National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly

Archives  | 

Send This Page to a Friend

 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

May 14, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 28




Joe Feuerherd With apologies to Bill Bennett

By Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent

Gambling, its critics say, destroys families and marriages, taxes the poor, encourages additional vices, ruins careers, and drains bank accounts. And so it does, and for which it should be roundly condemned.

But it's been very good to me.

It is August 1982. The fall semester has yet to begin so I'm at my parents' home in Long Island. The young lady of my dreams -- a small town Pennsylvania girl -- will join me shortly for a visit, one that corresponds, as it happens, to her 21st birthday.

I've got $26 to my name.

The idea, of course, is to woo the girl -- show her the big city and all it has to offer; to give her the birthday she'd never forget. A difficult task, even two decades ago, on just $26.

So, upon her arrival, I suggest a course of action. Had she ever seen the trotters run? No? As luck would have it, Roosevelt Raceway -- home to the best nighttime sulky races on the east coast -- was just four miles from the house. I'd been there once or twice.

Subtract $1 dollar for parking, another for a program, and $2 for admittance (the latter being the fee one could escape by jumping the fence, which was not an option in this circumstance, as I was being a gentleman).

There are different approaches to playing with such limited funds. Mine: win early so you live to play for the big purse. Sixteen of the $22 dollars are expended on eight separate "daily doubles," where the bettor picks winners in both the first and second races of the night. I'm alive after the first race, so I use my remaining $6 on a five-to-one shot in the second. My daily double hits -- $80 -- and my five to one shot is also a winner. Not bad.

But still not New York 21st birthday worthy.

The third race was the "Big Triple," where a $3 wager consists of picking, in their order of finish, the win, place and show horses. I play a plethora of combinations, all the while putting the favorite on top. The hope is the favorite wins, but that two long shots place and show. Which is what happened -- to the tune of $600. At which point, the wise player, having achieved his objective, leaves, which we did.

The next day -- the young lady's 21st -- it's off to Broadway. Brunch and Bloody Mary's at Sardi's before the matinee performance of Amadeus, starring F. Murray Abraham as composer Antonio Salieri. Wonderful - a birthday to remember.

Twenty years later, the young lady from the small town in Pennsylvania frowns upon my penchant for the ponies, and the kids look bemused when hints of their father's misspent youth are revealed.

Aside from one or two trips back to track in the past five years and the occasional lottery ticket, I don't spend too much time looking to gain something from very little.

The moral to the story? Vices don't pay -- except when the favorite's up top and the long shots place and show.

Top of Page   | Home
Copyright © 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280