Thursday, July 13, 2006

Losing My Marbles: Confessions of a Childhood Gambling Addict

I love gambling. That's all there is to it. The possibility of winning something for nothing is too enticing to pass up. I also love sports betting. The addition of risk to any match, game, or competition raises the stakes and enjoyment (or stress) for me in a way I can't resist (except when I can). Now, I always assumed that my love for gambling began when I turned 18 and was first able to purchase scratch tickets and bet on the numerous sports I had no business betting on (just because I don't know anything about the Israel Soccer League doesn't mean I shouldn't be placing bets on Jerusalem United...right?). I assumed this was furthered at 21 when I was able to go to casinos and play poker online. Just recently, however, a memory returned to me which proved this gambling began much much further back than that.

When I was eight or nine, my parents bought me one of my childhood staples-- The Marble Raceway. For those of you who were without this glorious toy, The Marble Raceway is a set of interconnecting tubes and track pieces that you could arrange and attach in any number of configurations to create millions of vertical race-tracks with. You would then attach the finish line at the bottom and the starting block at the top, load up the marbles, and GO! The result was a tall, complicated, multi-faceted, mini-golf-esk, racing adventure (for up to 8 marbles, unless you ignored the starting block and just dumped them in...which I think we all did).

Now perhaps all children took this toy to the next levels-- game, and then sport. I don't know. But what I do know now, after thinking back, is that I took this bright shining good thing and brought it to a very dark place-- the seedy world of underage marble gambling. Initially, I began by simply choosing a whole bunch of marbles out of a bucket I had and racing the ones that looked coolest i.e. shiny, single colored, multi-colored (I dug the ethnic marbles), or interestingly flawed (tragic hero marbles). I narrowed down the contenders to around 24, and would run imaginary leagues, divisions, and tournaments with the marbles, giving them personalities and histories. This worked for a bit, but you can only play with your own marbles for so long before you want someone else playin' to speak.

Friends began coming over to play with The Marble Raceway and I would urge them to bring their own marbles. When they did, we would hold races and bet on the winners. What would we bet? The marbles. Marbles would be pre-selected as the prize, and whoever won the bet took the marbles. Occasionally, there would be some heads-up action, where we would each select one of our marbles to race and the winner took both marbles. This idea was later used in the racing game The Need For Speed: High Stakes. They were indeed high stakes for us back in the day.

The flaw with The Marble Raceway which I must have known at the time, was that 99% of the race was at the start. The starting block was nothing more than a tippable platform with dividers on it that spilled the marbles into a toilet bowl-like tube. The marbles would circle around the bowl before finally fighting their way down the shoot. Usually, whichever marble got into that hole first would win the whole thing. There were very few marbles that were best in the final leg of the race. The race was practically over before it began, with the heaviest marble in the most favorable position winning the race, and yet I either didn't realize it or didn't want to ruin the magic of The Marble Raceway with ideas of science and mathematics.

Time and time again I would place my marble bets on my gut feeling or emotional attachement and race my marbles with reckless abandon and time and time again my sure thing, longshot, or racing team captain would lose for me. Most children lose their marbles under furniture or in the yard-- I lost mine the way millions of people have lost their paychecks, their mortgages, or cars-- at the track.

The adrenaline rush I now feel at a casino or while playing poker or watching two tennis players I've never heard of battle in a tournament I didn't know existed, I first felt while glass and plastic spheres hurdled down a plastic track. Maybe I should have learned something form those days, when only marbles were at stake-- but you know what? Just thinking about that toilet bowl starting block or the "sidewinder" maze in the middle, or the runway ending makes me giddy with excitement. In fact, I think I might just go place some bets right now-- is arena football in season? Lacrosse? Jai Lai?

I Lost All My Marbles But At Least I Got Balls,


Anonymous said...

Three things: First, I'm sure I'm driving you nuts with all the out dated comments, but I have never read your blog before and am "catching up" but backwards. So, I'm up catching.
Second, my son totally has one of those marble raceways and I have to admit I like to play with it more than he does. That thing rocks and my favorite is the Plinko (go Bob Barker) like piece and the one where they jump the gap. I like the acrobatics.
Third, the actual game of marbles, is very lose your marbles if you have no skill or no luck. I suck at the real game of marbles, coming from a different generation where playing in the dirt involved bugs, not tiny balls, but my mom is a pro. She'll take all your marbles every time. Which is good, because as she's gotten older I'm afraid she's lost a lot of hers and I'm glad she has some backups. The end.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is Peter from - I have a Marble Raceway right here in front of me. Just acquired it and researching it and your blog entry was such an interesting read. It's marked 1963 - nearly 45 years old this toy is, geez, where does time go...