The Great Gambles

One day, a casino owner met a panchayat. He told them they needed a casino. The village leaders wondered. Casino? They had visited some when they traveled. Some had even won a little money there. Could such a grand thing be created in their village? The casino owner assured them HE would do it for them. He would build a casino and that would let people win money and get them out of their poverty.

The villagers were incredulous. They barely had money to eat! The casino owner explained that winnings would provide for them. They could get people from other places to gamble in their casino and earn from the money they spent. He convinced enough people. And so it was.

The casino opened modestly, a kind of village tavern. A few people came and gambled. A few won, stayed. Others lost, got scared away. Many lost, but they saw people winning, and knew it would be their turn one day. As business grew, stories of more and more people winning started flowing. Those who ran out of money were quietly ushered away and kept out by the bouncers, unless they could pay. They made space for those who were there to play.

Skills grew. They started getting better and better at different games, and each game had a star players who almost always won. But their skill was legendary. People aspired to be like them and rule their games. Learning to gamble well became an obsession. Fields lay ignored. Money to put into them was gambled away. Rumors surfaced that some of the winning people had tricks that turned chance in their favor. This got some people angry, but most didn’t believe it.

Many people were employed by the casinos and did exceedingly well helping them collect the casino’s charges for letting people gamble. No matter who won or lost, these people saw the real benefits of the casinos. They had stability. All they had to do was keep the casinos running.

Some members of the Panchayat were thrilled that they could make so many people rich and skilled where there were none before. Casino owners increasingly got their needs addressed by these members instantly because of this windfall. In turn, casino owners made sure that these village leaders never lost at their tables.

Village gossips realized that people were interested in listening to the stories of this windfall. They also quickly realized that the casino owners and panchayat wanted them to do so, and started offering it for money. Casino owners, earning from every windfall in the village were glad to oblige. Gossips got adopted completely so that they didn’t have to worry about their future and could focus on their talks. Their talks reached far and wide and soon it was the greatest ambition of every villager to become a great gambler.

Only those who couldn’t gamble well worked in the fields, taught the children, did less respectable work, tended the ill. Most couldn’t gamble well, but were certain that it was only a matter of experience and at great cost to themselves continued to gamble.

Increasing instances of people not affording to cover their debts came to light. Casinos started accepting payments in grain livestock and in some cases, family members. A couple of people died because they ran out of everything they could live on. Others were on the way.

Casinos were doing well. When people started running out of money to gamble, they suckered in new people. Older people, people from other places, rich people, poor people. They paved the village roads, built great mansions, put a few taps in public places that the people could see the results of their prosperity. Village gossips waxed eloquent to people who were losing hope, explaining that it was all a matter of gambling well and a casino was an opportunity for all. But many of the villagers had lost belief in their ability to gamble.

Others worried that with most strong men guarding casinos, their safety was becoming a concern, and a few dishonest people were increasingly gambling with the law, stealing belongings and family members too, playing the odds that there weren’t enough strong men. Village leaders had no interest anymore in listening to those who didn’t own casinos. They didn’t want to tangle with these fringe elements when there were better things.

Panchayat changed and were replaced by those who knew what needed to do to bring even more money to the village. They converted fields in scenic places into more attractive casinos to attract more gamblers. Winners from casinos in other places came to gamble in theirs. It was a matter of pride to draw winning gamblers. Gamblers from their village started touring other villages.

In the middle of this great rush was a sudden hiccup. The biggest casinos in the biggest city were running into problems. People working in casinos here were less worried because they thought that no matter how many people gambled, they would be needed to keep the casinos running. Some of them started worrying when the less important among them lost their jobs when casinos earned less. Others who had made livings around consulting for the casinos, providing them services or equipment started worrying about losing business.

Soon, they realized that they had their customers who had never heard of the big city, who would continue to gamble, and they quickly moved on. Business was slower, but they were in the game. Casinos in other places sat up and took notice. Here was a place where casinos were still thriving. Their village may have been small, but it was surprisingly strong! The village leaders curled up their moustaches with pride.

Another set of voices was growing. They had seen too many instances of cheating by too many casino owners, casino employees, panchayat members, while the village was in dire straits – except for those owning casinos or working in them. Few listened. The panchayat members were now deep into gambling. They insisted that this was prosperity. Others pretended to agree, and gave poor people a few things so that they would die slower. They pointed out casino employees. “Look!” they said. “This is what casinos brought us. The more casinos we build, the fewer of you will be poor.” The village gossips agreed vehemently. They had witnessed the grandeur of the casinos they assured the people.

But another storm hit the village. Casino employees were angry. They were finding it difficult to gamble in spite of their jobs and a series of instances of cheating by a couple of Panchayat members and some casino owners came to light. They were undeniable. They were outraged. Make the Panchayat behave. Punish cheaters. A few of them decided to make the more honest among them oversee the working of the Panchayat to ensure they did no wrong. They had encounter cops for tough criminals. Why not for the Panchayat?

It was this voice of the casino employees that shook everything. Without them, the Panchayat would have few funds to run on. Without them, the casino owners would find things difficult. More importantly, what if they messed everything up? Reluctantly, the Panchayat agreed to find a way of demonstrating that they wouldn’t cheat again. It was increasingly difficult to fool casino employees, who now pointed at poor people too. It was the Panchayat that was the problem, and they didn’t have any belief in it.

It was a point of great tension. There was no agreement, but the Panchayat heard them out till they were tired and promised to do something later. The casino owners heaved a sigh of relief and quietly stopped inviting village leaders to their establishment openly.

A metaphor.

What advice would you give this village to get out of their current fix and see better days?