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A Gambler's Lotto Meltdown - Page 2

By Chris Wright 03/06/12

Glamorous tales abound of high-rollers losing millions in a night. But most gambling addicts go bankrupt one scratch card at a time.

Few compulsive gamblers are high rollers

(page 2)

When you think about stopping for good, you imagine a watershed, a point where you unmistakably clatter to your lowest ebb: the judge banging his gavel; the straight-backed chair teetering beneath your feet. This is harder to achieve when ruin comes in increments, when you stumble-bump your way to the bottom. I had a run-in with an editor and former friend the other day, a guy who had promised work and then failed to deliver. "Did we owe you something?" he wrote after I bemoaned his lack of consideration. "Was it us sitting on our arses all day playing fruities?"

That's low, but is it low enough? What about the lying? The begging and bartering? What about going into your local shop to ask for a pack of smokes on spec and being turned away? Or watching your three-year-old daughter eat the last of the fish fingers and hoping she leaves a little for you? Every indignity and deprivation leads to a promise: This is the end! You will stop. You’ll get better. You will get back on your feet again.

But then you do get back on your feet again. You approach the betting shop and it's just a quick spin, a little recreational flutter. Then, oh go on, throw in another 20. You can spare it. Just see what happens. Then check to see what you have left—60 out of 100. That's not good. Try again, see if you can't make at least some of your spent money back. So you throw in another 20. And then another. Nothing to do now but keep going. Come on, come on. This isn't fair. Come on! What are the odds?

By the time you get down to your last five, you're steaming, driven by nothing but impulse. Everything is heightened now, the fear and the excitement, and with every failed bet the thrill intensifies. Because as bad as your losses may be, you are aware, too, that you are on the brink of something spectacular—that moment when you pull back from the edge. The anticipation of this moment, the potential for an explosion of relief, is enough to make you believe it will happen, right up until the final spin.

I remember being in a casino in Prague a few years back, watching a guy place enormous bets on the roulette table. Hit or miss, he maintained the same expression—a kind of indifferent semi-scowl. He might have been ironing clothes, or attending the funeral of a person he didn't much like. Maybe he was howling inside, but I don't think that’s the case. More likely, his financial situation was such that the individual bets didn't matter. He'd assess his wins and losses later, and experience some sort of emotion then. But right now, he was just in the game.

Then there's me, a roiling crucible of anxiety and magical thinking. But I have a lot more in common with the Prague gambler than it seems. When you're gambling, money has a very narrow purpose: to keep the game going—and, therefore, the feel-good chemicals flowing. This is why the purest form of the experience comes when the last-ditch wager bears fruit. The feelings aroused by this moment lead you to a rattle bag of inadequate phrases. You feel...intense joy. But this hardly ever happens. Instead, you simply run out of money, after which you stand for a moment or two, pressing unresponsive buttons. And then you quickly crash.

There were times, after opening those Lucky Bags, that I'd come across a toy so unequivocally horrific that I'd simply drop it down the center of the stairwell of our apartment building. After a while, I started doing the same thing with the toys I liked. I liked watching the toys plummet down, pin-wheeling against the railings and disintegrating before they were swallowed by the gloom.

Chris Wright is a London-based editor and writer. He is currently enjoying a fruit machine-free lifestyle. Mostly.


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London-based writer Chris Wright is a frequent contributor to The Fix. One of his recent pieces wondered if the disease model is an easy way out.