The Temple of Chance

Submitted by Chris Webster on Sat, 2006/08/12 - 04:06
Richard Fortey, 'Life: an Unauthorised Biography'

In the cavernous interior of the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, there are ranks of gambling machines lined up like gaudy soldiers on parade, each one to a common design, though subtly different. They invite you to make a close inspection. The machines are designed to be close to human height. You prop yourself before them on skimpy stools, or stand to attention inspecting the arcane rules that govern how you may be paid back richly as you gamble. The winner takes all.

It is a temple of chance. Between the machines there are roulette wheels, spinning symbols of chance itself. Punters cluster intently around the wheels, seeking by willpower alone to guide the little ball into the numbered haven of their choice. There are various ways in which to place your bets. The long shot is to bet on a single, winning number, with the faint possibility of colossal returns. Or, alternatively and more conservatively, you can bet on red or black. Whatever you do, the table has the edge. The odds can be evaded temporarily - enough to fund an occasional small fortune. But the odds will reassert themselves in the end with the inexorability of a mathematical certainty.

The bleeping, winking, sleepless cavern at Excalibur knows neither day nor night. It lives under perpetual, but dimmish electric light. It is maintained at the temperature of a warm spring day. The temperature outside is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit - not a particularly hot day for this part of the world. All around there is the Nevada Desert, and if the water dried up, or the electricity were switched off, the desert would soon reassert itself. The people would depart in their Chevvies and suburbans, and the whole absurd farrago of neon and paste would crumble away; and soon hot winds would excoriate the boulevards, and whistle among the abandoned ionic capitals of Caesar's Palace, around the glistening nilotic pyramid of the Luxor, and beat against the castellated concrete of Excalibur. Maybe, at that time, a shy pronghorn antelope would pick delicately among the debris, coming down from the hills in search of rewards from remnants left behind by departing men and women. Lizards would crawl out to bask upon abandoned stretch limousines. Those creatures lacking in presumption, but rich in the qualities required for survival against the odds, would inherit the Strip. For the meek survive, even if they don't inherit the Earth.


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