The bet of a lifetime

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The bet of a lifetime


In “Bewitched,” a novel by Seong Seok-je, there is a passage that reads: “People who know the nature of gambling know that there are no words like ‘the best’ in the world of gambling. A gambler can lose his whole life overnight or fall from top to bottom in a single day.”

The protagonist in the novel and the greatest gambler in the world, Pistol Song, proclaims the “10 commandments of gambling.”

The first commandment is: “Do not bet on things you cannot afford to lose, such as family members, a house, rice and your fatherland.”

But gambling is just one of three vices in which men are tempted to indulge. Of the three - drinking, womanizing and gambling - gambling is said to be the most addictive. In the comic book “Tajja” by Huh Young-man, gamblers grab at cards with their remaining fingers after the others have been cut off.

Addiction to gambling was once considered an ethical problem. Nowadays, however, there is growing support for the view that it is caused by a failure of the mechanism in the nervous system that controls the demand for ever stronger stimulation. Addicted gamblers enjoy the thrilling moments when they glance at their cards - and then they want more. French novelist Honore de Balzac called it the “spirit of gaming” and “a passion more fatal than a disease.”

In the Japanese manga series “Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji” - which has sold more than 10 million copies - the brain of a gambling addict does not light up with ordinary stimulation but requires extraordinary measures.

One interesting view is that gambling is part of a larger system that makes people inadvertently jump into the world of chance. This is the view of Gerda Reith, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Glasgow and the author of “Gambling: Who Wins? Who Loses?”

She says that we are all gamblers by instinct and gambling is ingrained as part of our daily routine - in the form of buying lottery tickets at the same shop every week or betting on World Cup football games. For people who are charmed by the thrill of winning by chance, the anxious moments of putting down money are more important than the game itself, she says.

Recently, reports that popular television host Shin Jung-hwan went abroad to gamble have created a stir. Shin, who prior to this incident appeared on many popular entertainment programs, seems to be throwing away his career as an entertainer.

There is a passage in another novel on gambling that says: “You should not indulge in gambling for too long. At the end of the day, the ones who are still smiling are the casino owners and the Creator, who controls time.”

If the suspicions about Shin are true, he either has a serious addiction or he loves the world of chance too much. I hope he remembers the things he cannot afford to lose - before it’s too late.

Ki Sun-min is a culture and sports reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Ki Sun-min

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