I love to gamble. For someone as cautious as I am, it seems illogical. But I come from a long line of chronic gamblers, and genetics are a bitch with a tight, tight grip.
My best childhood friend, Haley, and her MamMaw took me on my first big gambling trip when I was 19. Haley had turned 18, and in Santa Fe, the legal age was about to change. MamMaw Cherry decided that it was her civic duty to teach us the ways of the casino and, consequently, the rules of life. It was a magnificent time. Because it was an Indian casino, there were few table games, but this did not matter to us. It did not matter that we could not drink or smoke or go buck wild. What mattered was that we had money in our pockets and a willingness to let it go.
MamMaw Cherry's Rule of Gambling #1: Don't play with necessary money. If that $500 is your rent money, you quickly shall find yourself homeless.
We milled about, feeling quite important and grown up. Loud and brash and obnoxiously hopeful, we played slots and video poker and keno. We nickeled and dimed our way to hours of fun.
MamMaw Cherry's Rule of Gambling #2: Breaking even is a win. Don't question it. Don't get greedy.
But with every jingle jangle to our coin bucket, our confidence grew. By dawn, Haley and I had begun to strut around, claiming even our smallest victories and inflating them in our heads. We were up $50 and feeling our oats, dabbling in the dollar machines. Haley, feeling extra saucy, sauntered over to a $5 machine and won another $50 with one pull.
MamMaw Cherry's Rule of Gambling #3: Don't leave with empty pockets. Save something to at least buy yourself some pancakes on the way home.
It took us less than 10 minutes to be down to our last $10. As quickly as our hopes rose, they fell just as swiftly. Completely ignoring Rule #3, Haley decided this money qualified under Rule 1, and we didn't come here to break even, so she put in our last ten bucks. Haley grabbed the handle, shouted "All in!", and closed her eyes. Haley has always been an "all-in" kind of friend, and I have always loved that about her.
Thirty seconds later, we were on our way to the hotel room, broke and pancake-less.
MamMaw Cherry's Rule of Gambling # 4: The House always wins. Always.
She said this one with a sly smile. She had saved it because she knew we wouldn't listen the first time, and this would be an important -- the most important -- lesson of all.
I thought a lot about MamMaw Cherry today on my way home from work. Today was an interesting, although wholly unsurprising, day at work.
As gamblers, we can't resist breaking rules 1-3. As gamblers, we go for broke. We spend every dime. We ignore every red flag. We believe in superstition and Lady Luck and changing machines. We believe that big moves will always equal big pay-offs. We play with rent money and then wonder why we're out in the rain.
But we never, ever stop to think about what would happen if we just didn't go in. We don't think about what would happen if we didn't ante up. Because we wouldn't be us if we didn't sit down at the table to play. And no matter what hand we've been dealt, we play it all the way, even if we lose, knowing that the House always wins.
It's just no fun to eat pancakes by yourself.
Thanks for the lesson, MamMaw. It has served me well.