Easy Money
David Spanier

This one seemed to me to be a piece of work that's all over the place, and turned out to be a disappointment; especially so after I'd picked up on the credentials of the author - the late David Spanier spent twenty five years, between 1957 and 1982, writing for a living whilst working as the foreign and diplomatic correspondent for the London Times.

The text, of a little over 200 pages in total, is split into three main sections - "Winners & Losers", "Motivation" and "Europe and America" and topped off with a single chapter conclusion. Despite the publication's title having the secondary line of "Inside the gambler's mind", with the exception of one or two fleeting references along the way, it's not until you've waded through a 140 pages or so before this consideration is examined in any depth - in chapter seven.

Up until this point, you're obliged to work your way through a raft of loosely related histories ("gambling" seeming to be the the only thread holding them all together), much of which is tedious, ie the lengthy chapter focussing on John Aspinall and his private bacarrat parties, thrown for the benefit of London's well-to-do (and his own bank balance), in the late fifties and early sixties before licensed casinos and gaming clubs became available, and how various society personalities of the time pissed fortunes up the wall. Lord Lucan gets a mention at this point. The last couple of pages of this chapter do briefly consider the motivations for doing so, and why people feel an urge to bet many times their monthly income in a single night.

A later chapter starts out with highlighting two successive years' net losses that were reported by the operators of the world famous casino in Monte Carlo, (shortly before the book was published), and examines the causes; times have changed and the heddy days of Europe's gliterati visiting for the "season" are now long passed, increased competition, internal management failings and bad credit decisions, excessive staff costs and the gaming floor staff pay rates being severely over-egged, an over-reliance on low edge table games, then followed up by a brief history of the casino and finally whisking the reader off to an account of how a group of clever people designed and built a micro computer in an effort to gain an advantage at roulette. All rather puzzling really, and I was left wondering how it was all supposed to dovetail together. The following chapter follows a similar path, starting out considering the inevitibility of gambling as an activity acting as a magnet to criminals and dishonesty, touching upon the days of the mob running Las Vegas, the reported less-than-impressive behaviour of Frank Sinatra at the tables and then shooting off at a tangent with an account of a public spat between two leading London casino executives in 1979, and their subsequent failure to renew their respective operating licences. The author does point out that neither refusal to renew them was the result of any objections lodged regarding the involvement of organised crime, which does beg the question as to why he thought this story was relevent and should be included as part of this chapter (or at all for that matter) ?

In contrast to the confusing relationships between many of the items written about, the discussion within the chapter "Action Man" is more in keeping with the title and examines the motivations for individual's gambling. Just why do people need "action", and feel a need to indulge in unnecessary risk-taking? Mr S's research leads him to believe it's due to a number, and combination, of factors all of which are buried in our psyche somewhere, and which are awakened in some and not in others - with the advances in psycho-analysis since Easy Money was written, and a greater knowledge of how the brain functions, the same questions continue to be unpicked, supported with a raft of modern technology that's being applied to filling in the gaps (ie MRI scanners to map the dopamene receptors of the brain). This chapter is, without doubt, the most interesting part of the book, and the reason I picked it up to read in the first place.

Things are rounded off with a short conclusion (chapter of just seven pages) that's a somewhat mind-boggling abstract, and considers issues of quantum physics and the probabilities around the formation of life within the universe, before coming to a rapid conclusion that the taking of risks, and gambling, is deeply embedded in everyone's DNA and goes back to the "origins of life itself". Nothing included that might counter this assertion, ie the fact that over 20% of the population never gamble (probably a higher percentage in the late eighties before the introduction of highstreet FOBTs, internet gaming and the National Lottery), and that people do live fulfilling lives without gambling or taking any significant avoidable risks along the way, or ever feeling the need to do so. Reading the penultimate paragraph it does leave one wondering whether Mr S believed in this as a justification for his own behaviour - he records During an extended period when I could not play in the game (poker) , I found it necessary to assuage my gambling instincts directly, by casino gaming . . . One could be glib and say "speak for yourself" ?

In conclusion, Easy Money disappoints, as the lion's share of the content is devoted to a disjointed and loosely connected series of accounts and stories of various things "gambling", and not to what one might expect to find if going by the title on the front cover. In fact there's little time spent focussing on the gambler's mind, and one could be forgiven for thinking that Mr S and his publisher could have done a much better job of selecting a title that more accurately reflects the material between the covers. Perhaps this was a subtle bluff, straight off of the poker tables he enjoyed frequenting so much? Regardless, it's not a title I'll be keeping to read again at a later date.

David Spanier died in April 2000, aged 67, following a stroke after collapsing in a London casino. Easy Money, which has been reprinted twice (in 1994 and 2006, originally published in 1987), is the fourth of six books he wrote from 1972 onwards, with his last title, The Hand I Played: A Poker Memoir, being published a year after his death.

June 2015.