The first time I was exposed to gambling, I was eighteen years old and went with a friend to Las Vegas for New Year’s. I had never before entered a casino or watched a card game. It had just never appealed to me, and I certainly didn’t have any extra money I could have afforded to lose.

But here was an opportunity to get picked up in a limousine, fly first class, and have all expenses paid for by the hotel. After all, my friend was quite the gambler, and so as a thank-you for the tens of thousands she had lost to them, she and another hundred like her were treated to a New Year’s celebration on the house.

After all, these people were addictsThe casino was brilliant. They knew that for the little they would give, they would get plenty in return. After all, these people were addicts. And once you tempt an addict with their vice, it is only a matter of time before they repay you greatly for your free gift.

But at the time I was too naive to realize that joining her actually meant supporting her unhealthy addiction. It didn’t take long, though, to realize. I remember telling myself that I would be willing to gamble $20. If I lost it, I was done. If I won something along the way, I was willing to play with those winnings. But I would not spend any more than the original $20 I brought in.

And so, that is how my night went. And it was a short one. I didn’t know how to play anything sophisticated, so I stayed with the slot machines. I would win a few dollars, lose a few, win a few, and after what I considered a fairly nice win of $50, I chose to take my earnings and leave.

I was done. Satisfied. Had my fun, and all was good. Except that I couldn’t find my friend.

As I went to look for her, for the first time I took a good look at my surroundings. The room was so brightly lit it was blinding, and everywhere you turned there was a beautiful woman offering you a drink. The place was crowded, smoky, and there were no windows. After a minute I was dizzy, and knew I needed some fresh air. But, before leaving, I found my friend at a card table.

The game was high stakes, and I watched these people stand there, gambling their lives away. At one point, as a bunch of chips were taken from one man, someone mentioned how he had just lost $50,000. I couldn’t believe it. I was so choked with emotion at the absolute wastefulness involved. I turned to him and screamed, “$50,000? Do you realize that could have paid for my college education? I make $7 an hour, and you just lost $50,000 over choosing the wrong card?!”

My outburst was not appreciated by the staff, and I was nicely asked to leave the casino and return to my room. It didn’t take much convincing, as I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I went to the room and attempted to open my window—when I realized I couldn’t. I called the front desk and was told that none of the windows opened in the hotel. Actually, none of the windows open in any of the Las Vegas hotels.


To prevent anyone from jumping.

I hadn’t thought about this incident until recently. And only recently, because on our cruise ship there was a casino. Here we were, on an enormous ship, traveling to some of the most beautiful locations in the world, and people chose to spend their time losing their money inside a casino with fake lighting and no ability to see the ocean, the sky, or the beautiful beaches around them.

My outburst was not appreciated by the staff, and I was nicely asked to leave the casino and return to my roomI started to wonder what I gamble with in my life. Even though I have never been tempted to pull down on a lever and watch numbers spin around, or learn how to play poker, I realized I am also not immune to the dangers of gambling.

Gambling implies that our life is random. That everything is up to luck, and that nothing we do can necessarily create or prevent our outcome. When we win, we convince ourselves we are on a roll, and want to win even more. When we lose, we don’t want to walk away with less, so we keep playing, hoping that we will get lucky and win back and come out ahead. But as we do this, underlying it all, is the lack of belief that there is any purpose, anything greater than ourselves, any meaning behind what we do.

We are not mere players in a game. Or, as Shakespeare more eloquently put it, on a stage. We are each here with a mission and purpose and talents and abilities unlike any other. That is why we were created. Our being in this world is not random; therefore, we must ensure that our actions in this world not be random either.

While I don’t gamble my money, I am not always so careful with my words. If I am upset, you will know. I will tell you. And in no uncertain terms. I throw out my words like the dice, hoping they land where I want them to. But I don’t always think about how my words will affect the other. The pain it will cause. The everlasting effect, far beyond my hurt and anger that will most likely quickly dissipate. I take that gamble because in doing so, it minimizes my responsibility. I was upset, therefore I said that.

I gamble with my time. I am too busy to sometimes listen to my child, because I want to answer another e‑mail. How do I know how much time I will have, to be so flippant with the opportunities presented to me? I gamble, assuming I will have endless time to make them up. Just like the ones who are sure that even though they are standing in debt, they will eventually win and profit. Gambling diminishes our responsibilities. Nothing we did created the outcome, therefore what we do does not matter.

But our lives are not random. Every action we make leads to another, and if the first one is not in the right direction, the second one has a much greater chance of not being so either.

We can make conscious choices only when we connect with our reality, not when we try to escape from itWe do not roll the right numbers when we throw our dice in the air and wait for them to fall in the right place. We get the right numbers when we look at all our options, think about all the different outcomes, recognize the consequences of whatever choices we make, and then decide what to do. But we certainly can’t do this when there aren’t any windows to see the world around us, or fake lighting so that things don’t look as they really are. We can make conscious choices only when we connect with our reality, not when we try to escape from it.

My friend and I entered the casino on the cruise ship only once. And that was because it was, strategically, the only way to get to where we needed to go. We held our breaths to avoid inhaling the smoke, and walked as fast as we could from one end to the other. And when we exited, we breathed a sigh of relief, stood on the deck looking at the beautiful blue seas, breathing in the fresh sea air and feeling grateful for where we were, what got us there, and looking forward to where we would be going next. And we both knew, that to a very great extent, that it would be up to us, our choices and our decisions.