An Expensive Thrill

by Site Author

When academics go out to dinner after a seminar they sometimes reveal more about themselves than they otherwise would. It might be the wine, which—being paid for by the university—flows freely. Or perhaps it’s just the exhaustion. Usually it’s been a long day and then a long seminar.

A friend of mine recently described such a dinner. His department had flown out a top researcher. This academic had achieved nearly everything a researcher can: awards, a lucrative consulting side-business, and the kind of salary that only goes to those who have been poached from one top department to another top department.

After a few glasses of wine, the conversation turned to what these academics do for fun. My friend described his golf game. One of his colleagues mentioned CrossFit. And then their guest mentioned, almost off hand, that he gambles thousands of dollars on internet blackjack.

After some questions, he elaborated. It happens late at night, after his kids and his wife have gone to bed. He will still be working on his laptop: revising papers, writing recommendations for his students, editing his journal. And then instead of shutting down the computer and going to sleep, he points his web browser to an online casino.

So in this dark suburban house—a house bought and paid for with cutting-edge research—this tenured, full professor gambles. At dinner, he admitted that there’s something silly about the whole thing. It’s embarrassing to be excited about a casino with no felt tables, cocktail waitresses, or comped drinks. But, still, he said. When he made a thousand dollars on one hand, or, more often, lost a thousand dollars on one hand, he felt a rush that he has yet to find anywhere else.