Gambling and Writing: It’s All in the Game


Not a big jump from writing to gambling

I’m a free lance-writer. Someone Robert Benchley defines as “a…man (look again, Robert) who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” The writing of plays, short stories, and an occasional article, is the way I make my living. Or perhaps.

However, since I’m mainly a literary writer, more times that not, I pay to write (in the form of entry fees, and unbillable hours) rather than writing for pay. After twenty years, I still cannot support myself by the labor of my pen.

Don’t do best-sellers

“I don’t do best sellers!” I cry with ill-disguised disdain. (Truth be know, I’d love to write a best seller and should anyone tell me how, I’ll happily take notes.)

However, best seller-less in Seattle, I’m at my computer in my home office, and judge my success not by fat checks, but by thin acceptances in the form of scribbled notes by artistic directors or feature editors.

That being said, I have a confession. It has nothing to do with how I regard my work, but rather what I do with the fruits of my labor that’s worth at least one visit to the confessional.

Why I gamble my writing winnings

I’m a casino junkie, and I gamble most of my writing checks away. (Last month’s check for a short story was good for fifteen rolls of quarters at the MGM GRAND.)

But make no mistake, I’m not irresponsible. Like most of my literary colleagues, I hold down a part time job in the real world. (Getting a paycheck comes in real handy if you want to keep the electrical power coming in to your computer and have a light to read those galley proofs.)

I pay my bills, okay? It’s just the sporadic earnings from my writing that I contribute to the casinos.

What’s more, I feel justified in doing it. Writing and gambling have a lot in common when you get right down to it. Both habits are non-profit, involve risk and, can be, addictive. Gambling can also be addictive online. With games such as Login Poker and horse race betting online, the temptation is quite hard to resist.

The readers of SIP might very well ask why I spend my hard-earned money on gambling. Why don’t I invest or save it, for goodness sakes!

It’s for the very reason that I worked so hard earning it, (in an arena populated by such a small percentage of the population, you couldn’t get a decent head count on a slow Sunday) that I feel compelled to squander it. What’s more, I have to wait such a long time to see a return on my invested time and energy.

Writing checks take forever, you win instantly

Consider this. It takes a year out of my life to write a full-length play, and by the time I received an announcement that my play will be produced, I’m another year older. Add another six months for the time it takes to cast, mount, close and strike the set, and another half year has sneaked by.

So, miracles of miracles, when the check is finally in my hot little hand, sanity has taken a hike. All I hear is the siren song of a Vegas casino. All I can see are rows and rows of computerized gambling machines with no other mission in life than to satisfy lady luck and accommodate writers with smoking pockets.

Besides, I rationalize, with the pull of a handle, I can double, no triple my hard earned money. How can some artistic director on acquisition editor compete with them odds!

Illogical, specious?, wacky. Of course. But, alas, inevitable.

I’m not alone with my distorted thinking. I have a writer-director friend who put his entire independent film project on the line with a toss of the dice. He lost. And my best friend, first time novelist, took her advance and tried to double or nothing, it. (She nothing’ed it.)

These people are highly disciplined writers, (and like me work at other jobs to pay the bills) but their writing income often gets poked into a slot machine or plunked down on a table covered with green felt and blooming with gaming chips. (Better odds, they say than having their screenplay optioned or their book crowning the best-seller list.)

So there you have it. Confessions of a casino junkie who just happens to be a writer. Not very smart to gamble away my writing income. But on the other hand, there are now slot machines linked to statewide networks who pay progressive jackpots that near the $10 million mark…