An 18th-century English gambling house, as depicted in William Hogarth’s The Rake’s progress.  The artist stresses the sordidness –the drinking and brawling, the gamblers gloating over wins, or (like the rake himself in the foreground) bewailing losses.

Difficult though it is to find people who would care to admit to such motives, even supposing they were aware of them, one occasionally glimpses dark streaks of self-revelation that bear out the analysts’ findings.  As, for instance, in an odd document by one Richard minster, a 17th-century upper-class English felon who was beheaded for a long series of crimes and who records, in part, in his confession:

“one night during Epiphany I suffered my most grievous loss of money in the whole of my damned life, and was forced to return to the world which I am now to be quit of by my own damnation.

“During that sennight I had lost and recouped and lost again, and was much of an evenness in my reckoning.  My harlot’s jewels that she valued were gone, but in a flux of generosity I had bought her more and lain with her and ravished her in my joy and her lewdness.  But ever the craze was upon me like a grumbling illness and perforce I went forth again on the Saturday minded to grumbling illness and perforce I went forth again on the Saturday minded to lose all I possessed.  Lose! I say – for in my recollections there lurked the feeling of a beast, a fornicator suffering a virgin to take his whim, at each toss of the dice that lost me a fortune; a mounting turmoil within me, retarded each time by a winning throw….

“I played with Mountgarde and Hilbery and gained ninety guineas from them in an hour, taking their notes because they were penniless. My poker rules sullened me, and in despair I raised my stake.  Still I won.  And so in the main it went on through the night.  At one moment I had upward of fifty thousand guineas owed me, and still I went on, throwing scarce a losing dies in all that time.

“The room was in a hubbub of calls of Deuce! Trey! And the like.  All of us had taken off our greatcoats and laid up our swords and the room was heady with the wine fumes and tallow.  It was a wild scene of depravity and in its midst I stood surrounded for my fortune, some of the players touching me and rushing back to their own tables to see how their luck fared then.  I felt as though marching at some great triumph against fortune.  But in my heart I was despairing, for I was winning a battle I sought to lose.

“But at last, toward morning (so I think; the notion of time was not with me) I gathered up my winnings-notes, gold, jewels, peruses, and all that the losers had been able to summon to their aid in their losses and cried to them to hear my last stake.

“I lost on the throw and can scarce describe the feeling of relief that overcame me.  It was like a solvent to the harsh world to which must now return.”

It can hardly be denied, then, that gambling often gratifies a basic emotional or sexual urge.  I am convinced that this type of satisfaction is more often sought (whether consciously or unconsciously) by the dedicated gambler than is material gain. For him, the winnings are a bonus added to the excitement of the gamble.  Itself.  Indeed, his losses may be equally a bonus.  I believe that in the gamblers’ world only the professional cheats and swindlers (such as Arnold Rothstein, who has a forthcoming appearance in this book) are motivated by avarice.
Of course, one occasionally comes across a really grasping character in gambling as elsewhere-the man who, having won a hundred thousand in a lottery, will sell his story to a newspaper for a few hundred more, even though the publicity can only bring beggars in droves to his door; or the skilled poker player who will ruthlessly take your last penny, not because he enjoys the game but because he enjoys counting his winnings.  But these are not true gamblers.  The true gambler is notoriously open-handed.  It is certainly hard to see how such addicts as Dostoevski and Richard Minister could be motivated by greed, when they kept hammering away at the excitement that they invariably gained by losing money.

A wish for social cachet-keeping up with the Joneses –can be a motive in some forms of gambling (though, I suspect, a very motive).  Football pools (forecasting the results of a number of matches) have been fashionable in northern Europe since 1933 and in Australia since 1940; and in many places italian bingo (a numbers game based on the lottery idea) is now edging up to the football pool in popularity.  This may be at least partly because of the social advantages of doing what one’s neighbors do.  For instance:

A London carpenter named Francis Connolly, who won about $ 13,000 from a football pool in 1961, told reporters: “My wife and I don’t care much about money, but it will probably come in useful in the future.  We have no intention of moving.  Neighbors are the most important thing in the world, and I reckon I’ve got the beat I’ll ever find.  Anyway, I only did the pools because they did.”

