Stakehorsing an Education

LAST WEEK, six people split millions of dollars in the Florida State Lottery. The Publisher's Clearinghouse annually doles out huge checks for conscientious Americans who took the time to fill out their prize forms. Every day on "Jeopardy," Alex Trebek hands out thousands to his winning contestants.

There is easy money to be made in this country. Getting rich quick is the quintessential American Dream. The only catch is that you have to be lucky enough to win the money; most of us aren't. And just by enrolling in college, we are giving up--taking the safe way to a boring, stable income.

But that only makes us need the wind-fall even more. Most of us are struggling to finance our college education. Tuition rises every year, and government assistance decreases. As each semester goes by, we sign away more and more of our future to loan officers working in this country's failing banking system. Lamar Alexander is no Ed McMahon, and President Bush is not going to show up on any student's doorstep holding a huge check.

So where is our easy money?

It's in Vegas, Atlantic City and Mississippi River Boats.

GAMBLING IS the greatest way to finance a college education in the 1990s. At first, it may not seem like the best, the most moral or even the most resume-enhancing way to earn money. There is no doubt, however, when a bundle of easily-earned cash rests in needy palms, that green felt is the best way to line the steps to the Ivory Tower.

All it takes to get involved in this get-rich-quick scheme is to put together two proliferating trends in American culture. They are the rising costs of secondary education and the growth of the gambling industry. I learned a long time ago that these trends could be intertwined to work for me.

I feel no shame in admitting that the proceeds of the gambling industry are paying for my education. I am on the Bally's Park Place academic scholarship. Black-jack is stakehorsing my education.

Of course, weaning money away from the hotel conglomerates and the tourists who can't count cards very well can entail more than just hitting three bars on a progressive slot machine. I receive most of my proceeds by working in the casinos. It's not exactly the same as winning by gambling myself, but by the transitive power of luckiness (and the transitive power of big tips) I get more than my fair share.

For the past seven years, I have served in the casino-enhanced economy of Atlantic City, N.J. Casinos bloomed on the beaches there in 1981, and many say life hasn't been the same since. Most don't look on this as a positive accomplishment. Critics cite urban decay, the arrests of the mayor and city council on fraud charges, the mafia corruption of the unions and medical waste on the beaches as negative effects of the industry.

All of these are bad, of course, but things were sleazy and corrupt long before the first blackjack table graced the board-walk. Now, at least, there are free parking lots, clean bathrooms and lots of places to get ice cream. It is a wonderful place to spend the summer. I look at gambling as a positive addition to Atlantic City's charm. It will probably do the same for the rather bleak landscapes in North Dakota where there is nothing else as exciting, and for suburban Connecticut where there is nothing but Yale.

Even if Atlantic City lacks anything intellectual, at least the $20 tip I got from a high roller from Trenton bought my Norton Anthology of American Literature. The $7.50 from the ladies on the Wednesday New York City bus bought me a pizza last night. My Fourth of July holiday pay will cover most of my Coop bill this month. And the tip from my friend Wayne Yu '92 is almost enough to buy a candy bar.

BESIDES the obvious economic benefits of gambling, we should also consider its revitalization of the pioneer spirit. Gambling inflames the passions. People respond to the opportunity to win money. That's why libraries close at midnight and casinos are open all night.

College life is just a bastion of the Puritan work ethic. That's one basis of American society, but it lacks the emotion of ingenuity and surprise. So what if we can work hard, get secure jobs, set up trust funds for our children's education and save enough money to retire while we can still remember what we want to enjoy. Is this the American Dream circa 1990? Safe sex, safe drinking, safe bank accounts? We're getting so boring.

And no matter how hard we work, there is less opportunity for us in this recession-logged economy. Internships are hard to come by, they don't guarantee future jobs, and they don't pay enough to cover expenses and tuition. This is only more reason to either get rich quick at the casinos, or go into the service industry of working for a casino.

For those of us with a little too much ambition who try to "get ahead" during the summer--and those who don't think that serving pancakes to bleary-eyed gamblers at 3 a.m. is glamorous--there is only one argument. Dolly Jester.

There is somebody like Dolly Jester in every service industry. She's the career waitress, who at 62 has varicose veins, a bad back, a sagging body and an infinite amount of wisdom. She's the one who tells you to study hard when you go back to school so that you don't end up like her. Whenever I think of Dolly, I head straight for OCS.

If you want to experience the thrill of life and the victory of getting rich quick, cancel your Merrill Lynch interview. Don't apply to summer school. And definitely don't answer phones or file at a relative's office. During these months of applications and interviews, sit on the sidelines. None of these experiences are going to pay the bills or enhance your appreciation of what you've learned at school.

Instead, take a bus to Atlantic City. All you need is a couple of good hits at a craps table and your future will take care of itself. If that doesn't pan out, head down to the employment office and let the winnings of others stakehorse your education.

When you pay your tuition bill for next fall, you will be very proud of your ingenuity, and you won't have to sell your soul to BayBanks.

Beth L. Pinsker '93 can't legally gamble, but she can balance six plates of pancakes on one arm.