22 JULY 1995, Page 40

Long life

Gambling away another fiver

Nigel Nicolson

Imay have told this story before, but it bears repetition if only to provoke comment on my craven behaviour and sug- gestions how I should have handled the situation with greater dignity and success.

Some years ago I found myself alone for the night in a Greek resort, and having nothing better to do, I went to the casino. I bought chips worth £10. Recklessly, I put the whole lot on Number 14. It came up, first time 'A qui le quatorzer, demanded the croupier. I put up my hand. At the same time a man on the opposite side of the table put up his. The croupier acknowledged him, not me. Perhaps they were in collusion. In any case, the crook would have witnesses to swear that the chips were his. I had none. If I made a fuss, I would have been humiliated to no avail. So I gave him and the croupier a dirty look and left, thinking that I had lost £350 when in fact I'd lost only £10.

It taught me a lesson. For the next ten years I stayed clear of roulette, cards, pools and horses. Then came the Lottery. Since it began, I have invested IS a week for my five grandchildren (the sixth is still too young to be corrupted), which makes, to date, £160, from which two of the children have derived prizes of £10 each. I embarked on this ridiculous gamble in spite of Camelot's hon- est warning that the odds were heavily weighted against me. Last, week, for exam- ple, out of the 30 numbers marked on my card, only two were duplicated in the draw, and those were on different lines.

Of course there are compensations. One is the thought that my losses benefit charities, sports and the arts. The second is that I might suddenly win £10 million, which I would spend (stealing it from the protesting grandchild) on a great new muse- um to celebrate the history of Kent. When the Benson family recently won £20 million, Mrs Benson is reported to have said, 'Money cannot buy happiness', and her daughter Heather said, 'They deserve it,' both statements being open to question, since the photographs showed the Bensons in a state of ecstasy only equalled by the West Indians on taking Mike Atherton's wicket, and their 'deserts' have little to do with their fortuitous success. During their celebratory absence, their home was burgled. 'That took the gilt off the gingerbread,' said Mrs Benson. Some gingerbread.

Such stories, however, encourage idiots like me to persist. The Lottery and the scratch-cards, which are even more seduc- tive because they are simpler and one can discover one's fate instantly, have brought a new excitement into village life. They pro- mote conversation between neighbours who have scarcely spoken for 20 years but it is difficult to know what they talk about, since the subject admits of little variety. They can- not drop numbers with the same impact that they once dropped names. Yet the Lot- tery has come to dominate the life of one elderly lady of my acquaintance to the extent that she has become an expert on the mathematics of chance. She has 'systems'. She maintains that the top prizes are far too big. There should be more prizes of lesser value. I agree. Meanwhile I shall continue to lay down my £5 weekly, knowing one thing for certain in all this uncertainty, that no croupier will ever allot my winnings to a crook.