Commentary

Poor them

Updated: November 13, 2007, 5:34 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Gambling is a stimulant, no news there; there's little that's fun and is not potentially addictive.

Responsible gambling is winning. Irresponsible gambling is losing.

Slot machine action is the definition of high-risk, low-profit gambling. Slots seem to induce the player into a hypnotic state: Relax. Breathe deeply. Watch the spinning cylinders. You are getting very, very dumb. Reach into your pocket. Take out another c-note. That's the way. Slip it in the slot. There you go. Punch the maximum number of bets. Don't blink. Let the spinning lucky sevens pull you into the machine. Too bad. You lost. Spin another one. Whatever you do, don't think. Just drift.

The house take-in on the slots in some places is not unlike having your pocket picked.

Experimenting on a $1 slot machine yesterday, I played in a relaxed state and lost a $100 bill in 6 minutes, 50 seconds.

Slots are in their most dangerous states, or profitable states -- depending on your perspective, in the money room or out -- in the heartland, where the machines at Indian casinos were suddenly introduced to suckers who didn't know how to win $20 and quit; who didn't know how what constituted a bad percentage play; who didn't know that you could lose one hundred bucks inside 10 minutes, playing calmly. What has been happening in the Lord's Country ever since slot machines seemed to fall from the heavens is a lot of people are waking up broke.

People go to Vegas looking to lose and have some fun. What is bet in Vegas stays in Vegas. But with Indian casinos, people stop in on the way home from work. And on the way to work. Fun? What's fun about trying to win $25,000 on $1? Moreover, what's fun about trying to catch the devil up?

Yet this highly addictive form of wagering helps to support the sport of horse racing that we have come to enjoy more days than not. So is it not, in a lousy-case scenario, like selling a habit to an addict who can't afford it? What is the horse race industry, or for that matter, what are horse players themselves, to make of the moral side of shaking change out of losers?

Is it a little like moving cigarettes? If somebody is bound and determined to suck tar and nicotine deep into their bodies, some of the profit may as well go to a decent cause, like a nature-related business (horse racing).

Rich people at the slots -- who cares how much they lose? All the wealthy lonely widows and widowers, they're getting better company for their money at the casinos than they could probably get at any rec center. It's the people playing twenty-five cents slots that might give a person pause, horse race revenue aside. People playing a quarter can't afford to lose or they would be playing for a dollar.

So here's what I told a woman friend of mine who has been getting obliterated at the slots: first, thanks for supporting horse racing, however indirectly and slightly. Next, things like slot machines and lotteries were bad bets because over time, the odds were set so that winning was next to impossible.

The woman said that she needed to try to win some big money. She said that she put at risk maybe a hundred bucks every two weeks, looking for a fat return.

Ever the adventurer, I suggested that the next time she needed to roll with a hundred, she take it to the horse races and bet, in claiming races at tracks far and wide, here and anywhere, her favorite two numbers in two-buck exacta or quinella boxes, 3-8, 4-7, whatever. Don't ponder. Don't listen. Bet a couple of numbers. It made as much sense, if not more sense, than stuffing money in machines. And here was one guarantee. It would take her longer to lose the hundred at the races than anywhere she had gambled recently.

So that's what she did, she took $100 to the simulcast hall and played her two numbers time and again.

How'd she do?

That's not the point.

She left angry.

She almost won.

Those are two of the points of wagering, to have a chance, and to not like it if you don't hit.

She lost $30-something; only $30-something.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com