Like to gamble? Some think it's illegal in most places, but that is simply not true.
You don't have to go to a reservation, a card room or Nevada to take your chances. You can gamble to your hearts content right on the Internet — and for a fee as little as $7 per bet! Here's the best part: It's all perfectly legal!
Of course, I'm referring to the Wall Street casino. Oh sure, you've heard all the euphemisms about this gaming activity. It's "investing." It's rational planning for retirement. It's a great way to save for a college education, etc. Perhaps it was at one time, but today, it's just another version of spinning a roulette wheel.
The difference is that playing market roulette gives you many more options. To explain things using this wheel of chance analogy, you can bet on more than just red or black, or numbers 1 through 36. You can wager against red or black as well. You can bet for or against 0 and 00. You don't even need much cash on the table. You can use "calls" or "puts" to leverage 100 future spins at a fraction of the cost of a standard stake. You can go on "margin" and use the house's money to place 50 percent of your chips. If you're right, the house owes you money!
You don't have to be an individual player. You can pool your dollars with thousands, sometimes millions of others who use a manager to place large wagers and then divide up the profits (or losses). Most of these "professionals" take a fee for their expertise. Interestingly, many managers have not reached the age of 30 and have track records not much better than individual gamblers.
The big fish, who control most of the spins, are really in charge of the game. They don't even have to be present at the tables. They can place millions of bets by computers. These wagers are often instantaneous and, on occasion, go haywire — just like that slot machine you've probably played in Reno. When that happens, the individual player is often left wondering what happened to his or her money.
Here's another way to describe the situation: It's much like that game you played as a child called "musical chairs." You see, the way you make money in the stock market is to be a little faster and smarter than the next guy. While the music is playing, everyone is happy. People believe they are making money. But then, the music stops unexpectedly. When that happens, there are not enough chairs to go around. Those who anticipated the silence, grab a chair and make money. Those who don't — well, you can guess the rest.
You might think that only irresponsible people would take such chances. However, our most responsible people in society play Wall Street roulette. Our wealthiest and most successful people participate. If you have a pension fund, you probably know that they are heavily into this game. Your insurance company is as well. The big boys and girls are pretty good at grabbing chairs when the music stops. But the fact is that most, in the back of their minds, fear that a game of betting for and against each other will eventually have a day of reckoning.
At times, you may hear about "billions being lost" in the stock market. However, reality confirms that money does not vanish into outer space. One person's loss is simply another's gain.
Am I suggesting that one should not participate in the greatest casino ever known to man? Absolutely not!
It reminds me of that old joke about the guy who goes to the doctor and says: "Doc, will I live to be 100?" The doctor then asks the patient, "Do you drink, smoke, eat red meat, chase women or GAMBLE?" The middle-aged man replies "No." The doctor retorts: "Then why would you want to live to be 100?"
Man has been wagering his treasures ever since he could walk on two legs. It is just part of the excitement of living. Fortunes have been made and lost through games of chance. Life itself has always been a process of assuming risks. This activity will, no doubt, continue as long as humans inhabit the Earth.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer and satirist.