Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Croupier crime and punishment

Is a topic I blogged on a few months ago; and lo and behold, it’s hit the news again.

This time, the story is much more of novelty news value only – the small amount stolen, the light penalty meted out, and most of all, the altruism of the offender.

Here, I need to fess up that I worked as a croupier a few years ago, at the same establishment Karl Metza used to work at. While thoughts of crime did occasionally cross my mind during my time there, they were mostly video-gamesque scenarios of my customers being machine-gunned down in situ.

Which may strike some of you (in fact all of you, other than those who have worked in a casino) as harsh – for reasons both of demonstrably psychopathic rage, and of the rage’s actual direction not being towards the personae of the big bad casino.

Don’t get me wrong – a croupier with homocidal fantasies is not someone who would give up his proverbial kidney, nor even the time of day, for his boss; he hates their stinking, underpaying, cynical industry also. But all that’s not in your face as a croupier – or at least not as in your face as the endless parade of assholes who expect your empathy hour-after-hour as their wallets are inexorably drained. And after all, scooping up the losing chips with one’s bare hands, and returning them to the neat rows of one’s tray, is the most tactile of all a croupier’s routines. Handling wads of cash, in contrast, is perfunctory and grubby – the notes are immediately dispatched into a hole below the playing surface, appropriately enough.

Having lasted five years as a croupier, Metza was clearly made of sterner stuff than me. Accordingly, when he “snapped”, it was quite anti-climactic, like the elastic breaking in a pair of already worn-out underpants: he "simply chose not to take people's money when they lost".

The final irony – an indignity for Metza, and also a kind of vindication for me – is that the whistle was blown not by management, security or his own guilt-wracked soul, but by a punting patron. Who looked a gift horse in the mouth, and then machine-gunned it down for the heck of it. Metza, of course, should have known the odds of ths happening – odds that were, as always, stacked in the House’s favour.

Next time you gamble in front of an impassive human witness, consider this – a croupier is bound to the laws of science and mammon alone. There is no such thing as luck – only the prolongation, time-and-motion-wise, of the losing experience. And losing is an art that all habitual gamblers do exceptionally well – which is why they will inevitably turn on any croupier Stockholm-syndrome-blind enough to want to stake his own hand in their game and art-form.

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