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Feeling Lucky?

by Stephen Lautens


April 13, 2001

Desperate to find a new teen anxiety, I've noticed a recent surge in stories about teenage gambling.

We've apparently beaten to death the traditional teen traumas of drinking, drugs, gangs, and pregnancy. Cigarettes, pimples and peer pressure barely register as problems now. In fact, there's hardly any room left for even a good "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" story ever since "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" made it fashionable. Today being a teen werewolf is considered just another and equally valid lifestyle choice.

Don't get me wrong. While in the midst of your teenage years (which for men starts at thirteen and goes to somewhere in the mid-forties) everything feels like high drama. If you have a drink - you're an alcoholic. If you have a fight with your girlfriend, it's the end of the world, or at least equal to when Richard Burton left Liz Taylor - or for the younger crowd, when Jennifer Lopez left Puffy.

So the new Movie of the Week teenage disorder is gambling. Kids addicted to playing the ponies, or card games or even Internet casinos where you play with real money. And then there are lotteries, but it's no surprise teens try their luck there since the government does its best to make even losing the lottery look fun.

To a teen hitting the jackpot means not having to go to Dad when you need the money to get your tongue pierced.

As a teen and an adult I was always too cheap to gamble. I know gambling is for suckers, unless you're running the game. Those big hotels in Las Vegas don't give out free drinks because they're losing money.

A long time ago my grandfather used to run a craps game at lunchtime in the alley behind his office. He also liked the dog races in Florida and was pretty handy with a deck of cards. Sad to say, none of that adventurous entrepreneurial spirit or gambling talent rubbed off on me.

My other grandmother taught me an early lesson in gambling. On rainy days at the cottage she would bring out a little device called a "put and take". It was a top, and when you spun it the side that landed up told you to either put a nickel in or take one out of the pot. Grandma either had a lot of luck or a magnet hidden under the card table, because pretty soon she would have all my money.

And in order for it to be a real lesson in gambling, she kept all the proceeds. As a tender young teen, this was unlike any other adult I had ever made bets with - the kind who paid off if you won and forgave you if you lost. Not Grandma - she ran her tables like a Vegas Pit Boss. If you were lucky, after cleaning you out you'd get one free drink and a coupon for dinner.

Maybe I owe her a debt of thanks for teaching me a hard lesson about of the evils of gambling at such an early age. I still look on all lotteries and card games as sure ways to lose money.

If we could just get Grandma out to visit all the high schools with her "put and take", we'd have this teenage gambling licked in no time. 

And she'd be set for life.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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