The Odds - Jeff Strand


Don’t do it, Ethan Caustin thought. Don’t you dare do it. You’ll hate yourself.

He shouldn’t have even brought his credit cards into the casino. Hell, he shouldn’t have gone in here in the first place. He should have been the kind of person who learned from his horrible mistakes. The kind of person who didn’t lose several thousand dollars that he couldn’t come anywhere close to being able to afford. The kind of person who knew that “I’ll spend fifty bucks, maximum, and if I lose it all, I’m done” was a lie.

This whole business trip was a mistake. The hotel where he was staying didn’t have a casino, but it was a quick walk to the nearest one. The trip wasn’t mandatory. They could’ve found somebody else to go in his place. Somebody who wouldn’t destroy their life.

Don’t get a cash advance. Don’t take the card out of your wallet. Go back to your hotel.

There was a 1-800 number displayed that he could call for gambling addiction. He wondered if they could talk him out of sticking his credit card into the machine the same way somebody on the other end might talk somebody out of leaping off a tall building.

Leaping off a building didn’t sound so bad right now.

Jenny was going to kill him.

Or just be heartbroken. Give him a look of pity, or a look of disgust. She’d wonder how she had the misfortune of marrying a loser with absolutely no self-control. Gambling wasn’t even fun. It’s not like he was enjoying himself as he played the high roller slot machines. Sure, there was an adrenaline rush when he won, but the experience wasn’t fun. He could’ve spent way less and took a ride on the zipline.

He needed to take another look at the note again.

Normally he kept it tucked into his wallet, but he’d put it in his pocket after reading it several times since walking into the casino. A faded note on hotel stationary, written to himself eight years ago.

Dear Ethan,

This is to remind you of how utterly shitty you feel right now. The self-loathing might fade, but right now you’d give anything to be able to take it all back. Remember this feeling the next time you want to throw away money in a slot machine. YOU ARE MISERABLE.

The note had worked in the past. Not today.

He looked at it again.

It was, of course, too late. The damage was done.

Don’t get a cash advance.

The conundrum here was that putting his credit card into the machine offered a chance for redemption. He could win it all back. And honestly, with as much as he’d lost, did a little more even matter?

“Honey, I lost seven thousand dollars,” would not get him in less trouble than “Honey, I lost nine thousand dollars.” Ten thousand was worse, sure. That was a whole new level. But if he kept it under ten, there was no real difference between seven thousand and nine thousand. If he stopped now, he’d have to tearfully confess to Jenny that he lost the seven grand. If he kept going, he might not have to confess anything.

It was ridiculous to stop now, when he could still fix this.

His luck was bound to turn around. How long could his losing streak possibly last?

He’d have to be an idiot not to get the cash advance.


He was trying to justify further appalling behavior. He needed to quit now. He needed to walk right the hell out of this casino, call his wife, and tell her everything. She’d forgive him. He had a problem. He was sick. She’d have to forgive him.

He slid his credit card into the ATM.

Ethan sat on a stool in front of a slot machine he wasn’t playing, sipping a flavorless free drink. He wanted to throw up. He had quit before his losses topped ten grand, so at least he had that tiny little speck of self-control...though he hadn’t actually left the casino yet. There was still time to ruin his life even more.

He set the drink down, stood up, and slowly made his way toward the casino exit. Wherever that was. They didn’t make it easy to find your way out. He’d call Jenny as soon as he left—he didn’t think it would be good for her to listen to his confession with the chimes and music of slot machines playing in the background.

He could barely walk. He’d only had half a drink, though. At least he wasn’t an alcoholic.

How the hell did he