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Lisboa, Why Tony is a Bad Gambler, and Other tales of Macau

After messing about with the rat-trap hotel, I checked into the Hotel Lisboa. My guidebook had described the hotel as a "Chinese Las Vegas on acid," and the place certainly didn't disappoint. Nothing in the hotel approached subtle, from the use of gold tiling in near-papal excess to a series of directory signs that could be informative bordering upon cryptic. There is one junction in the hotel that helpfully tells you that whichever way you go, there's a casino ahead. And after some sightseeing (more on that later), I did hit the casinos. But I must make a confession, dear reader: I am a miserable gambler. By that, I don't mean to say that I lose. Indeed, last night I was on a hot streak. Not ten minutes into fooling about with a one-armed bandit (known locally as "hungry tigers," so it seems), I hit a small payout. After wandering about and finding a blackjack table, things just kept getting better. Within two hours, I'd doubled my money, and had enough spare cash to pay the hotel bill and buy some gifts for my family. Then I stopped. Because really, I've always tried to convince myself that I should enjoy gambling. It's one of those relatively acceptable vices that counts as "fun." But every time I'm at the table, I'm intensely conscious of the fact that every probability says I'm going to lose. When I'm down, I'm down. When I'm up, I'm just scared I'm going to be down again. I do enjoy blackjack, because on some level I feel like I understand the game. On the other hand, I don't have any particular rituals when playing. When the cards are handed to me, I flip them over nonchalantly--or at least, unconcernedly--because they're going to be what they are. Last night I played a very odd game, in which everyone bets on whether the "player" or the "banker" are going to win. I had no idea what constituted winning, but played when I saw that both the "player" and "banker" were actually players, the dealer was merely dealing, and there was an entire elaborate ritual of peeking slowly under the cards that were dealt, turning a corner up, and then after you'd finally determined what the card was, tossing them up the table in apparent disgust. Maybe I just don't have the gambling spirit, but this seemed an awfully slow way to play the game: it's not like the card changes because you pull it up a fraction of a centimeter at a time. It turns out I was playing baccarat. I won HK$400, still have no idea how the game is played, and left the table to get a cup of coffee before either (a) it was my turn to be dealer or banker, or (b) the game drove me psychotic. In any event, I just do not seem to be the gambling type.

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