I've never much enjoyed gambling. I'm happy enough to play games even though winning is something that evades me more than earning riches in the discipline of architecture. When I do win it feels great, but knowing my typical chances prevents me from ever losing my shirt for a game. This kind of self-appraisal seems to be growing rarer however, if Johnathan V. Last's essay on gambling is correct. Originally seen as a vice as bad as alcoholism, it seems that gambling in its expanding variety of forms has become part of the cultural mainstream, and has become among the biggest ways that Americans spend their discretionary income. Mr. Last writes:
Over the past 50 years, gambling has gone from sin to vice to guilty pleasure and has come, finally, to be simply another point of interest on the entertainment map. Today America has 445 commercial casinos and 411 Indian casinos acting as beacons to the lucky. In 1993, 11.6 million Americans visited commercial casinos; in 2004, 54.1 million--26 percent of all gaming-aged adults--hit the tables and slots. In 1993, commercial casinos had $11.2 billion in gross gambling revenue; by 2004 that number had risen to $27 billion. But even this staggering figure--last year Hollywood grossed only $10.2 billion at the box office and $25.95 billion from home video--is just one piece of the gaming pie. Throw in the Indian casinos, state lotteries and horse tracks and you get a gross total of $72.87 billion--before you count Internet gaming.
What people do with their money is their own business, but sometimes I wish that human nature were consistently rational enough to refuse to bet under most cirumstances. Still, it seems that our belief in luck and chance are seared into our DNA, and the argument is always made that we should just accept what nature has given us. But isn't the obligation for human beings is to overcome these flaws for higher spiritual wisdom by making the right moral choices?
It seems that when I visited the gambling floor in Atlantic City or on a cruise ship, I get the sense that those playing are somehow engaging in self-debasement. I find no environment more depressing than a casino.