What’s your body language in the casino?

Feb 26, 2002 5:59 AM

Robert Burns, one of the many immortal muses of whom most polished punters are apprized, wrote this about pretentiousness:

O wad some Pow’r the
giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

It wad frae mony a
blunder free us,

An’ foolish notion:

What airs in dress
an’ gait wad lea’s,

An’ ev’n devotion.

For those whose Scots Gaelic is a wee bit o’ rusty, Sumner A. Ingmark has provided this English version.

“Oh, would that God
a small gift gi’e us/

To see ourselves
as others see us!/

It would from many
a blunder free us/
and foolish notion./

Pretentiousness would
surely leave us,

/and false devotion.”

This verse (from “To a Louse: On Seeing One on a Âí­Lady’s Bonnet at Church”) could be writ above the portals of the world’s great gambling halls. Maybe even replacing the popular Dante’s “Abandon every hope, ye who enter here,” which is ”” after all ”” rather fatalistic and an imperative with no impetus for improvement.

Solid citizens could do worse than recall Burns’ commentary at the casinos. True, these joints are nothing if not palaces of pretense. Still, pretense need not be pretention. And presence is another matter altogether.

Not that anything’s wrong with recreation that involves a little dress-up or play-acting, being a bit more like you want to be instead of (let’s face it) who you know you are. Occasional escape from the workaday is a legitimate goal, and is the reason many people go to casinos in the first place. So why not exploit the opportunity to feel good about yourself? Casinos may well be the most elegant spots flocks of folks will ever frequent without tour guides, notwithstanding the fact that the marble is mainly polyurethane faux, the wood paneling never saw the inside of a tree, and the artwork came in 4-ft interlocking sections.

Making believe breaks down when you forget how hard you worked for the money you brought in your pocket, or will have to sweat if fate is unkind after you draw it on a marker or from a bank or credit card machine. People not in high tax brackets can have grand casino experiences without tossing dough around or chasing bad bucks with good, as though they were wealthy. You can receive respect and courtesy, get a comp for the all-you-can-eat buffet or whatnot, and choose between a fair chance at a modest yet meaningful return or a longshot at a big payday. Without kidding yourself. And without trying to impress dealers, change clerks, hosts, or bosses who’ve seen it all before, on a larger scale than you probably imagine, and won’t be duped for a second.

There’s more that Burns has to tell casino buffs. “What airs in ... gait wad lea’s” is relevant to body, if not spoken, language when a session isn’t going well. Ask yourself, while meandering around the floor, can you distinguish winners from losers by looking and maybe listening? You can most likely hazard a quick guess and would be right much more than wrong.

Sure, individuals feel and accordingly act differently when they’re winning than losing. Gambling would be boring unless the rewards were worthwhile and the penalties at least distressing. So you have to expect players to be ecstatic when they’re ahead and agonized when they’re behind. But negative emotions, especially, can be allowed to take the reins and run rampant, exacerbating the situation for the luckless and often annoying everyone else in the area as well. Or, they can be managed and handled maturely, with aplomb. It shows character. More than that, awareness of our own responses ”” ability “to see oursels as others see us” ”” can help build character.

Not that slot machines and table games are intended to make anyone a finer human being. Or a richer one, either. They’re to provide an adult leisure activity. But if, in passing, they teach lesson 208 of things to be learned in a casino that are useful in real life, bettors get a beneficial bounty. Sumner A. Ingmark, a poet who gleaned perspicacity and patience both from Bobby Burns and from betting as well, caught it in this clever couplet:

In circumstances you’ve most dreaded,
It helps if you keep level headed.