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A Memoir of Gambling

by Beth Raymer

Pub Date: June 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-52645-6
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

An impulsive young female boxing enthusiast stumbles through the sordid milieu of professional compulsive gambling.

Raymer’s background is certainly improbable. A onetime “private stripper,” she followed up her gaming adventures with a Columbia MFA and a Fulbright Scholarship. She nostalgically recalls her earliest experiences with games of chance alongside her father, a flashy used-car salesman. “Though gambling caused many fights between my mom and dad,” she writes, “I associated it with some of the happiest memories of my childhood.” In Las Vegas, Raymer worked for Dink, an overweight, slovenly “professional sports gambler.” She quickly became enamored with the business and with her own aptitude for the minutiae of receiving odds and placing bets with various sports books. The author found Dink inexplicably fascinating, despite the fact that Dink’s wife considered her a threat, even when Dink abruptly fired her, a loss that caused her to take up boxing. “Dink’s absence and rejection had created a void,” she writes. “Boxing was the most challenging thing I’d ever done. It gave me the discipline I had been craving since I had no professional life to speak of.” Later, Raymer traveled to Curaçao with Bernard, similar to Dink but more compulsive and hysterical. Bernard set up an offshore wagering operation that quickly caromed from instant success to insolvency. Raymer remained unfazed. The author’s prose style is sharp, but her memoir is morally tone deaf. The author strains mightily to present her gambling associates as colorful iconoclasts rather than creeps, yet she seems unable to perceive the financial harm they visit upon peoples’ lives and families. This material might have led to striking literary journalism, but Raymer’s preoccupation with herself—she details several PG-13 romantic affairs, which have little effect on her gambling obsession—renders it trite. The ending leaves various narrative threads unresolved, as Raymer literally runs away from her problems to Rio de Janeiro.

Uninspiring but sure to receive media attention.