The Ritz

One Dark Night>
A spinall played
traced back< India
Poker Backgammon
1984 Aspinal
Gamester Extraordinary

View From The Downside

Gordon Moody
Powerful Stuff
Royal Commission

Gamblers Hospital

Gamblers Hospital
Individual Therapy

In The Casino

Take Risks
So Why Gamble
The Reason
Gambling Event

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Percentages and Chances

Percentages and Chances

      Action Man

Action Man
Las Vegas
Bucking The Odds
Kusyszyn concludes

 Mauvaise Epoque

Dynamic Management
Blanc Dies
The S.B.M
Eudaemons to Draw

Nevada & New Jersey

Mafia boss
Connection & Crime
Jersey Casino
Technical Issues


The Game of Life
Real Until


Lesson 4

As I mentioned in the foreword to this book, I have gambled from time to time, occasionally quite heavily, but without ever getting over my head: so I had only a very amateurish idea about poker what compulsive or problem gamblers were like, and how they felt, before it struck me that it might be a good idea to attend a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous.It was a shock. Or if not exactly a shock, because I was expecting to hear a fair catalogue of misery, a revelation into what had moved a man like Gordon Moody to devote his life’s work to such people. 

Actually the atmosphere was cheerful – resolutely so, on a snowy night, with little self-help notices around the walls of the bare room declaring ‘Keep It Simple’, First Things First ’ and ‘Easy Does it ’.
            About a dozen people turned up, aged between 20 and 50, all men on this occasion, and it was at once apparent that, though they sat apart and looked a bit forlorn, they knew each other and were all – in a slightly edgy way, as if not showing their feelings – backing each other up.  One of the group, as chairman, then invited everyone to read a few lines from the GA leaflet, known as their ‘Bible’, which sets out the Recovery Programme.  GA is not a religious movement but it is based on spiritual values.  Thus:
            ‘What is the First Thing a Compulsive Gambler ought to do in Order to Stop Gambling?’
            ‘He must accept the fact that he is in the grip of a progressive illness and have the desire to get well.  Our poker experience has shown that the GA programme will always work for anyone who wants to stop gambling.  It will seldom work for the man who cannot, or will not, squarely face the facts about his illness.
            ‘Only you can make that decision.’
            The Recovery Programme sets out 12 steps.  1.  We admitted we were powerless over gambling – that our lives had become unmanageable.  2.  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power and of our own understanding. 4. Made a searching and fearless moral and financial inventory of ourselves.  And so on.  (It is notable that although GA portrays compulsive gambling as an illness – which in a sense absolves those who apply for help from blaming themselves for what they’ve done – the programme itself that it is not an illness.)
            The men then came out one by one, some eagerly, some reluctantly, to ‘give a therapy’ i.e. report on their symptoms and state of progress. ‘My name is Jack and I am a compulsive gambler.  I haven’t had a bet for 42 days… ’ Or alternatively, ‘My name is Terry, I’m a compulsive gambler.  I’m ashamed of myself, I got my wages and I thought I would have just one go on the fruit machine in the pub, and then I had another go, and then I had another go, and then I got into a card games, and then… ’

            These stories were sad and funny and moving and terrible, and could be duplicated, no doubt word for word, in any town anywhere in the world where gambling is rife.  They combined at one and the same time a dread of going back to betting, to the endless suffering that came from uncontrolled gambling, and a vivid, barely suppressed sense of the awful elation such activity gives its devotees.  GA is neither for nor against abolishing gambling as such – it simply concentrates on immediate help for those who want it.  Another  sign on the wall proclaimed: ‘Live and Let Live.’
            As an outsider one is bound to feel humbled- ‘There but for the Grace of God go I ‘ – and to ponder what pushes a man or a woman over the line, that fine line which everyone who has ever made a bet has walked along.  Meeting over a drink after the GA session, members of the group looked and sounded as ‘normal’ as any other people in a neighborhood pub.  To gamble, after all, is human.  I’m afraid the conclusion I drew wasn’t very profound: Those who defy the laws of probability the gods of chance destroy.
            Alongside the sessions of GA, but in another room, spouses or friends of the gamblers in the supporting group known as Gam-Anon, meet to compare notes.  ‘My name is Connie, and I am the wife of a compulsive gambler … ’ Their role is to provide the right kind of family back-up.  As more than one woman told me, an addiction to gambling is quite different from an addiction to alcohol or drugs, because it doesn’t show in the person concerned.  He doesn’t topple over like a drunk.  Above all, gamblers can conceal their activities for a long time, quite easily, by lying and stealing and other deceptions.  That is why it is so hard to live with.
            So Gam-Anon offers helpful advice, e.g. ‘To question or interrogate the gambler will serve no purpose.  You are powerless over this situation.  If he has something he wishes to hide, the truth cannot be forced him.  Why try?’ It also advices against paying the gambler’s debts for him.  ‘The gambler, not his wife, should be responsible for calling his creditors to make restitution.  Don’t take this responsibility from him.’

