Lots of luck — you’ll need it

Published 6:39 pm Thursday, January 21, 2016

By Frank Roberts

Many years ago, when I was a reporter, an editor asked me to accompany some senior citizens (my current category) to Atlantic City for about three days and pen a story on the gambling habits of the plus-65 crowd.

It was a good story, on a not-so-good state of affairs.

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Many of the gamblers were poorly dressed, most of them were quiet and, many of them stayed in the casino from dawn to dusk, and then some.

Gambling was their way-of-life, their “hobby” — an expensive one that hardly ever pays off and usually costs them a good part of their Social Security dollars and/or their life savings.

It was depressing to watch, but not if you were an executive at one of those gambling palaces. They lived like kings — over their patron’s misfortunes. That was Atlantic City, where slums were just across the street from the plush resorts.

It was a mini version of Las Vegas, where things were bigger, “plusher” and, of course, there was far more money to be made, thanks to the suckers at the machines and/or the gaming tables.

We hear a lot about today’s sins — liquor, cigarettes, prostitution and so on — but very little is heard about gambling.

The breadwinner for the men and women who run the hotel/casinos is the gambler, the folks at the gaming tables. They go in feeling lucky and come out feeling poorer than when they went in. They don’t understand, or don’t care, that they’re not going to beat the odds. It’s not in the cards, or any of the other gambling games — they are not going to win, and seldom do they come out even.

Gambling is an addiction that surpasses the entertainment value of the games. Only about 5 percent of the gamblers come out winners, but it’s estimated their losses make up a quarter of the profits for the casinos. Are the players too dumb to realize that the house has the big advantage?

Apparently, they are. Gambling works against a player who’s lost a significant sum, then spends hours and hours trying to win it back. According to Investipedia, “the more a player struggles to get ahead, the more he gets pulled into additional losses.” If you’re a gambler, repeat that.

In Vegas, the shows are exciting, the food is great, and the hotels are plush. Want to have a good time? Do everything the city offers, but keep away from the gambling section.

Las Vegas has been called, and for good reason, a city of last chance. Author Glenn Puitt writes, “The reality of the city is far different from the reputation. It’s a cold, hard place for the undisciplined. Drinking, drugging and gambling can quickly lead to homelessness. Most addicts there end up on the city’s streets, rarely escaping its death grip.”

The city has a motto: “What happens here stays here.” That includes your money. Greed is the game, and what makes it worse is that the cold-hearted owners offer credit when your money is gone. Next step? Legalized loan-sharking. After that? Nevada is the nation’s suicide capital.

Nevada was the first state to legalize casinos. The result is a slew of ugly slums and poverty.

Conversation on the way home from the Atlantic City casinos that year focused on how much was lost or the little bit somebody won. What did they lose? Money needed for food, family and shelter.

So, go ahead and squander. Locally, senior citizen groups often offer trips to Atlantic City. If you go — well, lots of luck. You will definitely need that.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.