May 08, 2003

Spiceless vices

Everyone's making a big fuss about William Bennett's gambling thing. Yawn. Bennett has always bored me. His Book of Virtues was incredibly dull, and was probably really written to punish children into behaving. ("Keep acting up, Suzy, and I'll read to you from Mr. Bennett's book!" "No, Mommy, no -- I'll be good!") And yes, I have tried to read it.

Well, as is typical, even when Bennett turns out to have a rather large and embarassing vice, it's also an incredibly dull one: gambling. I have never understood the appeal of gambling. My friends taught me to play poker, and that was fun, but we played for chips -- the fun would have drained right out of the game for me if money was involved. I can't see the appeal, at all. I have read it is the thrill of possibly "winning big," the adrenaline rush, the -- excuse me, you are standing in a smoky room staring at a ball spin around, or throwing little plastic cubes about. And you aren't James Bond with a blond hanging onto your arm and an assassin about to shoot you through your tie-pin.

And wouldn't you know -- even Bennett's preferred facet of the vice is the most boring of all. Video poker? One of those machines with the spinny, flashing light things that you just sit there and poke coins into? Ken Layne is wrong -- it's not masturbation, because at least when you're masturbating you're doing something. "Playing" video poker is like to gambling as being awake is to catatonia.

Posted by Andrea Harris at May 8, 2003 02:37 AM

I was a little surprised when Bennett showed up on nearly every editorial cartoon the other day. Is the news really that slow? Better yet, are the cartoonists so unimaginative that they have to hit the fat pitch of Bennett's moralizing?

Posted by: Eric Lindholm at May 8, 2003 at 09:09 AM

I think that at some point in time Bennett's face must have replaced Nixon's as certain persons' sleep-haunting nightmare boogeyman. I wonder if you can get a rubber William Bennett mask now?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at May 8, 2003 at 09:24 AM

Bennett, is and always has been a patrionising pompous prat.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Castel-Dodge at May 8, 2003 at 01:26 PM

If I'd been asked last week to make a list of people I'd like to see looking foolish by their own behavior, Bennet probably would have made the list. I really don't care how it was accomplished, it was mildly amusing. Bestiality would have been funnier.

Posted by: andi at May 8, 2003 at 03:19 PM

High stakes gambling where you sip martinis and size up the competion with every hand and a blonde on your arm = cool.

Sitting at a glorified Atari putting 8 million silver dollars in the slot = sad.

Posted by: dan at May 8, 2003 at 03:24 PM

My objection has been Bennett's statement that he "about broke even" in his gambling. He's either incredibly lucky, or a bald-faced liar.

Posted by: Dark Avenger at May 8, 2003 at 06:54 PM

Actually, it depends on the machine. There are video poker machines that, if you make the best choices (highest expected value), will give a return of 98-99%; most video poker machines will give a return in the 90s with good play. Mathematically, in the long run, you're guaranteed to lose all your money; but the long run means infinity in math. It is indeed possible that %age-wise (%age of money he staked) he has averaged close to even over the past few years.

Odds on slots vary too much for me to make comments on that.

I must agree, though, that gambling-via-machine is dull. I prefer real poker matches -- 7-card stud for preference, though shared-card games like hold 'em and Omaha are good, too -- and if he really liked taking risks, why not go into day-trading?

Posted by: meep at May 9, 2003 at 10:42 AM

C S Lewis said that he didn't feel he should criticize gamblers because it was the only vice for which he had never felt any temptation..

Posted by: David Foster at May 9, 2003 at 11:49 PM

Bill Bennett's sin would not have been so bad if he was any good at video poker. I love video poker and once I played for 3 hours losing only $2. It certainly beats slot machines by a long shot. I guess the appeal to slot machines are that you can actually win money while you are mostly asleep (except for hitting a "Bet max" button every 30 seconds). As least with Video Poker you have to be awake enough to know what cards to hold and what cards to let go.

With players like that it is no wonder Casinos stay in business. I prefer the ones in North Mississippi (inexpensive rooms, inexpensive food, and nickel slots if you have the gambling bug but only a few dollars).

Posted by: John Hysmith at May 15, 2003 at 05:58 PM