Thursday, May 8, 2008

Jonathan Takes Me to the Casino

I am fond of all my nieces and nephews, and they apparently like me. Recently I have been able to spend more time with my nephew Jonathan who lives in the same Toronto neighbourhood as I, in Parkdale. Jonathan was always a nice child (you should hear his Grandmother talk about him), and has grown into a very pleasant young man, making a career in television and film, both camera work and special effects makeup. He has an great talent for the desiderata of horror films. If you want to be made up for Hallowe’en, he’s the man to call.
It’s great when Jonathan can give me a ride from Toronto to Ottawa, as he did at Christmas and for my mother’s birthday. The journey is far more pleasant than it would be by bus or even by train, and Jonathan appears to prefer my company to driving alone. From these trips I have learned how to find tunes on an iPod, and learned more about the band Pearl Jam than I had ever wanted to know.
On the way back after Christmas, we stopped at the Casino at Gananoque. This was new for me, but it seems that Jonathan likes to stop and play a game of “How Quickly Can You Lose Ten Dollars?” and then get back on the road. I won’t ask whether a nephew should lead his na├»ve uncle astray like this. The game seems harmless enough, and I can think of worse ways to spend ten dollars. (As it turned out I won twenty-odd dollars, and had to stop playing. This might be a game where you lose by winning, but I didn’t ask about the finer details.)
A game like that meant the visit to the Casino was barely long enough to notice. It is a bright, colourful and noisy place; the staff were nice and helpful: by all rights it should have been lively and cheerful. It wasn’t. The huge room was full of machines and solitary people who would have seemed morose had they not lacked something of the necessary enthusiasm. In short, it was one of the more depressing places I have ever been. I hasten to repeat that this was a quick visit. I only saw the Hall of Slot Machines: if there was some other room with more interesting games; I didn’t see it.
There are many things I am tempted to say about the morality of gambling, but the issue is too complicated to get into now. Gambling is one of those things about which it is difficult to make absolute moral statements. To the best of my knowledge it is never clearly condemned in Scripture. Indeed it is hard to condemn Jonathan’s game at the casino or the party of friends who go for a dinner at the racetrack and play with a set amount ($20, say) just for entertainment, without a care for winning or losing. On the other hand, gambling can be a snare, and its promises of wealth are too often a deceit. It may be that all the people I saw at the Casino were playing “How Quickly Can You Lose Ten Dollars,” but somehow I doubt it. The atmosphere I took to be morose was rather hope struggling against reason, the hope of winning this time, even against all the odds.
The worst thing about the hall of slot machines is how tedious it seemed. Horseracing can be interesting or exciting whether one bets or not: there is not much interest in watching the slot machines, and less in scratching a lottery ticket. It is rather like strong drink. One can taste a glass of wine, take pleasure in its colour and taste, and consider the talent that went into making it, but stop there, without going on to quaff huge amounts and get drunk. Or, one can meet with friends and over a pint or two of ale enjoy their company and conversation. It is very hard think of a Casino as a convivial or friendly spot.
Sure, if I’m driving with Jonathan again and he wants to stop for a quick spin at the Casino, I'll go in, but it will be to play a silly game with my nephew, not to enter the serious world of hoping that I'll win and solve all my troubles. Having won some money once I will be expecting to lose it all quickly this time, and probably win the game.

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