            With the aim of fostering spiritual strength, Gam-Anon also recommends 12 steps, similar to the GA programme.  Self-help is the key.  ‘There are two days in every week about which we should not worry…One of these is yesterday with its mistakes and cares… All the money in the world cannot bring back yesterday… The other day we should not worry about is tomorrow with its possible adversities … This leaves only one day – TODAY … Let us, therefore, live one day at a time.’ At the end of the session the women held hands and recited a prayer together: ‘God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change … Courage to change the things I can … and Wisdom to know the difference.’

            Moody’s reports for the Churches’ Council in the early years had a centrality and clarity which were impressive.  Successive titles told the story: A Nation’s Responsibility … Time to Think Again… A Bad Risk for Britain.  Thus in 1965 he set out a particular problem.  Parliament had legalized certain forms of gambling in 1960, hoping this would not led to an increase or excess of gambling, but the results had been quite the opposite.  Public opinion had become anaemic, he wrote, because many people who wished to resist the spread of gambling hesitated to take action, feeling they would be adopting a ‘moral; position, and be thought ‘puritan’.  This was unfortunate, because it involved a misconception.
            ‘It has come to be accepted that the moral question can be expressed in terms of one man and his money.  This is a proper question for individuals to resolve, but the discussion is inadequate for the practical task of containing gambling as an element in society.  The argument that gambling is all right in moderation leads to a laissez-faire attitude towards gambling and its results in society generally.  The attitude that gambling and its results in society generally.  The attitude that gambling is essentially wrong on every occasion leads to a rigorist approach which is equally ineffective.’
            The 1960 Act, which legalized betting offices for horse racing, also had a section on casino games.  To combat illegal back-street gaming, the Home Office experts who framed the Act had hit upon the theoretically ingenious but in practice hopeless idea that the odds in games of chance should be the same for the player as for the house – instead, a cover charge (as in restaurants) would be made on the players. This was all right for ‘soft ’ gaming like bingo, the British equivalent of the American Keno, where players buy a card and try to match a series of numbers – ‘Clickety-click, all the sixes!’ – called at random, but hopeless for action man games like roulette.  Apart from customer resistance, the house wouldn’t make any money, or even risk losing quite  a lot – and that would never do, would it?  So clubs got round the law by a variety of devices such as keeping the zero on the wheel but allowing players a turn to hold the bank.  Far from equalizing the chances, that put the players (if they understood anything about probability in the short run) at considerably greater risk! Instead of casino gaming being brought under official control, over 1,000 casinos and dubious ‘clubs’ had opened up across the country, exploiting loopholes in the law, and the unwary public was being taken for a ride- wheels with three zeros for example, which one might describe as the casino operator’s dream of Heaven.

            Moody nailed parliamentary responsibility: ‘No one knows how many gaming clubs there are, nor how many people are involved.  The intention of the law is ignored.  As gaming is conducted in some clubs, it is quite illegal even as the law now stands.  Its legality in many others is doubtful.’
            His point was that before the 1960 Act most people in Britain had never gone in for casino gaming.  It was in the main an upper class foibe, indulged on summer holidays in the French resorts of Nice, cannes or, nearer to home, Deauville, plus a few private parties in Mayfair.  At the other end of the social scale there had always been shady dice and card clubs in London’s East End.  Yet now, like a pincer movement from these opposite ends of the social scale, gaming was tightening its grip on the whole population, for the benefit of commercial interests.  ‘It is reasonable not to consider deeply the probable consequences of frankly encouraging people to gamble.’
            Later, Moody hit upon an old-fashioned simile which he became rather fond of.  It happened that his daughter was leaving for Spain on a package holiday, while he was due to preach at Windsor on the theme of the good shepherd.  At the same time he noticed an advertising online in The Times offering guided tours for top people.  The thought struck him that, just as his daughter needed to be shepherded on her trip and ‘top people’ on theirs, so everyone in daily life needed shepherding – the customers in the shops, as much as the manufactures providing the goods.  At different times we are all shepherds and we are all sheep.
            It was corny, he knew, but he risked it in a valedictory comment to the Home Secretary on the Royal Commission wished  to avoid paternalism which it thought of as ‘protecting members of the public against their own gambling instincts or idiosyncrasies’.  The Churches’ Council approached the matter another way: that gambling facilities should be provided so as to enable those who use them to guard themselves against excess.

