I recently had an experience akin to what I imagine gambling must feel like in Las Vegas. Heart racing, skin perspiring, eyes on stalks, I surrendered to chance as I watched the seconds tumble and the bidders brawl, right up to a moment of terrific climax: a spectacular eBay win!! More importantly, my win!!
The physicality of my response (my heart really was pounding!) to something which was silly, unimportant, cheap, and ultimately just a chance, took me by surprise. It actually required a few minutes for me to settle down and compose myself(!) I’m not a gambler normally. I don’t bet on sports, buy lottery tickets or play online poker, but I can understand why people get addicted to gambling, or chancing. After all, there are ways to gamble that don’t involve cards or coins or second hand clothing (think proximity wingsuit flying!). That feeling of danger, of life or death, the prospect of tremendous gains or crippling losses subject to something as whimsical as the fall of the dice, is alluring and exciting. Why row your boat gently down the stream when you can thunder through it on a white water raft?!
In the words of the Teacher – the voice of wisdom – in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything, but in many ways gambling represents what he calls ‘a chasing after the wind’; the pursuit of power and control over things that are out of our hands; the pursuit of wealth and riches beyond imagination, perhaps even beyond the capacity of a human being to spend usefully in a lifetime. Driven by a desire for conquest and consumption, gambling is at the same time married to a perverse desire for self-destruction. It is this ‘all or nothing’ approach that really gets the adrenalin pumping, makes gamblers raise the stakes, mortgage their houses, and throw in their very last dollars.
Most of us admit that at that point, gambling is foolish and dangerous. But how many of us recognise the same folly when we win?