To move on to motive 5 in my suggested list: Because every kind of risk-taking is exciting in some degree, there is a strong probability that a good many of us do gamble as a refuge from boredom.  One respondent to my suggestionaire wrote: “It was certainly boredom in the first place that sent me to the poker table.  While I was in the army, I suppose I had a completely emptily mind, and when I saw a game going I joined in.  I’d never even played cards before, except kids’ games, and  I’d certainly never gambled beyond an office sweep ticket.  But after that I never looked back.  Boredom certainly started it with me, and I sometimes think I go on because I’m still bored with life in general.”  But though boredom may drive some people to gamble in the first place, they would probably drop it quickly if they didn’t eventually find more positive satisfactions in it.

Intellectual exercise, for instance.  Surely such a splendid game as poker (which involves, among other skills, a knowledge of psychology) provides a man with plenty of brain-tingling activity.  Or a woman, for that matter.

           

Incidentally, loss of women have been-and still are-more than a match for men at the gaming table.  The Greek biographer Plutarch mentions Parysatis, queen of Persia, who diced for the life of a slave and, after winning him, had him tortured to death.  The Engish novelist and playwright Oliver Goldsmith writes of an old lady who on her deathbed played cards with the curate and, having won all his money, went on to play him for the costs of her own funeral.  Her continued winning gained her a much grander burial than she would otherwise have been able to afford.  Between these two extremes, women abound in the field of gambling as thick as leaves in Vallombrosa.  But save for one possibility, there doesn’t seem to be any strong case for thinking they might be motivated differently from men.

That possibility is my suggested gambling motive number 7: the desire to prove one’s superiority to the forces of chance.  In this motivation I think women may have the edge on men.  Capricious creatures themselves, they may well be fascinated by the so-called caprices of fortune, and may enjoy some close in-fighting with them.  (Not for nothing is fortune supposed to be a goddess.)  Of course, some women ignore the fact that the laws of probability take no heed of the sex of the gambler.  They have their illogical fancies and may often be found backing a horse for the color of its jockey’s shirt or a boxer for the color of his eyes.  A hunch that pays off reinforces the women’s belief in their own intuition; one that fails tends to be taken as a personal affront from another woman, and they gird themselves up for battle accordingly.  On the other hand, a considerable number of women gamblers take a strictly “professional” approach.  Ignoring “intuition,” they attack with expertise; if their game is horse racing, they are vastly knowledgeable about horses’ and jockeys’ past records.  Others may “play the percentages” in monte carlo casino as an American friend once told me, “the hardest eyes and the coolest brows around a Las Vegas craps table belong to the women.”

The gambler’s motives are only a part of the psychological story.  His superstitions and passions bear looking into as well.

All superstitions are derived from attempts to placate supernatural forces, and most of them are hangovers from days when man was a sight more credulous than he is now.  Salt, it says in the Bible (2 Chronicles XIII :5), is a covenant, a bond of union between two people; the spilling of it therefore is unlucky.  To primitive societies, the life-giving force of the sun wasn’t inexhaustible, and therefore too many demands should not be made upon it.  Hence, in Africa and Asia umbrellas achieved importance in diminishing those demands; because of their relation to the divine sun, they must never be raised in so earthy a place as a dwelling.
In several ancient civilizations ladders were believed to assist the souls of the dead up to the sky; to pass beneath one might hinder the spirit’s progress.  Mirrors were supposed to contain the soul of the reflected person; to break one would be to make the breaker soulless.  The sanctity of certain numbers (especially 3, 7, 13 and 70) derives in the main from fertility and other rites connected  with seasonal changes, the moon’s phases, and other natural phenomena.

Since gamblers are continuously at the mercy of fortune (which some people can’t help regarding as a supernatural force), they tend to be liberal with their observance of superstitious ritual, though usually without knowing the original significance of a particular routine.  At cards or dice, you may carefully rise and walk around your chair to change your luck, but do you know that in effect you’re describing a magic circle to fence out evil spirits?  And when you blow on the cards or dice – as who doesn’t – you are trying, essentially, to blow the breath of life back into a failing corporeality.  The charms or tokens many gamblers wear or carry are precisely the same in purpose as the amulets of the Egyptians: They have precious qualities because they’re made of a rare substance or are in the form of revered creatures.

Most of us prop up our frail resistance to misfortune by wishful thinking, “hoping for the best game .”  But the dedicated gambler needs to be triply sure.  In games in which skill is involved he can increase his skill and minimize his losses; but in games of pure chance he can do nothing but work out a scientific “system” designed to beat the laws of probability.  Or he can ease himself over difficult bumps in his luck by distributing his faith among various words, actions, or tokens that were associated with success in the past, even if it was someone else’s success (just as all the players in the poker room rushed over to touch Richard Minster when he was winning, presumably to draw off some of his luck like an electric charge).

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