Many gamblers wear lucky charms, but they can be as useless as the figurine in the hatband of this racetrack loser (from a 19th century British drawing).

Apart from the magic circle round the chair, and blowing on cards and dice, there are no superstitions especially associated with gambling.  Each of us naturally tries to achieve his own personal harbinger of luck.  Once eccentric character named Blanchard won a big coup at Monte Carlo after a passing pigeon had soiled his hat.  After that he went every season and strolled around waiting for another pigeon.  One eventually came, too, and the he won even more.  But after that, nothing.  So he never entered the casino again.  All he left was a tradition that birds’ dropping on one’s clothes are lucky.

Some people won’t play if they see a black cat on their way to a game; others won’t play if they don’t.  (Cats are variously sacred and diabolical-sacred because of their associations with Egypt and China, where they were godlike beings guarding the granaries, and diabolical because of their links with witches, whose alter egos they were once supposed to be.) Crazes for mascots afflict places like Las Vegas and Monte Carlo from time to time, and any player who has been fortunate while owning a mascot isn’t likely to let it out of his sight.
As for passions: The fearful uncertainties of the gambler’s pursuit, plus the excitement and strain generated during play, are great revealers of temperament.  There are gamblers who remain apparently unmoved while winning or losing vast sums, but the likehood is that the deadpan mask conceals turmoil within-because the turmoil is gambling.

Often the turmoil breaks the surface of reasonable behavior.  Henry I of England gambled on a game of chess with Louis I of France when both were in their princeling days, and because Louis was losing heavily he rose in passion and called Henry the son of a bastard, adding injury to insult by flinging the board in his face.  Henry then cracked Louis over the head, splitting the scalp open, and would have finished the French heir off completely if some of the onlookers hadn’t intervened.  This unprincely fracas started a chain of events and exchanges that led to war.

Also among top people who have started wars by passionate insults at the gaming table were the dukes of Lorraine and Orléans.  Lorraine slapped Orléans’ face during a game of cards, and the direct result of this quarrel was one of those long, made wars that rumbled through the provinces of France during the 15th century.  When the duke of Orléans eventually came to the throne of France as Louis XII, he was recorded as saying, “A king of France does not avenge insults offered to a duke of “a remark he intended to be loftily insulting rather than forgiving.

The French newspaper Gazette de Deux-Ponts, which seems to have had a roving reporter in Naples, reported in 1772 the case of a Neapolitan card player who, maddened by his losses, “suddenly lowered his head to the table and sank his teeth deep into the edge of the wood.  The table was overturned, the pinioned madman with it, and his neck broken during the fall.  Sobriety suddenly falling on the gaming house after this incident , the justices’ men and the priest were summoned and gave verdict that the gambler’s soul must have been invaded by the devil to have been aroused to such passion, and therefore he died in no state of grace.  The priest refused to give the corpse the rites of burial, and it was taken to the sea by scavengers and flung in.”

Spain, which has a long history of devoted gambling and a national temperament that is passionate in all things, naturally has a considerable number of recorded gambling quarrels and imprecatory outbursts.  Even its quietly desperate losers make absorbing reading.  There is the true story from the 18th century, for example, of the man who, together with his partner, had been steadily losing a fortune all evening.  The partner had been cursing and raging at his losses and couldn’t understand why his friend had suffered similar losses with silent fortitude.

“You must be bloodless,” he yelled, “to let fortune go uncursed!”                                                                                                                                       

“No,” said the quiet one.  And with that he undid his coat and shirt and revealed that, with every loss, he had furtively lacerated his chest with his dagger until it was a criss-cross design of bloody gashes.

Tempers have always frayed easily in the gamblers’ world-especially the tempers of losers.  In this late 19th century drawing, a furious loser takes his frustration out on a keno table in an American club.  Keno table is a forerunner of bingo players bet on combination of numbered balls drawn by the operator (left).

In a street in Malaga (Spain), children and adults together play roulette for sweets.  Though it is natural for children to play, the gambling “instinct” is probably acquired from imitation of adults.

One way or another, rage seems to hit gamblers hard.  They have been recorded as stamping on dice, tearing up cards, putting burning candles into their mouths, swallowing billiard balls, and wrecking the furniture.  Furniture wrecking seems to have been a favorite pastime among gamblers in the saloons of the American shanty towns soon after the civil war.  No game of draw poker appears to have been completed without the banging off of the newly invented Colt 45 and the destruction of every chair and table in the place.  Henry Chafetz’s history of American gambling, Play the Devil, gives a picture even more lurid than that of the Greek satirist Lucian, who in his Saturnalia also has much to say about gamblers breakingup the furniture.

But if rage, either suppressed or demonstrative, is so much in evidence as part of the gambler’s make-up, you may well ask how this factor connects up with the secret  enjoyment in his losses referred to by Ralph Greenson and other psychologists.  The answer is that rage may become an enjoyable emotion when it releases tension.  Anyhow, although the gamblers stage is littered men, one knows from experience that most reactions are far less spectacular.  Like happy marriages, the undramatic gamblers attract little attention but are everywhere in the majority.

To generalize summarily:
The word “gambling”derives from the Anglo-Saxon gamenian (to sport or play), and of course there were contests of skill and strength before there was any betting on them.  But as soon as the delectable hazards of chance were revealed to men, they saw rich new opportunities for battle.  A whole new world offered itself for exploration, complete with richer rewards than any childish game could promise, and requiring less effort.

“If you climb that wall, Son, the chances are that you’ll fall in the sea and drown.”
“No, I shan’t,” says Son, climbing the wall.  “I shall see the sea.”
Which of course he does.  He has won his first round against the laws of probability.  Who but Son can gauge the egocentric pleasure may bring him in further bouts with chance –in daily life or at the gaming tables?

            This, then, is the bedrock of the psychological side of famous gambling.  Egocentricity plus hope (which is as instinctive as egocentricity in human nature) equals the necessity all of us have to take risks.  Egocentricity plus hope, plus any one of eight or more motives as an individual compulsion, equals the psychological equipment of the serious gambler-the man who knowingly knots himself up with chance more tightly than he need.