Saturday, September 25, 2010

The House Always Wins

The promise is this: risk a small amount for a chance at a fortune. One for a thousand, 10 for a hundred thousand, a hundred for a million. The “less small” the amount risked, the bigger the potential earnings. In the land where the majority have less, with no clear chance at having more in the horizon, next to leaving the country, gambling provides the most promise at a better life. Gambling lords have a better chance at striking gold in this country than in one where the life is so much easier. And people get addicted to it believing that they can beat the odds.

Here’s the catch – while the gambler can believe all he wants that he can beat the odds, the gambling lord designs his business in a way that the house always wins. Otherwise, what’s the point, right? And that is the point - the house always wins, whatever design that house may have: a slot machine or a black jack table at a casino, a bingo social for a church benefit, a neighborhood mahjong-an, a sports arena that’s actually a sabungan, or hidden jueteng operations.

And if the house wins, who loses? That’s right.

Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan, at left. Photo by Jojo Lamaria.

And in these houses, who are home? The owners of course. Parents who run it and make sure it runs smoothly and that the end result is achieved: the house wins. Then there are the children who help with the household chores – card dealers, bet collectors, etc. And if it’s an illegal gambling operation such as Jueteng, the children run the bigger risk of getting in trouble with the law, they’re the ones who are out there in the streets, in alleyways at the market, passageways in between shanties, collecting coins and dreams. And the parents? Well, they’re safe behind the walls of the house, away from view, away from trouble. And the children get their paltry allowances every single day, and the parents get to keep the rest.

And if the children get in trouble, it compromises the whole house, so they do exert efforts to keep their children safe – by buying out the trouble, in this case, the law enforcers. Now this is a tricky undertaking: you pay off the foot soldiers, you will have to pay off the ones commanding them. You pay off the commanders, you will have to pay off the ones supervising them. You pay off the supervisors, and the money will have to somehow reach higher and higher up. There’s so much coins to go around, anyway, coins that put together can make for quite a comfortable house, buy guns for protection, and souls to play with like puppets. 

In the meantime, dreamers’ dreams remain unrealized. Maybe they do get a taste of comfort thanks to some winnings that will buy a lechon manok for the day and a few pirated videoke DVDs to sing the blues away for a few days. But at the end of the day, they still live in a shanty on borrowed land.

The rich don’t play jueteng, they don’t need to, they eat six times a day and do not have to line up for a jeep ride home in the rain. Their children go to schools in crisp, clean uniforms and on weekends they can all watch a 3D flick at the mall.

So never mind what the political implications are of having the name of our good Mayor dragged  into this whole jueteng mess, this will only result in efforts to “clear his name.” Never mind empty pronouncements such as “I have created a task force to address the problem,” or “I am directing our police force to go after all forms of illegal gambling,” etc., these are nothing more than space fillers for newspapers. Never mind cheap political tricks like “maybe they were referring to the previous administration,” it’s really cheap. And don’t blame the dreamers by saying “e kung wala namang nagsusugal wala namang magpapasugal” - they’re hungry, and desperate, and the government has failed to give them hope. For us to believe the denials, all you need to do is to eradicate jueteng, and maybe the way to go is to make this city a place where people can realize their dreams, a place where honest, hard work is rewarded with just compensation. Make it possible for its people to become heroes and realize their full potential as human beings. Show them that graft, corruption, unlawfulness and immorality are wrong, and not the norm. And all of this can only happen with principled, clean and honest public service.

Give them hope.

With that, the house of cards would come tumbling down, and the city and its people will win, finally.  

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