Tuesday, October 19, 2004

On gambling money

In the surreal world of gambling, a dollar is not a dollar, nor is a dime a dime. The higher the amount of money in the real world, the smaller the phrase coined for it in the skewed realm that is the gambler’s universe. One hundred dollars is a “dollar” and a thousand dollars is a “dime.” The phrasing is not taken to the next extreme, however. The buy-in to the championship of the World Series of Poker is not a penny; it’s ten dimes.

The purpose of this terminology is to reduce the effect the loss of cold hard cash has on the gambler’s psyche. Losing a dime sure sounds better than dropping a grand. It’s much easier for a gambler to call his bookie and say, “Give me five dollars on the Padres” than to ponder the thought of losing $500.

The method of betting at a casino is also designed to soften the blow. Give a store clerk a $100 bill and the clerk will do everything short of carbon dating testing to verify its authenticity. Drop the same bill on a gaming table in a casino and the dealer will snatch it and drop it in the money slot with the speed of a drawing wild west gunman. In gambling, the money is not as important as the action. Casino owners certainly don’t want a player to ponder how many Big Macs that $100 could have bought after a player’s 20 lost to the blackjack dealer’s five-card 21. They would prefer, of course, for the player to pull another $100 out of his pocket for another drop in the box.

The same effect carries over to the poker table. Betting with round clay chips is much easier psychologically than dropping Benjamins on the felt. The sting is less for most. It’s only so much Monopoly money for them. The poker culture trains many players to have a disregard (I would argue reckless disregard) for their money, leading them to play limits above their bankroll allowance. This philosophy allows a lucky few to hit it really big, winning large sums of money, while others inevitably go bust.

Not me, though, and perhaps it’s why I may never be a great player, merely better than average. I can’t yet take the plunge into high-stakes gambling, preferring to grind out a consistent profit. At 28, I’m still young enough to remember working at K-Mart for minimum wage, and am especially reminded of so after dropping several hundred at the tables. During a recent $10-$20 Hold’em game, I lost a big pot, leaving me with about $30. Rather than throw it in on a hand and try to make a miraculous comeback from my $500 deficit for the night, I cashed in and drove to Winn-Dixie to buy some groceries. My bill? $30. That money sure came in handy.

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