This past week I took a trip away from the apartment to Atlantic City, a place that survives solely on believers. With more than a dozen casino resorts, hundreds of blackjack tables and thousands of slot machines, it is only a miracle to find the one that will make you win big. Yet, despite two free rooms and comped dinners, the casino still asks for me and my mom to visit because they know we will pay our stay with little red and green chips.
Bright lights and the sound of quarters trickling from machines made for family vacations growing up. My mom and aunt had good luck often times — $300 one trip, $1,000 another trip. I took some of that luck with me when I started to play at 21, no longer watching mom outside the casino border next to the guard. I have to admit, I love the game. It’s exciting. Gambling, however, is not an addiction to money for me, it’s an addiction to possibility.
Next to me on a blackjack table was a woman in hijab who praised the Lord every chance she could. “The Lord took me out of Showboat to this winning table at Bally’s,” she exclaimed, as her green chips piled high. “Praise the Lord!”
To my left was a man who could do no wrong. “Give me a five,” he shouted. He got a five. “Give me a Jack,” he shouted. He got a Jack.
“What can I say, G-d loves me,” he would say, every time.
“Does that mean G-d does not love me,” I asked, as my pile went up $100 and then down $150.
“I don’t even believe in G-d,” he laughed, hysterically.
I came to the conclusion that the casino may be the single place you can find the highest percentage of believers regardless. I’m talking about people who just have utter faith that things will fall the way they hope. Why else would one guy I watched place $500 bets at a time?
It’s like the lottery. Only louder. With a more immediate high. And you can see everyone wide-eyed, and excited. I read an article recently that claimed flying is the moment people are the happiest because it represents a new possibility, going off into the distance from everyday life. I would argue that for anyone who has sat down at a casino table, making quick friends with the group of guys celebrating a 21st birthday or a guy who owns racing horses, they would say otherwise. Even when people say they are ready to leave, one would think down on their luck, they place down their last $10 (reserved for gas money) and still believe their luck will change by some divine intervention.
I call it prayer meets instant gratification. And I would argue, because I feel this way myself, that it’s not just the money they want, but the proof that they are lucky in life. If one can win in a high-risk, near-impossible situation, then something or someone is watching out for him. That is the feeling, I would think, many people get. Gambling is all about risk, miracles, faith and luck, and less about the money. That is why habitual losers continue to come back. It’s in many ways a religious experience for these folks. Without that, a casino could never survive.
If what I say is true, it makes me wonder if we are all somehow religious seekers, finding our high in different ways? I would not argue that my fellow gamblers believe in something greater any less than I do. In fact, I believe they believe even more.