            ‘That may be shepherding, ’ Moody wrote, ‘ …but it is nevertheless a common feature of life … there is always the need of the law, a kind of chief shepherd, to make sure that the sheep are not fleeced.  The same considerations apply to gambling, to those who promote it and to the gambling law.’  He added: ‘Gambling promoters may smile, and perhaps be pleased, when a churchman compares them with shepherds and not with wolves.’
            A true moral approach, Moody had argued back in his very first report, should take into account, among other things, that some people are prone to become addicted to gambling. Conditions which afford opportunities to gamble for some involved enormous temptations for others.  ‘It is morally indefensible to ignore either this fact or its consequences.  At the present time both the law and public opinion incline to assume that everyone is equally able to look after himself.  Because it is thoughtless, it is immoral to dismiss anyone who gambles to excess as necessarily either a fool or a knave, when he may be only more vulnerable than the rest.’
            In this context, one may note a crucial difference between regulation of casino gambling in Britain and America.  In the U.S. the characteristic motive has been production of revenue, suggests Jerome Skolnick in his comprehensive account of the Nevada casino industry House of Cards (1978), whereas in Britain gambling, especially casino gambling, is viewed as a social problem to be ‘controlled’.  It is therefore the responsibility of the Home Office – ‘deploring gambling while at the same times accepting it ’ – rather than the Treasury.
            ‘The attitudes of the British Government towards the gambler in general, but particularly the working-class ‘punter’, are rather like those displayed in the past by benign colonial administrations: a combination of paternalism, benevolence and sharp autocracy, ’ Skolnick says.  Probably he over-states the class divisions in British gaming (he believes that official policy is to ‘suppress casino gambling, particularly for the working class’, which is manifestly not the case); though as an outsider perhaps he sees these things more clearly than the British themselves.  As he concedes, the trouble with taking economic success as the criterion for policy, as in Las Vegas  and Atlantic City, is to foreclose social and philosophical discussion of the issue.

            The Gaming Act of 1968, which Moody had followed so closely in its various stages through the Commons, established the format for casino gaming in Britain.  It has been widely admired in other countries, but it is so idiosyncratically English – for example, the chairman of the Gaming Board need have no qualifications whatever in terms of gaming experience (the man appointed in 1985 told me that he had up to then never even visited a casino!) – that it could hardly be applied elsewhere.
            It is two-tier system: licensing of clubs is run locally, supervision nationally.  This had interesting consequences when, in later years, several big clugs steeped out of line.  Multi-million dollar enterprises, like the Playboy club in Mayfair (which at the time was bankrolling the Hefner empire virtually on its own) found themselves answerable to neighborhood justices who might hardly know how to run a whelk stall.
            The role of the Gaming Board is to examine would-be operators to ensure they have the right sort of management and funding.  If so, they are granted a certificate of consent to apply for a license in the area where they propose to operate.  This procedure had the inestimable advantage of keeping out Mafia and kindred undesirables who were finagling to get into London.  (A prominent casualty was movie star George Raft, noted for his gangster roles on the screen; engaged to ‘host ’ a big Mayfair club, he was informed that his continued presence in the country was not welcome.)  The test at the local level is what is termed ‘unstipulated demand’ – an estimate that sufficient numbers of people want to gamble to justify provision of gaming facilities.  This is another very English concept: for the fact that facilities for gaming are known to exist will itself stimulate more gambling.  The law as such enforced by the police.
            Moody felt gratified that, while they did not achieve everything they wanted in detail, the principal concerns of the Churches’ Council had been met.  First, the number of clubs had been restricted; and secondly, gaming was to be kept separate from entertainment.  (Compare the scene in Las Vegas, where the only exit for the audience after the floorshow is through the gaming tables.)  Bingo, the housewives’ little flutter, was also set apart.  In sum, the Act set reasonable limitations on the promoters’ opportunities to induce people to gamble.  A typical instance (which many foreign visitors find a very annoying restriction) is that you cannot just walk off the street into a casino: a player has a to become a club ‘member’, which means waiting a period of 48 hours after formally ‘joining’.  Likewise, the ban on entertainment – cabaret or otherwise – in the casino, means that there is no showbiz razzamatazz to ‘induce’ people to gamble.  Moody’s other main concern was that the new Act should be capable of being strictly enforced.  This it was – as future events were to show, with surprising results.
            In the next year or two after the Act came into force in 1970 the number of casinos in Britain fell sharply, from over 1,000 to some 120, which is around the present total.  In London, where 80 percent of the action takes place, the total hovers around 19 to 21, according to who’s been closed down or taken over.  Moody was enthusiastic at the enlightened attitude shown by the new Gaming Board.  It had, he wrote in 1974, ‘made energetic and imaginative use of its powers’ and was ‘interpreting its social function effectively’.  (He argued strongly for a similar Betting Board to cover horse racing, but in vain).

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