The first time I hit roulette on the nose — red 23 — I hadn’t even been looking at the wheel or where the ball landed. I never assumed I’d win. And most times, I was right. But then I hit it. Then a few minutes later, I hit it again — this time having hedged my bets between 16 and 17. I knew I wasn’t trying, didn’t even realize I had won at all until the dealer swept a stack of chips toward me. I was on a winning streak and it was creating a dangerous, hapless kind of confidence.
“Oh my gosh. You’re — how are you doing that?” my boyfriend laughed in disbelief. He had played out the cash he had allotted and exhibited considerable control by not playing again. I didn’t have quite that much control, especially when, at this point, I was up.
I’m not an entirely risk-averse person. I know that risk is a muscle that, when used wisely, can yield amazing things and get you further than if you took none. I took a calculated professional risk when I went out on my own instead of filling another full-time seat. I’ve risked rejection by asking men out (including the man I was with) and come out on the other end better off.
But risking my money on the roulette wheel seemed laughable — before I actually did it. After all, how could anyone be so stupid as to think that you could make money in Vegas? It’s a losing proposition. Even the optimists among us know that the game of chance is stacked against you, and that Vegas wouldn’t be Vegas if it gave away more money than it kept. Anyone who thinks otherwise must be a damn fool, as my mother says.
The only time I’d mixed games with real money was when I played cards as a kid with my sisters and great aunt Helen in her summer home in the Poconos. We played “21,” which is essentially blackjack without a dealer. The painted green table was sticky with humidity and the crickets whistled and whirred outside the screened-in porch as Helen counted out change for each of us to play with. We dropped the coins into a wooden bowl, winner takes all. I remember the night I won the jackpot, the weight of all those coins in my hands.
Certainly I knew better now. I went through a brief slot machine phase, which ended with a single stunning win of $300 before I realized that this was a loser’s game, like flushing money down the toilet, one bill at a time. I was always too intimidated to sit down at any of the dealer tables and figured better to be cowed by them and keep my money, than brave — and broke.
But on this trip, at the urging of my boyfriend, I’d taken a seat at the table. A middle-aged Hispanic man in a cowboy hat and a pressed denim shirt eyed the wheel with suspicion; two goofy college boys told each other what to do; an old Chinese woman with fried hair and a printed blouse looked resolute behind piles and piles of chips. It was clear she’d been there a while.
After that first win, I decided I would just play for a bit and get out while I was up. (That was the plan, anyway.) The one thing I had wish I’d known before I set foot in the casino in the Paris hotel in Las Vegas was that no one, not even me, was resistant to the lure of luck and money.
I knew as well as anyone that this was randomness at work, a spin of the wheel, gravity working against centrifugal force to draw a tiny marble into a slot, any slot, and that the odds of landing on any one of those numbers was exactly the same, no matter how many times you played. It didn’t matter how smart I was, how well-intentioned, how good. None of it mattered at all.
I was up $20, then $40, and I started playing faster and looser. You start to think you’re all in this together, which you absolutely are not, and that the more chips on the table, the more likely you are to corner a win, give luck fewer places to go. You start to think you know things that you don’t or that your thoughts alone have power over randomness (also known as delusion).
I was up $80.
“Now’s a good time to get out,” my boyfriend said. “What do you think?”
“No!” I said, surprising myself. “Why on earth would I leave now?”
You know the rest of the story. For every winning arc, there is an opposing one that, in its own way, rights the scales, puts the money back where it started. But you don’t know that until it’s too late — until you feel the energy dropping, start to care about the outcome, attempt to control it — c’mon, c’mon — and that’s when you’ve really lost, even if you have a few chips to your name.
I didn’t lose my shirt or anything that dramatic, but while I had every intention of going out high, I didn’t. Not really. It’s almost impossible to do, to walk away when things are falling into your favor. I should have known that receiving is easy when you don’t expect it, but the danger with money, as with anything else — love, recognition — comes when you start to expect it, despite having done nothing to earn it.
Terri Trespicio is a lifestyle expert and writer living in New York City. Visit her at territrespicio.com and on Twitter @TerriT.