Casinos are packed full of things I can't stand, but I have never once wished I could gamble without entering one. I simply love them. The sound of that crazy Super Mario Brothers music emanating from the slot machines, the feel and smell of the aggressively air-conditioned smoky air, the over-the-top decor, the absence of natural light, the bustle at every time of the day or night - it's like entering an alternate reality. There is nowhere else on earth where I remain blissfully untroubled by too much smoke and too much noise. Nowhere else I revel in crowds of people, most of them some disagreeable combination of rowdy, drunk, cranky, brainless, angry, depressed, overly familiar, even desperate and showing all the signs of having lost next month's rent money.
The only places in the world where I can walk vast distances without hating every step are European capitals, particularly Paris, Berlin and London, and casinos. (Sadly, walking in Paris Las Vegas is not doubly fun for me. The Paris aspects are very cool, but that casino's blackjack rules are terrible; they increase the house advantage and no self-respecting gambler is willing to put up with that. So my trips to Paris Las Vegas are actually kind of frustrating. When I go to a restaurant there or to buy some of the best bread around, I have to ignore both the blackjack tables and the itching to play that walking past them arouses in me.)
As I left a local casino last night, trailed by a gaggle of very obnoxious, very drunk 20-something men shouting profanities at one another (and, fortunately, paying absolutely no attention to me), I wondered why I love these places. The newly-won money in my wallet didn't hurt, but the money isn't the best part of gambling. It's obviously more fun to win than to lose, but losing is part of the experience. You have to make your peace with it. I know several much less risky ways to make money, so if that's what I were after, I'd be doing something else.
The game itself isn't particularly challenging either, although it's endlessly fascinating. I'd have a lot of red chips - the gambler's equivalent of a nickel - if I had one for every time I or someone else said "What are the odds?" in response to someone (usually the dealer) pulling a 7-card 17 or having 20 four times in a row or getting consecutive blackjacks or suited pairs. It's amazing how intriguingly 104 cards (I play double-deck pitch) can behave. There's a lot to watch and learn even for someone who's played 3-4 times a month for over 3 years. And my money management strategy evolves every time I play; I'm always trying out some new wrinkle gleaned from the last experience. (I'm pretty certain I'm onto something great at the moment since the last time I lost was 7 sessions ago.)
OK, I guess it's obvious that I love to play. It would be easy to conclude that the reason I love casinos is simply because that's where you play. But I loved doing the work I did, too, and that didn't stop me from affirmatively disliking some of the aspects of the places in which I worked. Work environments offer plenty of equivalents to too much smoke, too much noise and disagreeable people. So do other parts of life that I love easily as much as gambling. While I grew competent if not proficient at tolerating these other irritants, I never remained blissfully untroubled by them. I guess I have to conclude that my serene love of casinos is innate and involuntary or, possibly, a happy byproduct of advancing age.