Thursday, November 29, 2007

No More Three-Card Monte for You, Kid!

No More Three-Card Monte for You, Kid!
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

When I became a dad, the last thing I ever dreamed I would worry about was my kids and gambling. Sure, they would gamble whether they made it to the bathroom in time, (they've won more than they lost), or whether they could sneak candy without being caught (they can't).

But I never figured I'd have to explain the basics of wagering to an 11-year-old girl. Or the problem with gambling with a church youth group.

My oldest daughter recently went duckpin bowling with the 5th and 6th grade class of our new church. Before she left, I got to do something that filled me with both pride and a foreboding sense of dread: I reached into my wallet and handed her eleven dollars.

Pride, because we have taught her to be responsible and mature about money, and this was her chance to show it. Dread, because I had just established a dangerous precedent, and I was staring down the barrel at her impending teen years.

"Seven bucks for bowling and four for food," we told her. "Don't go nuts."

She promised she would be careful, but the gleam in her eye made me wonder if I had just created a monster.

A few hours later, we picked her up and drove home. We heard all the stories about things that are important to 11- and 12-year-olds. But we had more important questions.

"How much money do you have left?" my wife asked.

"I don't know," my daughter said. "Three dollars, I think."

"Wow, you only spent a dollar on food?" I said. "What'd you have?"

"Nachos and popcorn."

That didn't add up. These places charge you a buck just to smell the food. There was no way she ate that much for a dollar. I started to worry she had just mooched off a church youth group. This did not bode well.

"We gave you 11 dollars. How'd you get so much stuff for just a dollar?" my wife asked.

"A bunch of us shared. We all chipped in and shared everything."

Whew! Problem averted. Until we got home and my daughter counted out her change: $4.86.

"Honey, you have more money than you thought. Are you sure you paid for your share of the food?"

"Yes. I paid three dollars."

"Did you pay for the bowling?"

"Yes. Seven dollars, just like you said."

"Then how did you end up with more money?"

She gave me a look that said I'm clueless. I'm sure I'll be seeing it a lot of over the next several years.

"A bunch of us put our leftover money together for the last game, and whoever won the game got the money. And I won."

I was stunned into silence. I just looked at my wife, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, to be proud or upset. While part of me was pleased my daughter had show the ingenuity and competitive spirit to win the big pot, I was also disturbed that she was gambling at the tender age of 11.

At a church function, no less.

She did win, I told myself.

But she gambled, I answered.

So? I asked.

I was stuck. Which was better, winning or gambling? Competition or misdeed?

Now, I've never been morally opposed to gambling. I don't do it, partly because I can think of better uses for my money, but mostly because I've got all the luck of a three-legged dog, and I lose more than I win. So I just don't do it. But I don't mind when other people do it.

Unless those other people are my 11-year-old baby girl. Then I start to wonder about the virtue and rightness of it all. On the one hand, she was proud of herself, having won a big competition, and I didn't want to squash that feeling. On the other, she had just grifted a bunch of little girls.

So we talked for a little while about why some people believe gambling is wrong, why it may not have been the best idea to do it at a church function, and how she shouldn't plan on winning every time she played a game of chance.

But I also taught her about the finer points of making a lay bet to shorten her break-even point and avoid going down to the felt. I mean, if she's going to start gambling, there's no point in having her spend scared money just because she's a pigeon, right? As her dad, I could do no less.

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