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the Second Oldest Diversion

It's sexy. It's thrilling. Almost everyone does it, and if you're good, and very lucky, you could end up rich.

"It", of course, is gambling, sometimes called the second oldest diversion. Last year, people in the USA spent nearly $50 billion on legal gambling, three times the amount they spent on movies and amusement parks.

People have gambled in almost every culture since the beginning of recorded history. Gameing boards have been found in 4,000 year-old Egyptian ruins. In 2300 B.C. the Chinese invented Go, which was later used in gambling. The ancient Greeks and Romans used to throw the astalagus, the ancestor of modern dice. Even the Roman Catholic Church uses Bingo games to raise cash.

There are better ways to make money, statistically speaking. You are more likely to be hit by lightning than to win in a lottery. And there are plenty of other ways to have fun. Although gambling is loaded with things that draw people to wager at gaming tables, the racetrack, or even via cable television and the Internet, very few of these attractions have anything to do with money. "Ninety-nine percent of gamblers don't play to win," says Dr. Igor Ksusyszyn, an associate professor of psychology at York University in Toronto. Dr. Ksusyszyn is not only one of the world's leading authorities on gambling psychology, but also owns racehorses and has written books on how to win at blackjack and horse racing. "Except for professional gamblers, people play with money, not FOR money." The professional gambler is a rare individual who is ambitious and talented enough to make a living at the casino or the racetrack.

So, if not money, why do gamblers go to the casinos? In the first place, excitement. Gambling is not only mentally stimulating; it's also emotionally thrilling and physiologically arousing to hang on every card or toss of the roulette ball. Some people need to bet $1,000 to get the same thrill that others achieve from a $2 wager.

There are many explanations of why we love to gamble, but the most interesting theory is that gamblers are trying to have some control over the uncontrollable. The inability to predict or control the world, psychologists have observed, makes most people very uncomfortable. This leads many to the (false) hope they can control the dice. Most of the games people bet on - roulette, lotteries, craps and slot machines - have entirely random results. But this knowledge does not prevent gamblers from creating, and believing in, complicated systems or superstitions. People have been known to camp out in tents overnight to ensure they get the "right" seat at a Bingo game.

Regardless of the game, winners rarely keep their good fortune to themselves, while losers try to stay unnoticed. "Winners tell everybody," says Dr. Thompson of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, "because this is an indication that 'the gods', or 'heaven', favour them."

Questions for Discussion

1. What do you think of gambling? Do you like to gamble? What are some popular forms of gambling in Korea?

2. Have you ever been to a casino, or known someone who went to a casino? What happened?

3. Why do you think that people like to gamble? Have you ever known someone who was addicted to gambling?

4. Is gambling fun and harmless, or is it dangerous? If so, how is it dangerous?

5. In America, some people have associated gambling with gangs and organized crime. Do you think this is true? How much money should a person spend - what should be their limit - if they go gambling?

6. Have you ever known anyone who was very good at gambling, or playing cards? What were they like?