Sunday morning. A day of worship and prayer. We rush to our sacred space, full of optimism and faith. It’s a new beginning. We have learned from last week’s transgressions and developed a new strategy and plan. We seek more than salvation. We want growth; we want gain. The promised bounty awaits … as long as we choose wisely. We just have to get there on time. It is not the disapproving looks of parishioners we are trying to avoid if we are late — we have to get our bets in on time. The church forgives; the sportsbook doesn’t.

Inside, a bouquet of cigarettes, cologne and simmering hot dogs envelops us. We scan the others gathered here today. Based on the held glances and nods, we know it is more than the financial allure of parlaying an entertainment source into an income supplement or a life-changing windfall that brought us here. It is the opportunity to make connections and build rapport with friends, colleagues and even strangers, to be in a congregation where everyone is accepted and all opinions are heard.

The monitors stare back at us. They are windows to our future and will show us our fate. We stand aghast before the twinkling board. The letters and numbers blur together, flashing like stars. Our adrenalin surges. Sweat pushes through, adding to the scent swirling around us. We dig out our play sheet, deciphering our notes to match the patterns gleaming from above.

At the counter, the indifferent stare of the ticket writer shakes our resolve. We lower our eyes to our wrinkled play sheet and speak the language of this hallowed place. His fingers dance over the keys, culminating in a dollar total. We remove the sweat-damp wad of bills buried in our pocket and straighten the requested total, pushing it forward like an offering. In return we receive a solitary slip of white paper. Satisfaction shoots through us. We nod in appreciation. This is the one. With a single wager we are no longer just a spectator. We have a role in the drama about to unfold.

The game starts. We savor each play. Every twist and turn is an affirmation of our choice or a conspiracy to steal our boon. Of course we want the money, but more than anything we want to be right, to watch the scenario we professed come to fruition, to puff our chest out and say, “I told you so.” Only seconds remain. We move closer to the screen, as if we could help if needed. A sudden reversal transpires. Our probability plummets. The monitor confirms the unfortunate outcome. Our head slumps forward in defeat. We steady ourselves and rise with humility and grace. The cheers of those who only moments ago were losers remind us that one person’s bad beat is another’s luck box cover. We raise our eyes to the heavens and search the board.

What’s the next game? — Douglas Cooper

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